Two draws is not a particularly impressive booty for Roma to have conquered from the two Sicilian expeditions, but it will have to make do. There’s a very tough string of games coming up over the next six fixtures, so it is a shame that a few more points could not have been gathered. But the points are not the most pressing of our worries, at the moment. Our concern should be marshalling the chaos in which the team finds itself involved, be it of a tactical or psychological nature. Until some stability is reached, consistent results – and great objectives – will be out of our grasp as well.
Roma currently find themselves in what could be defined, in terms of mathematics, as the chaotic region. We mentioned in the last few Club Focuses that Roma are still too unpredictable to allow any serious discussion of their next game in terms of results. The match against Catania reconfirmed that. Francesco Totti, coming from two superlative games, was meant to leave his mark. No-one could have expected him to prove borderline impalpable for the entirety of the game. Claudio Ranieri had been giving very few chances to the youngsters, something we lamented in our last article. No-one could have said that Marco Motta and Alessio Cerci would have walked onto the pitch, especially not the latter, who seemed to have been placed in Ranieri’s bad book from the outset. Only a handful could have predicted the dreadful, well nigh embarrassing performance of the defence. Finally, no-one would have put their money on Roma playing such a heartless first half, not when the defining characteristic of Ranieri’s team so far has been a marked sense of character.
Two things should be considered about this match. Firstly, the defence was awful – why? To some extent it was a matter of contingent performances. John Arne Riise leaves a lot of space when coming forward, Philippe Mexes is still lost somewhere in a dark forest of his own, and Marco Cassetti is putting in performances which wouldn’t get him a starting shirt in a team of trees if he weren’t playing under Ranieri. His injury is perhaps the best thing we take home from this match. To be fair, Motta displayed some defensive weaknesses of his own when he came onto the green, but if nothing else he shows some worth coming forward. If he starts alongside Riise until Cassetti’s recovery, then the two are bound to earn some interesting nicknames for themselves – the Kamikaze couple, or the Charge of the Light Brigade – given their potential to tear apart things before them while leaving holes like underground marine trenches behind them.
Over and beyond the individuals, Roma’s shortcomings were so consistent in tactical nature that there is probably a design behind them. The number of times that they were caught on the counter, for instance, suggest that Ranieri is training his team to a very precise execution of the offside trap – something which he was already doing at Juventus. Obviously, the first few attempts on the field are bound to look sketchy, and that’s what happened against Catania, but it will improve over time. Whether such a tactical solution is an adequate one for Roma is a completely different question and one very hard to assess at this stage. It certainly gave him some trouble with the Bianconeri.
This poor performance lays bare another important tactical impasse. The team only seems capable of playing through the centre. Daniele De Rossi and David Pizarro kept bouncing the ball between each other in the midfield, and Mirko Vucinic and Totti did the same at the far end. When Cerci came on, turning the formation into a 4-4-2 and shifting Simone Perrotta on the flanks, the added men on the flanks (including the full-backs) went completely unexploited. This team has been used to the 4-3-1-2 for so long now that they have forgotten how to take advantage of support on the sides. Only too often a player like Cerci or Riise would rush into a space on the right or left only to be completely ignored by the midfielder or forward with the ball. The resulting optical illusion was that the wingers were having a bad game, but it was not their fault. You cannot magically call the ball to yourself if Vucinic won’t pass it to anyone else but Totti, or if De Rossi will choose a long ball rather than any short lateral pass. This tactical crack is a serious one, but it also happens to belong to one of Roma’s variables of unpredictability, and in this it differs from the defensive situation. In other words, while we’re bound to see the defence follow (and evolve upon) the trend we described, the offensive game may become completely winger-oriented already within the next game. Do not underestimate the potential of Roma’s chaos.
A few words on the unexpected guest of the match, Alessio Cerci. The boy has some critics, including Ranieri himself. When he came on, at the 55th minute of the game, it was obvious that he was desperate to impress. He ran on to every ball he could set his eyes on, often fouling the Catania players in his nervousness. Sadly, and as we mentioned, his efforts were mostly wasted. It took a full twenty minutes of game before Totti and Vucinic understood what a support he could offer on the right flank and they began offering him some passes. His execution was mixed, losing the odd ball to his own frenzy but also producing some real action on his wing. Unsurprisingly, for the entirety of the second half all the forward momentum came from his side. If the left wing had fielded Jérémy Menez, it may have been another story, but with Perrotta on the field this was inevitable. By this we do not mean that Roma should start with Cerci and Menez (added to the Kamikaze duo, it would lead to the resignation of Julio Sergio within two weeks). Perrotta was necessary to compensate for the holes left by Riise’s runs. But there is no getting around the fact that in terms of his offensive contribution he might as well have been selling ice-creams on the stands for all that we saw of him. Every now and then the camera stopped on the man, and it felt to us like seeing a motion capture of John Milton – a blind guy from another age, walking in circles and with his mind completely lost on the metaphysical subtleties of heaven. He certainly didn’t seem to be aware that there was a game going on.
The comparison with Perrotta gives some ground to understand why Cerci represents such a valuable asset to the team. Yes, he needs to grow and overcome his nervousness. He also needs a team (not to mention a Coach) that trusts him, instead of one that only throws the ball to him when reduced to despair. For all of this, though, Cerci can bring a vitality, a pace and an enthusiasm to the game which are far beyond Perrotta’s possibilities (or, for that matter, those of Rodrigo Taddei). He is the only player Roma has who possesses these qualities and truly fits on the right wing. His technique, while rough, is also of a high standard. Ranieri is unlikely to use him again, or at least not very often, and this is a shame. We stand by our reading – Cerci is an asset. The most should be made of him.
Other thoughts on the match. Vucinic was putting in a brilliant performance, and it is a shame that Totti could not support him. When Totti is not on his day, the entire team fails to garner results (but we’ve known this since Matusalem’s grandfather was conceived). Stefano Okaka may have been more useful than Cerci in this specific match, but fate gave us two injuries in the first 30 minutes and, by the time the young panther was needed, substitutions were no longer available. Finally, and on a note of sportsmanship, let us say that Catania deserved the win. Not only did they display courage and tactical awareness, they played a game of exemplary furbizia, smattered with impeccable tactical fouls and well-calculated dives, and they applied the most clinical and calculated psychological pressure on the Roma shirts. It showed, too – towards the end, on several occasions the teams seemed set to start a fight. The Giallorossi, despite producing very few shots on goal, managed on one occasion to throw the ball into the box. It was enough to see it stumble into the net. It was not really a deserved point, but football is about fate more than it is about equity.
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
Ranieri chases team spirit – September 18, 2009
Champagne! – September 22, 2009
Children of Chaos – September 25, 2009
Catania is beginning to get on our nerves – September 29, 2009