By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
Tuesday 31st October, Stadio Olimpico – Another evening of Champions League football; Chelsea were in the Italian capital for their European match against AS Roma. It was almost exactly two weeks since the reverse fixture at the Bridge – in which Eden Hazard had somehow prevented his club from turning a relatively straightforward 2 – 0 win into a disastrous 3 – 2 defeat.
Since then, AS Roma had kept three clean sheets and won three Serie A games in a row. They’d beaten Torino, Crotone and Bologna 1 – 0 each, and their top scorer Edin Dzeko was now up to 10 goals for the season. Chelsea had also won their three domestic fixtures since the Roma game. They’d scored seven goals, many more than Roma had, but they’d also conceded three goals in those three matches, all against far more humble opposition than their opponents tonight.
Well, now they had a tough midweek game against Roma, just before another major test at the weekend versus Manchester United. But playing the best in Europe one game, then the best in England the next – these are big team troubles. If Chelsea truly deserved to win anything this season, this was the opportunity to prove it.
Roma full backs Emerson, Bruno Peres and Rick Karsdorp were all out injured. Chelsea’s Victor Moses was still recovering from a hamstring problem. N’golo Kante, although partly recovered from his injury, was not included in the matchday squad.
Roma lined up in a 4-3-3 with Stephan El Sharaawy, Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti up top. Chelsea reverted to their familiar 3-4-3 with Rudiger, Luiz and Cahill in center back, and Cesar Azpilicueta shifted out to right back. Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko started in midfield.
It was a slightly less compact, defensive setup than expected from Chelsea – they were away from home and two points clear at the top of the group – Roma needed a win much more than they did. Either way, Antonio Conte would soon find out whether or not it was right tactical setup for this game.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Becker 7, Fazio 7, Jesus 7, Florenzi 6.5 (Manolas 6), Kolarov 7.5, Nainggolan 7.5, De Rossi 7, Strootman 6.5, El Sharaawy 8.5 (Silva 5), Perotti 7.5 (Pellegrini NR), Dzeko 7.5
Subs Skorupski, Manolas, Under, Gonalons, Gerson, Pellegrini, Moreno
Courtois 5, Azpilicueta 5.5, Rudiger 4, Luiz 5.5, Cahill 5 (Willian 5), Alonso 5, Fabregas 4 (Drinkwater 5), Bakayoko 6, Pedro 6, Hazard 7, Morata 5 (Batshuayi 5)
Subs Caballero, Christensen, Zappacosta, Kenedy, Drinkwater, Willian, Batshuayi
El Sharaawy’s Still Got It
And… less than a minute into the game, Chelsea were a goal down. No, a 3-4-3 with Cesc Fabregas in midfield probably wasn’t the right tactical choice for this game. Pedro had a shot blocked at Roma’s end, then Kolarov carried the ball up the left wing into Chelsea’s half. He played a long ball up centrally to Dzeko, who headed it backwards into the path of Stephan El Sharaawy.
The young Italian striker had been through a few difficult seasons struggling with injury, but he had not lost his pace, or his marvellous finishing ability. He left Marcos Alonso eating his dust, and rocketed a goal in from the edge of the box – Roma were 1 – 0 up.
A couple of minutes later Chelsea broke forward – Fabregas picked out Hazard with an early ball over the top, and he raced down the pitch. Unfortunately he slowed a little at the end of his run, and Alessandro Florenzi caught up with him and leaned on him a little, putting him off his shot – chance missed for an equalizer.
Hazard had another good opportunity just under twenty minutes gone. He drifted in from the wing, and tried a near post shot similar to the one that beat Bournemouth at the weekend. Alisson Becker saved easily.
Roma had been playing it safe since their early goal, sitting deep and only countering when necessary. It had worked really well against the visitors. Alvaro Morata had barely had an impact on the game, and Pedro wasn’t doing much better.
Hazard had been his team’s only spark, albeit a faint one. Pedro centered the ball for him on a rare Chelsea counter, and he rolled his defender and took a shot, but it was more or less at the keeper, another easy save. Then Morata had a golden chance when Pedro charged down a clearance from Kolarov. The ball rebounded to him just outside the six-yard box, but Becker closed him down and he put his shot in the rafters.
On 28 minutes Florenzi sneakily trod on Hazard’s ankle right on the border of the penalty box, but the referee missed it. Fortunately Hazard was not badly hurt, and was able to carry on after treatment.
Roma had another fantastic chance on the counter, when David Luiz failed to control a long ball in midfield. Edin Dzeko gained possession and carried the ball upfield in a three on two break. He passed the ball to El Sharaawy, but this time the wide forward’s shot was tame and Thibaut Courtois saved. The rebound came back to El Sharaawy but his second shot went off Alonso for a corner.
Hard To Explain
Then came a
moment that was almost impossible to explain. Radja Nainggolan played in another long ball from almost the same spot as Kolarov did for the first Roma goal. It should have been relatively easy for Antonio Rudiger to clear it… but he chose to watch the ball bounce in front of him… perhaps entranced by its graceful parabolic arc.
El Sharaawy cut in behind him, and in spite of Azpilicueta’s attentions, must have really enjoyed his easy chipped finish for 2 – 0. The stadium was rocking now, the home fans singing… it was looking like a really good evening for them to go top of their Champions League group.
Marcos Alonso had a good try at pulling one back just before half time – he found space at the left of the penalty box, and tried to curl it in, but Becker got a hand to the ball. Bakayoko had a free header from the resulting corner, but put it just wide of the post. Roma were by far the better side in the first half, and deservedly went in two up at half time.
Not much changed for Chelsea after half time. Play was a little more even, but Roma were still creating the better opportunities. Ten minutes into the second half, Conte must have decided there was no point playing three center backs if he was going to get such poor results defensively, and replaced Gary Cahill with Willian. Azpilicueta returned to his familiar right center back position, and Pedro replaced him at right wing back.
It was at best a roll of the dice from the manager, and unfortunately, this time he crapped out. On sixty-two minutes, Kolarov intercepted another poor pass from Fabregas on Roma’s left wing, and he passed to Diego Perotti, who had given Chelsea so much trouble in the first game at Stamford Bridge. Perotti dribbled inside past Pedro, and rocketed a low shot past Courtois from distance – 3 – 0.
Conte put Fabregas out of his misery shortly afterwards, hooking him off for Daniel Drinkwater, and then replaced Morata with Michy Batshuayi. It was too little too late though, and Roma were too professional, and Chelsea too shell-shocked to respond. And so at the final whistle, Roma leapfrogged Chelsea to go top of Group C.
Final Score Roma 3 – 0 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Mirror
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