Bizarrely, Roma are currently one point better off at this stage of the season than at the same point last year. However, this small consolation will do little to put a smile on the face of anyone linked to the Giallorossi, as the club licks its wounds after the 5-1 mauling by Cagliari. Three of the players mentioned in the last Club Focus were notable again, but their debuts against Gli Isolani will not live long in the memory. With the all-important Champions League game with Bayern Munich on the horizon, Claudio Ranieri’s team is now in real turmoil for a wide array of reasons.
After the critical sideswipe at Philippe Mexes in the last Focus, it was his ‘assured’ replacement that saw red on Saturday night. Nicolas Burdisso’s horrific knee-high assault, which left Daniele Conti needing 30 stitches, more than merited a sending off and effectively conditioned the entire match. The Argentine has publicly taken the blame for the defeat but should Roma really have collapsed so disastrously with ten men on the pitch against such average opposition? This is probably more worrying than the result itself, as the team from the capital showed a mental frailness that will surely worry their former Chelsea tactician.
Paolo Castellini’s match lasted only minutes as the new left-back exited the Sant’Elia with a muscular problem. This could leave Roma with severe issues in that area, as John Arne Riise is still some way off being ready for first-team football and there is no other genuine alternative to play on the left side of defence. The third of our notable trio, Marco Borriello, toiled away in attack but did not leave much of an imprint. He showed some neat touches, but was easily marshalled by the Sardinian defence, especially once left to play up on his own.
So, Roma lose heavily (four of the goals coming from set pieces) and their new signings fail to make any impression in a game they were expected, at the very least, not to lose. But this is football, and these are cracks that can be repaired, after all the season is still young and players are finding their form. Scratching just beneath the surface, we unearth an issue that might not be so easy to paper over, the Coach’s controversial decision to replace Francesco Totti after Burdisso’s red card. During the USA World Cup in 1994, Arrigo Sacchi made a similar substitution against Norway when Gianluca Pagliuca was sent off, and the Coach inexplicably sacrificed Robert Baggio. For Sacchi it turned out very well as Italy won 1-0. Not so for Ranieri, as a perplexed Totti told the press that he was taken off so that he could be saved for the midweek European meeting with the German champions. Initially, that does make sense, except this was in complete contrast to what the Roman tactician had previously told the Press in the build-up to the Serie A match, where he proclaimed that he was concentrating on Cagliari and was not at all thinking about the forthcoming Champions League encounter. Totti has, correctly in his role as club captain, not made an issue of this, explaining that it was the Coach’s decision and there was nothing he could do. However, by removing a player that has single-handedly won games for Roma in the past, did Ranieri’s decision signal a form of surrender by the Giallorossi bench, which further galvanised the already rampant islanders?
These are the kind of controversies that Ranieri will need to avoid, indecision that could cost his team points in the major competitions. He has heaped extra pressure upon himself as well, as now failure to take anything from the Munich match will mean his decision to remove Totti at the weekend was fruitless. This is not to say that had the captain remained on the pitch that Roma would not still have lost, but all eyes will now be on him to deliver against last year’s beaten finalists. This is an added pressure that frankly the club and player could do without after such a poor start to their domestic season.
There is very little good news for the Giallorossi faithful, as Mexes, Rodrigo Taddei and Mirko Vucinic are all unavailable for the Champions League encounter. All were unfit to play last Saturday and have not made the squad that fly out to Germany. One tiny glimmer in the darkness is that Adriano is joining the party in Europe. That is really all the good news there is for Roma fans. The ravaging by Cagliari will need to be quickly archived, with minds completely focused on Wednesday and the Allianz arena to avoid further humiliation.