De Rossi, Vermaelen struggle as Roma lose ground in title chase
Roma consigned their feint Serie A title hopes to the dustbin by conceding two daft goals within seven minutes of taking a 2-1 lead at Sampdoria. The loss was Roma's first defeat of 2017, and allowed Juventus to go four points clear with a game in hand and also gave Napoli the chance to pile the pressure on for second spot.
Edin Dzeko's well taken 15th league goal of the season -- his first away from home since late October -- looked to have put the Giallorossi over the top after dominating the early stages of the second half, but uncharacteristically slapstick defending allowed Sampdoria to quickly reverse the proceedings. First, Patrik Schick took down and rolled home Luis Muriel's bog-standard flick-on with 19 minutes left, and almost immediately afterwards Muriel's free kick pinged off Radja Nainggolan to beat an unfortunate Wojciech Szczesny, who had previously saved Roma's skin with superb keeping on at least three occasions.
Chances came Roma's way through substitutes Stephan El Shaarawy and Francesco Totti, and the away side should have been awarded a penalty for a clear injury-time foul on Dzeko, who was instead wrongly ruled offside. That being said, teams that throw away leads twice in 90 minutes don't win league titles, so that looks to be that for another year.
Dzeko's goal was his 21st of the season in all competitions and brings him level with Gabriel Batistuta's best ever single season total for Roma, an incredible feat to accomplish before the end of January. It was also the sort of goal that's been lacking in his repertoire, as Dzeko darted in front of his marker -- in this case Milan Skriniar -- and artfully guided Emerson Palmieri's cross in at the near post. It was all the more impressive from the Bosnian given the paucity of service given to him for much of the afternoon.
Where to start? After taking a fifth minute lead Roma were in the perfect position to keep pace with Juventus, but Roma's back three could not handle Muriel and Bruno Fernandes, and they were lucky to get in at half-time level. Thomas Vermaelen looked incredibly ring rusty and was on his heels every time Muriel got the ball, while the rest of his teammates seemed to take their recent defensive solidity for granted. The way they fell asleep after retaking the lead was just criminal -- there's no use crying over penalties not being awarded if you can't hold your concentration for more than five minutes.
4 -- Luciano Spalletti stuck more or less with the same team that's served him so well over recent weeks, and it looked extremely tired. Starting Vermaelan was understandable given that Kostas Manolas is a booking away from a suspension and Roma have Fiorentina up next in the league, but the Belgian was a disaster and was targeted by Samp as the weak link. In waiting until Roma were 3-2 down before making his changes he also allowed the hosts to dig in and defend in numbers.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 7 -- Not at fault for any of the goals, and if anything made sure that the scoreline wasn't more embarrassing.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 6 -- Somewhat below his usual high standards. Gave away the free kick with which Muriel won the game by clumsily fouling Schick from behind.
DF Federico Fazio, 7 -- The only member of the backline to emerge with any credit. Like Szczesny unlucky to finish on the losing team and not to blame for any of the three goals.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, 4 -- Taken to the cleaners by Muriel for Samp's equaliser and it only got worse from there.
MF Bruno Peres, 6 -- Pounced well on Christian Puggioni's save from Emerson's thumping shot to open the scoring, but after that was his usual unreliable self.
MF Kevin Strootman, 5 -- Invisible in the first half, upped his game briefly in the second, only to disappear again.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 5 -- The Italian's worst game in ages. Caught napping for the second equaliser and generally behind the play all day.
MF Emerson Palmieri, 7 -- Started in the best possible way with a roundabout assist, and despite a few missteps was far more solid that his countryman on the other side of the pitch.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 6 -- Blazed over from Dzeko's very presentable lay-off with the scores level, and despite his usual herculean efforts off the ball struggled to impose himself with it.
MF Diego Perotti, 6 -- His finely weighted pass allowed Emerson to set up Dzeko, but other than that HE fared little better than the Ninja.
FW, Edin Dzeko 7 -- Took his goal brilliantly and toiled admirably on his own up front. Would have earned his side a last gasp penalty but for bad referring, and on another day, his fine first half lay-off to Nainggolan would have led to a goal.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, N/R -- fluffed his lines by shooting a great chance straight at Puggioni with four minutes left.
FW Francesco Totti, N/R -- Had a powerful free kick well saved in the final seconds, but did little in open play.
MF Leandro Paredes, N/R -- Given how badly De Rossi played, odd that he only got three minutes with the game all but lost.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley