Il Tempo (Tiziano Carmellini) It’s OK to dream, and it’s free. Roma followed up their positive start to the year with another crucial three points away in Udine, but most of all they made the most of Juventus’ slip up as the league leaders were defeated by Sousa’s side in Florence. The defeat showed that, after all the effort that they have put into recent games, Juventus (like all great sides) can be beaten and the leaders now find themselves in a slightly more fragile position.
Spalletti had taken this possibility into consideration and, moreover, he has been waiting for the moment to arrive so that both he and his team are ready to take advantage. Roma are now just 1 point behind the leaders, although Allegri’s side to have a game in hand against Crotone to come. But there is also another head to head to come, this time at the Olimpico, which has to give the capital club an opportunity, however small, to start believing in themselves. They have the game, the quality, and the stamina: if they’re able to add mental strength and consistency to this, then there really could be a chance for them.
This was all on show as Spalletti’s side won their second consecutive game away from home at the start of 2017, propelling themselves up onto Juventus’ coattails as they prepare themselves for their first home match of the new year against Cagliari next Sunday. Nainggolan was the man who decided the game after Dzeko had failed to do so, despite his chance from the penalty spot. The script was the same as on many previous occasions: Roma were the dominant team, creating chances to score numerous goals but unable to convert them, consequently allowing the opposition the opportunity to get themselves back into the game. It needed a great goal from Nainggolan, who has become a real threat in the final third, to see off Udinese: it was an identical goal, at least in terms of the timing and style, to Juventus’ opener in the Coppa Italia when Pjanic set up Higuain to shoot on the turn.
In this case, the key pass came from Strootman, and the Belgian’s turn and shot was in no way inferior to the Argentine forward’s. Roma were ahead, and it should have been all downhill from there. 5 minutes later, Damato pointed to the spot (Faraoni’s handball was clear) and everyone thought that it might be game over already. But it wasn’t – Dzeko connected horribly with his kick and the ball ended up in the stands, and the dynamic of the game changed completely. Udinese believed in themselves and began to improve: within 5 minutes Szczesny had saved Roma twice. It was another game entirely: Roma were struggling and went into half time in some difficulty.
The second half was better; although the home side were playing some good football, they weren’t able to hurt Roma, who were able to create some dangerous chances of their own. Spalletti’s side deserved to extend their lead – Dzeko in particular missed a simple header – but when the coach chose to put on Totti (for a poor El Shaarawy), it was a sign he was looking to protect the result. It worked. The captain played at his own pace, teasing the opposition and running down the clock until Damato blew the final whistle. These were 3 crucial points for Roma: they ensured that they didn’t fall further behind Juventus, but also ensured that they kept ahead of the chasing pack, who all won their own games. Now the good times can begin: the title race is open again, and this time Roma really could have a say in it.