Tuesday night’s clash between Roma and Tottenham may be one of the most intriguing clashes of the International Champions Cup. For sure, there’s something magical about the games between Real Madrid and Barcelona, or the two Manchester teams, but in terms of two organizations on a rapid ascent to the elite level of European football, arguably nobody’s on a steeper trajectory than the two sides who meet at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday night.
Roma of course have already been very active in the transfer market — just this weekend they scooped up veteran Manchester City defender Aleksander Kolarov, to add to the likes of Cengiz Under, Maxime Gonalons, and Hector Moreno as Eusebio di Francesco constructs an extensive overhaul of the team.
Not too extensive though. The legendary Francesco Totti may have retired and moved into becoming a director of the club he played for all his career, but that’s shifted the focus to Daniele de Rossi, who recently extended his own remarkable tenure with Roma, and who will lead the team in the wake of the much loved Totti.
That kind of continuity is key to both teams — the loyalty personified by Totti and De Rossi is a core element of Roma’s identity. They want to catch and overhaul the current Italian champions (and next ICC opponents) Juventus, but remain true to their own identity.
Likewise, Tottenham, who just like their Italian counterparts finished as runners up in their domestic league last year, have historically been known and celebrated for a particular brand of attacking flair. So while Spurs are as equally dedicated as Rome to taking the next step, whatever that needs to be, they don’t want to sacrifice the “Tottenham way” to do so.
Don’t mistake that for naivety though. Under Mauricio Pocchetino, Tottenham’s high energy, high pressing style has plenty of verve about it, and plenty of goals from last season’s Premier League top scorer Harry Kane, but it’s also reliant on hard-working midfielders and defenders covering a lot of ground and showing tremendous stamina.
On that note, Pocchetino, like di Francesco, may be back in the market sooner rather than later. After selling Kyle Walker to Manchester City the team have money to spend, but unlike in previous years when the sales of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric netted a lot of revenue but decimated the team’s immediate prospects, these days Spurs have the depth and self-belief to absorb the loss of key players and feel like they can still build off the previous season’s achievements.
And after all, great as Spurs were last year, it still fell short of taking the next step to be a champion, so there’s a mandate to keep developing. But if the truly elite teams have an X factor, both Roma and Tottenham are tantalizingly close to finding theirs. And they’ll start the next stage of the hunt in the intimate cauldron of Red Bull Arena on Tuesday night.
A wild finish at Red Bull Arena marked a hugely entertaining game between Tottenham and Roma, as Marco Tumminello scored a 92nd minute winner to cancel Spurs’ two late goals and give Roma a 3-2 victory.
The day’s rain had burnt off the Jersey heat at Red Bull Arena to make for perfect footballing weather, and the strong starting line ups that both teams sent out did not waste the chance to play with a tempo and intensity that made the most of the conditions. If this was a pre-season friendly, it was hard to tell watching the action.
Tottenham had started marginally the brighter — looking to test a Roma defense that included several new faces. Aleksander Kolarov , Bruno Peres, and Juan Jesus lined up alongside Federico Fazio in the back four.
But Tottenham also sported an unfamiliar-looking defence — starting the game with a modish three man backline that included promising American national team prospect Cameron Carter-Vickers, and it was Carter-Vickers mistake that would lead to the opening goal, after he was judged to have handled Radja Nanggolan’s cross in the box in the 13th minute. Diego Perotti made no mistake from the spot, with a short run up and cool chip to the left side of Michael Vorm.
Either side could have scored the next goal with Spurs pressing and Roma breaking the press just as often — the cool presence of captain and new club icon (in the post Francesco Totti era) Daniele de Rossi often proving decisive playing out of midfield.
Spurs have a burgeoning legend of their own in Harry Kane, however, and in the 40th minute the striker showed his class in bringing down a long ball from Trippier and instantly lashing a shot towards the far corner, only for Alisson to block the shot at full stretch.
Both teams made a handful of changes at the half, with Roma granting a debut for new Turkish signing Cengiz Ünder. Ünder almost made a dream start when he broke into space in the Tottenham half within minutes of the second period starting, but his final shot was driven over the bar.
Ünder would have his moment though. Spurs had just made a series of substitutions as they continued their push for an equalizer with around 20 minutes to go, when Roma took advantage of their temporary disorganization. An interception near the halfway line sent Strootman free up the left in the 70th minute, and Kevin Wimmer, fresh on the field, could only clear Strootman’s cross as far as the edge of the box, where a galloping Ünder was there to sweep the ball home.
Afterwards, Ünder’s coach, Eusebio di Francesco declared, “It was a pleasure to see him tonight, being decisive on the pitch.”
The Ünder goal seemed to kill the game for Roma — if anything they looked the more likely to extend their lead, as they began to play through the gaps of the lesser-drilled version of Spurs in the final moments. But Tottenham kept marching forward, and in the 87th minute Vincent Janssen’s toe-poke off the post was turned in by Harry Winks to set up a grandstand finish.
And when Janssen swept home Georges-Kevin Nkoudou’s cross at the near post in the first minute of stoppage time it looked like we were heading for penalties. But the huge cheer that greeted that goal from the sellout crowd was matched seconds later, when Strootman again got up the left to sweep a ball across goal for Marco Tumminello to bundle the ball home in the six yard box.
A relieved Di Francesco claimed that his team’s performance was “very good through the suffering — because suffering is part of football. We suffered together.” He also noted that “Before the Paris St Germain game, we spoke about a gap between Roma and the top European clubs, but against the team second in the Premier League I think Roma played the more dynamic game.”
As for Mauricio Pocchetino, he was content enough with what his team had shown: “I am calm. I am happy, I think the team is doing well. Now the results are not the most important — it’s to get the players fit and to improve every day.”