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Apr 25, 2014

Business as usual for Roma

Let me tell you a story: Roma play a match of football. They get caught out once or twice at the back, but nothing major. Despite some rather big absences, the side does enough to score multiple times, a combination of great individual skill and great teamwork. By the end, a victory is achieved, another clean sheet, and another three points.

If that sounds like the Milan match has been condensed into something boring and tame, it partially was. This game was remarkably similar in outcome to most of the matches Roma have played this season. No Mehdi Benatia, no Kevin Strootman, no Mattia Destro, no worries.

- Report: Roma 2-0 Milan

Milan, as mediocre of a season as they're having, are a team with genuine talents within them: Mario Balotelli perhaps the brightest of the bunch, but Adel Taarabt and Kaka have shown moments, perhaps fleeting, but moments nevertheless of sheer class and will. On Friday, Roma neutralized them nearly entirely. Balotelli had four goals in the seven games before this one but not a single shot on or off target Friday. Taarabt had two shots saved from outside the box but completed only two of his six dribbles, one in each half. Kaka, meanwhile, attempted only 29 passes, completing 24, failed to reach a target with any of his three crosses, missed all three of the tackles he attempted and saw two shots blocked and another saved.

If this was Rafael Toloi's biggest challenge since routinely filling in for Benatia, it's safe to say he did nearly as well as the man he replaced. He may never have Benatia's pace or reading -- and at best would be Roma's third-choice centre-back, if permanently signed -- but on the night, he was superb; nine out of nine clearances completed, 34 out of 37 attempted passes successful, with an interception and a headed duel won in the box. He may have failed to complete two tackles successfully and lost another headed duel, but all three of these occurrences took place near the halfway point. In the box, his partnership with Leandro Castan was delightfully effective.

As the game wore on, the gap between the two sides inevitably grew. Miralem Pjanic offered his best argument yet for a contract extension with an amazing, Lionel Messi-esque goal, dancing through three defenders to rip open Milan's back line like a lion clawing at a bag of potato chips, before slotting in past Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. Before the match, Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini noted that his extension should be signed before the end of the season, and while that does not necessarily rule out a sale, the signs look promising with Sabatini also noting that Roma has no need to sell players this summer.

Milan, meanwhile, may want to look for a new keeper; it was Abbiati's howler dealing with a ball in the box that allowed Gervinho to swipe his ninth goal of the season. With one more, he'll be in the double digits for both goals and assists, and he along with Francesco Totti lead the league with 10 in total.

At best, this may have just delayed Juventus from hoisting the Scudetto another weekend, but if Sassuolo can repeat their heroics against Juve in a few short days' time... Roma boss Rudi Garcia and his men can continue to dream.

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