Up until the 50th minute, everything was going smoothly. Roma were in control of the game, and should already have been more than a goal to the good by the time that Diego Perotti expertly lashed past Emiliano Viviano five minutes into the second half. There were periods before half time (mostly in the first 20 or so minutes) that had seen Roma play some really good football, knocking it around quickly trying to stretch Sampdoria’s deep defence out of position.
But then after going 2-0 Roma sat back, allowing the Blucerchiati back into a game that they had barely turned up for. An unfortunate Miralem Pjanic deflection took Fernando’s shot past Wojciech Szczesny, and from then on Roma were bundle of nerves trying to hold onto a 2-1 lead. “We’d set up a pretty comfortable win,” said Luciano Spalletti, “but when they got it back to 2-1 we got spooked.” There were heart-stopping moments in the latter stages as firstly Antonio Cassano got through one-on-one against Szczesny but couldn’t beat him and then Mattia Cassani hooked a shot against the crossbar.
The relief at the final whistle was palpable as Roma scraped over the line, but what was really telling was Spalletti’s reaction. Instead of giving the customary handshakes and back slaps to his players, he admonished Antonio Rudiger and Kostas Manolas as they left the pitch. Roma’s players need to be under no illusions that, no matter who is on the injury list, their game management needs to be much better than it was tonight. While Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi were both absent, it has to be made clear that someone else has to take charge of the team and guide them through rough patches of the game. There was no sign of that though as players instead shirked responsibility, and Sampdoria nearly made Roma pay for their lack of leadership.
The lack of confidence is an issue as well, but that should recover as Roma pick up results and rediscover the winning mentality. The Giallorossi now have three wins in their last three – previous to that it took them 14 games to record three victories. Edin Dzeko in particular, without a goal in open play since August, is clearly the worst affected but he does still have a lot of support from the fans (who gave him a huge backing as he came on as a substitute). His team-mates are equally desperate for him to break his duck; at one stage in the second half, Roma had a two-on-two situation with Mohamed Salah and Dzeko breaking forward, and Salah (for once) tried to pick a pass that actually wasn’t really there just to find Dzeko. Next up are Carpi and Palermo, two ideal opportunities for Roma to put in commanding performances to really set themselves up for the final stretch of the season.
A word also for Antonio Rudiger. The German defender has come in for his share of criticism this season but since the turn of the year he has excelled, not just when he was a makeshift right back but also in the heart of defence. Many have been concerned over his lapses in concentration and occasional clumsiness on the ball, but his recent performances have been some of the best Roma’s players have produced. Authoritative and solid in central defence, he is now showing his true ability – long may that form continue.