A single moment of magic from Radja Nainggolan proved decisive as Roma edged out Milan at the Stadio Olimpico, moving within four points of Juventus at the top of Serie A.
Both sides went into the huge Monday Night game under the lights level in 2nd position on 32 points each, 7 behind Juventus following the Bianconeri’s 3-1 victory over Torino in the Derby della Mole on Sunday. With Lazio and Napoli also notching up victories over the weekend and closing the gap between themselves and tonight’s two sides to a point, both Milan and Roma were suddenly looking over their shoulders as well as out in front of them. There were certainly three big points riding on this one.
Milan went into the game unbeaten in their last five Serie A games, winning four of them. Montella’s men however had failed to keep a clean sheet in the last four, a big ask against a Roma side who are the top scorers in Serie A this season. Having scored his first goal at the San Siro in their win over Crotone, Lapadula started ahead of Bacca but the Rossoneri were without play-maker Bonnaventura for this one and fielded a starting line up consisting of 8 Italians. The average age of the side was 23 years 343 days, the youngest in Serie A this season.
Roma themselves were in buoyant mood going into this one following their huge victory over home town rivals Lazio in the Derby della Capitale last weekend. They were further boosted by the news that Kevin Strootman’s two-game ban had been rescinded, meaning he started tonight’s game however Spaletti’s side were without Paredes, Salah and Florenzi.
The first effort on goal came within two minutes from none other then top scorer, Dzeko. Roma started the game at a high tempo. Nainggolan drove forward before laying the ball out wide to the Bosnian who was waiting just inside the right hand side of the area. The angle was tight but, such is the confidence in Dzeko this season, he hit a stinging effort heading for the top right corner but for the palms of Donnarumma away for a corner.
Further chances were few and far between in the opening exchanges. The early running saw patient build up play from Roma with Milan defending deep but defending well, happy to let the Gialorossi have the ball in front of them, trying to hurt them on the counter.
Lapadula was an eager runner and in the 10th minute came inches away from bringing down a simple long ball played forward by Paletta, having run beyond the Roma Centre Backs inside the Roma area. 7 minutes later, Milan countered following an easily defended De Rossi free kick. Niang drove forward on the right playing Suso on the overlap and the Spaniard cut onto his left just inside the box and fed a lovely angled through ball that Lapadula was again inches away from connecting with.
With 2o minutes played it felt as if both sides were feeling each other out as the early pace of the game had subsided. Milan were growing into the game and were awarded a stone wall penalty in the 26th minute. Lovely link up play between Suso and Bertolacci saw the latter play a neat ball into the area for the on running Lapadula who was clattered by the rushing Szczesny. Niang stepped forward with a stuttering run up but his effort was poor as Szczesny parried the ball away to make up for his error. It was the second penalty miss in two games for the 21 year old Frenchman.
The penalty miss did little to effect Milan’s confidence who continued to control more of the ball, playing it forward quickly. The in form Suso standing out, probing forward at every opportunity.
Roma were close to taking the lead in the 37th minute. Dzeko thought he had scored his 13th goal of the season having latched onto a long ball from Rudiger on the right hand side of the area. But his well struck half volley on the run sailed just wide of goal. Soon after came another injury blow for Roma with Peres, playing in an advanced wingers position, receiving treatment on his ankle following a challenge by De Sciglio. El Shaarwary came on for the Brazilian.
It was stalemate at the break with very little in the way of clear cut chances barring the penalty. Romagnoli, being booed by the Roma fans on his return to the Stadio Olimpico, and Paletta had done well to marshal Milan’s defence so far with Roma rarely getting in behind the Milan back four. They were certainly missing the runs of Salah to stretch the opposition back line.
The second half started much like the first, with Roma moving the ball forward quickly. Only this time with sustained pressure, but still struggling to get in behind the Milan defence. A Roma out swinging corner was headed out only as far as Perotti but the Argentine lashed his effort over the bar. Nainggolan glanced an Emerson cross over the bar. Perotti came a lot closer to opening the scoring with his next effort, a shot from the right, just inside the box was low and hard but wide of Donnarumma’s near post.
Roma were pushing and eventually their pressure paid off with the first moment of real quality in the whole game coming in the 62nd minute. Nainggolan plucked a dropping ball out of the air and turned, driving at the centre of the field to curl his effort into the bottom left hand corner of the net from just outside the area sending the home tifosi into raptures.
From then on Milan heads seemed to drop and they never really looked like getting the equalising goal. The game turned back into more into the battle ground of the first half, although Suso came close in the last minute, wriggling free of his marker in the box but his left foot shot on the right hand side lacked sufficient power to beat Szczesny at his near post.
It was certainly a hard earned victory for Roma, they didn’t play well but they go to the Juventus Stadium on Saturday evening having cut the deficit at the top with a chance to further reduce Juve’s lead to a single point. Milan can be proud of their efforts this evening but it was a game that turned out be one of those where one moment of quality or a mistake would win the game for either side. Spaletti will be pleased that it was his side that churned out the three points.
Roma: Szczesny; Rudiger, Manolas, Fazio, Emerson; De Rossi, Strootman, Peres (El Shaarawy 41), Naingollan, Perotti; Dzeko
Milan: Donnarumma; Abate, Paletta, Romagnoli, De Sciglio; Pasalic (Honda 84), Locatelli, Bertolacci (Fernandez 66); Suso, Niang; Lapadula (L.Adriano 71)
Ref: Paolo Silvio Mazzoleni