Serie A league leaders AS Roma were brought back down to earth last night when their perfect start to the season of ten wins in a row was put to an end by a plucky Torino side who managed to hold the Giallorossi to a 1-1 draw after an impressive performance from their wide midfielder Alessio Cerci. Cerci, a boyhood Roma fan and a former member of the AS Roma Primavera was effective all night long particularly down the right hand side of midfield mainly due to the woeful defensive display from Federico Balzaretti.
After their midweek victory of Chievo Verona took them passed the nine straight wins at the beginning of a Serie A season record formerly set by Fabio Capello’s Juventus team in 2005-2006, Roma were determined to keep their impressive run of form going as the gap between themselves and Napoli was still just four points which is a real testament to the widespread quality in the upper echelons of the Italian top flight this season. Roma headed to Torino’s Stadio Olimpico without a number of key figures who were missing through injury, the most notable of those absentees were the attacking duo of Francesco Totti and Gervinho which forced Rudi Garcia to place Marco Borriello in the starting line-up. In a very attacking 4-3-3 system Borriello looked a bit like a lost sheep with the Italian forward being unable to stay on the same wavelength as his partners Miralem Pjanic and Alessandro Florenzi.
This was one of the greatest contributing factors to Roma’s demise yesterday evening as Garcia’s men couldn’t capitalise on their opening goal through Kevin Strootman, Borriello’s limited movement made it very easy for the Torino defensive pairing of Kamil Glik and Matteo Darmian to make him out of the game and limit his link-up with Pjanic and Florenzi.
It was a difficult first half for Roma with the hosts stifling their limited creativity with a very industrious approach to the match, with ten men behind the ball and looking to hit the visitors on the counter attack through Cerci and El Kaddouri respectively. Roma had a lot of possession in the midfield as they were afforded time to think on the ball courtesy of Torino’s game plan and the Giallorossi’s patience did eventually pay off when they got their aforementioned opening goal just before the half hour. An excellent defence splitting pass from Balzaretti set the inform Pjanic free inside the penalty area and he duly cut it back into the path of Strootman who powered past Padelli in the Torino goal.
Roma should have capitalised on this and looked for a second goal but Garcia’s charges simply didn’t have the raw creativity in the forward areas to break down the Torino backline with any great consistency. Many Roma supporters bemoaned the selection of Michael Bradley in the centre of midfield alongside Strootman and club icon Daniele De Rossi citing the American’s lack of mobility and creativity as reasons for Roma’s faltering display yesterday evening.
From the moment Roma took the lead it was as if Torino had been given a second wind so to speak, the hosts began venturing forward out of their own half and were receiving a lot more of the ball than in the previous half hour. The catalyst for this was the energetic Cerci who, after switching from the left hand side of midfield to the right midway through the first period, ran Roma ragged. The former Fiorentina man put real pressure on Balzaretti who in truth isn’t the most able player defensively at the best of times and the mistakes came. Cerci dribbled past numerous Roma defenders on several occasions near the climax of the first half and won a number of free kicks which he then went close with despite not forcing a save from the experienced Morgan De Sanctis.
If Roma’s first half performance was considered a shadow of their brilliant best then their second half display defies description. The Giallorossi couldn’t get into the game at all, it was as if the break had killed any momentum they had. Borriello became even more isolated than in the first half and through Cerci, Torino began to take the game to Roma. A smart move down the left hand side just short of the hour mark took advantage of Maicon’s poor positioning and Torino were unfortunate not to level the match when Meggiorini’s strike forced a diving save out of De Sanctis.
Torino’s precious equaliser was to come just four minutes after, an almost identical move to the one which led to Roma’s goal in the first half saw Meggiorini outmuscle Mehdi Benatia before cutting the ball across the face of goal where Cerci applied a near post finish. With Roma now somewhat stunned into action, Rudi Garcia immediately withdrew Borriello in place of the exciting Adem Ljajic in the hope the Serbian could inject some impetus into Roma’s performance.
Roma were still struggling to build anything like the rhythm they had displayed in their previous ten Serie A matches however they may well feel aggrieved that they did not receive a penalty ten minutes from time when Maicon broke into the Torino penalty area and appeared to be tripped however replays showed the initial contact to be outside the box and once inside Maicon in actual fact, tripped over his own feet.
The game finished 1-1 and the final ten minutes were certainly not a period of football for the ages, with Roma desperately trying to continue their perfect start to the season the visitors threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Torino but due to fatigue and the personnel on the field at the time there was never really any great threat to the Torino goal. Such was the surprise at the result the Torino side lapped up the atmosphere and celebrated a 1-1 draw with their own supporters as you would after winning a domestic cup however who can blame them? They had just matched the standout side in the Italian top flight and had lifted themselves into 12th position, a full three points away from the relegation zone.
Roma on the other hand have been brought back to earth, after seven hundred and forty three, yes 743, minutes without conceding a league goal it does appear as if Rudi Garcia’s men are human after all and with Napoli and Juventus only three points behind in second and third place respectively it will be an important period for Roma to return to form when they face Sassuolo at the Olimpico next weekend, not least because Juventus and Napoli face each other on the same weekend.