It is too early to draw any definite conclusions, and this is the only one that we may take home from the weekend match against Siena. For the rest, the way the team looked during that game would be best left unspoken. Newfound Coach Claudio Ranieri fielded the team in a 4-4-1-1 composed only of experienced players – precisely those kind of brittle-boned players whom Roma is trying to get rid of in its efforts to renew the team. It was a game that Ranieri was afraid of losing, and the evidence for this was everywhere, from the five midfielders on the pitch to the terribly blunt efforts of the team during the first half of the game.
The positioning of David Pizarro in the role of trequartista/second striker behind Francesco Totti seemed particularly gutless, considering that Julio Baptista, Mirko Vucinic and Jérémy Menez were all available on the bench. Then again, and as the dictum goes, it is the victors who write history – or, to use a fitting turn of phrase, who right history, both in the sense that Ranieri earned himself the right to defend his decisions by means of the result, and also to the extent that he mended (or began mending) the disastrous morale of the team. Morale was all that this game was about. It was the only factor capable of unlocking the talented but demoralised legs of the Roman players, and it was the first and most important prize that was to be won on the pitch, over and beyond the points on the board. Besides, once Baptista did come on to the pitch, he did little other than waste some chances before the goal, and his later substitution in favour of Vucinic seemed only too logical. The man has skill dragging the team forwards, but he truly meets some trouble finding the jugular of the adversary. One wonders if he might not be of best use on the wing, but that seems too creative an option for someone like Ranieri.
We mentioned in our last Club Focus that Ranieri is not particularly capable at nurturing youth. But even by his standards, the team he fielded on Sunday was geriatric. Simone Perrotta, Rodrigo Taddei, Marco Cassetti and Pizarro as supporting striker were all fielded together. Hopefully this was only dictated by the need to establish hierarchies within the squad and by the Coach’s cautious approach to the game, rather than being a daguerreotype of the team as it is set to become. The only ‘young’ player to be fielded was Matteo Brighi, who walked off injured. At the time of writing, the gravity of his injury remains unknown, but we truly hope it is not too serious. A long-term loss of Brighi would represent a serious blow, especially now that Alberto Aquilani has flown off to greener pastures. The team that Ranieri sketched last Sunday suggests he has a liking for placing two mediani in central midfield, and this option will no longer be available if Daniele De Rossi is the only man left for the position. Pizarro, Perrotta and the rest of Roma’s central midfielders (other than the very young and very average Ricardo Faty) all play in different roles.
Speaking more broadly of Ranieri’s first game, the tactical method was rather self-evident – do whatever you like, but don’t let them score a goal. This explains why only one forward was fielded and why the team consistently hugged its own half of the pitch for the first portion of the game. The decision has already attracted some criticism, but having had only two weeks to reorganise a team as broken as Roma, the plan was perfectly legitimate. The only broken cog was Philippe Mexes, who was playing a pretty awful game and who only rescued his performance by means of the goal. Much like Cassetti’s blunder against Juventus, an irregularity in the defence was to be expected – but it was Ranieri’s mentality and approach that limited the concessions to only one goal, as opposed to the three that Luciano Spalletti yielded against both Genoa and Juventus. As for the Frenchman, he had better up his game, or he may find himself benched in favour of the central coupling of Juan and Nicolas Burdisso. Similarly, Cassetti really needs to improve. Once again he failed to impress and his inclusion in the starting team should stand as a one-off. Marco Motta is far more deserving of a starter’s shirt, and it will be disgraceful is Ranieri does not yield it to him.
When Siena took the lead, it seemed as though the new Roman Coach had gathered around himself all the odium in the world. Now, in the wake of the victory, things are obviously much calmer. But praise and censure would be self-serving in equal measure. Ranieri had the courage to field a new (and in our opinion appropriate) tactical set-up even as he lacked the guts to play young blood from the beginning. He did not play to win – he only played not to lose. In other words, he neither did well nor came short. He simply gambled. And the gamble paid off. It will not keep paying off forever, and it certainly will not be enough when we reach the incredibly fierce game that lies ahead next weekend, away against Fiorentina. But for now, it reaped some rewards. It gave Roma three points, it rebuilt a little bit of morale and identity, and it brought Ranieri the only thing that he really needs – more time.
Roma Club Focus 2009/10
The senate is adjourned – August 25, 2009
Houston, we have a problem – August 28, 2009
The time of Penelope – September 1, 2009
Good move, bad timing – September 4, 2009
International week (Georgia-Italy, Italy-Bulgaria)
Break means homework time for Ranieri – September 7, 2009
A win that means more than three points – September 15, 2009