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May 12, 2014

Roma plagued by late goal concessions

Roma manager Rudi Garcia has seen his team uncharacteristically give up late goals in recent weeks.
Roma manager Rudi Garcia has seen his team uncharacteristically give up late goals in recent weeks.
Football teams are rarely a static story over the course of the season, and even a team with as solid an identity as Rudi Garcia's Roma have gone through tweaks and evolutions throughout this campaign. One of the more notable trends in recent weeks has been the side's ability to score and concede late goals, with the latter outweighing the former.

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Since early spring, these kinds of last minute strikes have occurred in Roma matches quite a bit. Of the nine Serie A tilts since March 25th, a goal has been scored after the 75th minute in all but two. Fans who stay until the very end have seen incredibly late goals (89th minute or later) a notably high four times in that span.

Is this a sign of mental weakness or mental fortitude? Possibly both. At first, these late goals were from Roma, helping to turn the tide of the match in their favor. Against Torino at the very beginning of this spell, Alessandro Florenzi's cool finish off of a fantastic Gervinho pass snatched three vital points at home against Torino in a game that was just about to finish as a tie. A week later, Michel Bastos's goal ended all hopes of a Sassuolo comeback to give Roma a two-goal lead in a match that was nervier than it should have been.

That, however, was the last time these late occurrences helped Roma; since then, the side have only seen late goals go past Morgan De Sanctis and the defense. Some of them were meaningless in terms of the result -- Jonathan Biabiany's 90th minute goal when Roma hosted Parma merely cut the score from 4-1 to 4-2, and the following game-day Mauricio Pinilla tucked away a penalty only after Mattia Destro notched a hat-trick.

However, the damage in terms of morale may have been larger. The air of invincibility, the notion that the Roma defense could not be beaten as it so rarely was earlier in the season, seemed to be faltering somewhat, and the clean sheets have dried up since then as well. In this span of time since March, Roma have kept just two in nine matches.

Until two weeks, however, this was not really much of an issue; the side won every single game in that stretch from Torino until Catania, where the implosion of the season occurred. With the events still fresh from just over a week ago, there's no real reason to hash over the game, except to say that it was the first time since playing Milan in December that the team allowed a first half goal in Serie A (a span of just over 17 matches). Against Juventus this tendency reared an ugly, familiar head once again with Pablo Osvaldo, though for that game at least there may have been mitigating circumstances.

What does this all mean? It's hard to say conclusively, but it does seem as though the side has not been able to sustain focus in the final part of matches in this latter stretch in the season. Injuries have certainly played a part, and the defensive record is still the second-best in the league and miles above what it was last season, but compared to the ludicrously high bar that the team set before spring, the late concessions may be something for Garcia to consider.

It could be a matter of simply having less motivation -- five goals have been conceded in the two matches since Garcia said that the Scudetto was out of reach -- but perhaps they are simply reversions to the norm for a side that did so well to avoid them until recently.