The summer sales of Erik Lamela, Pablo Osvaldo and Bojan Krkic left many questioning Roma’s front-line heading into the new season, however a certain Serbian attacker is slowly silencing those critics.
Adem Ljajic’s arrival in the second half turned the tide for the Giallorossi as they earned their 48th Rome derby victory. Prior to the Serbian attacker’s introduction, the match looked certain to end in a draw. Vladimir Petkovic’s cautious approach saw his side sit off in their half, maintaining a solid foundation in a 4-1-4-1, but this left lone striker Miroslav Klose isolated upfront. Alvaro Gonzalez and Hernanes pressed Kevin Strootman and Miralem Pjanic, leaving Daniele De Rossi free to play passes, but the Italian didn’t have a significant impact on the match.
Due to Lazio’s ability to contain Roma’s midfield, Rudi Garcia’s attacking three didn’t receive many opportunities to cause havoc in the final third. Gervinho scampered down the flanks lacking quality in the final third – while Francesco Totti was forced to drop deep into midfield to receive the ball and Alessandro Florenzi was a limited option on the opposing flank. Frankly, it was a poor half from both sides that resulted in no shots on target, minimal Lazio attacking threats – besides Antonio Candreva and Senad Lulic bombing down the flanks – and Garcia’s men unable to get behind the Lazio backline.
Six minutes into the second half, Garcia decided to introduce Ljajic for the disappointing Florenzi, and this is when Roma – specifically Totti – grew into the match.
Ljajic, celebrating his 22nd birthday, drifted around the final third linking play on each flank – he found pockets of space in key areas to receive the ball, and dropped deeper into midfield to provide an extra passing outlet. The Serbian attacker provided an attacking element – his immaculate off-the-ball movement – that freed up space for his teammates to slot into.
Maicon and Federico Balzaretti surged forward to help create overloads, and Totti, who had himself a frustrating first half, found spaces in wide areas to provide Roma with the creativity they lacked prior to Ljajic’s arrival.
Balzaretti and Totti benefitted from the Serbian’s second half cameo the most, as the Roma captain was no longer the creative focal point, while Balzaretti had space to attack due to Lazio’s narrow shape. And it took 11 minutes for the duo to combine as Totti drifted to the right flank and played a lovely ball to the advancing Roma fullback, but he drove his shot off the post. Seconds later, Totti played a short corner, received the ball back, and delivered a lovely cross to an unmarked Balzaretti, and this time the Italian put the ball past Federico Marchetti.
Petkovic brought on an extra striker, two midfielders, and altered his formation, but an Andre Dias red card – minutes after his introduction – ended Lazio’s chances of snagging an equalizer. Nevertheless, Ljajic continued to impact the match, combining with Balzaretti again, which led to substitute Marco Borriello nodding the Italian fullback’s cross at Marchetti. But, in the dying minutes of injury time, Ljajic received a pass on the edge of the box, awing the Lazio defence with his footwork, then squirming into space, where he was fouled, handing Roma a late penalty. The birthday boy confidently stepped to the spot, scoring his second goal of the season – off the bench – for the Giallorossi, as their perfect record stays intact.
Ljajic has yet to complete a full 90 minutes for Roma, but he continues to display why he’ll be a pivotal component to their success this season. His persistence to roam around the final third linking play, score goals, and provide space for his teammates is beneficial against well-organized sides. Roma struggled in the first half, but Ljajic’s work rate in the final third led to the Giallorossi’s second half superiority against a good Lazio side.