Purple with bruises. That’s how they walked out of the Olimpico. No casual onlooker would have thought so after witnessing the events, but the game against Fiorentina was a very serious test. For Claudio Ranieri, it was only the second game of the league in his adventure to fix the broken team of Roma, a match which pitted him against a powerful and disciplined opponent and gave him very little time for preparation. That’s why the 3-1 victory on Sunday night must be considered an outstanding success.
It was a success because the entire team fought together, showing grit and disposition to sacrifice. Francesco Totti himself, on the brittle stilts of his thirty-two years, was running backwards and forwards like a midfielder. He has a background as a trequartista, so in a sense it was a return to his roots. The game was also a success because the team gave a sense of solidity and depth – free from Luciano Spalletti’s iconoclastic formations, and asked to play in basic roles, it turned out that there were plenty of players and alternatives to pick from on the bench. The end of the injury crisis played its part, but the fact that Roma no longer need forwards who metamorphosise into midfielders, and wingers who orbit towards the centre of the pitch is fundamental. Even Stefano Okaka Chuka had the time to taste some sweat and show some worth.
Above all else, the game was a success for the very simple reason that Roma played well. They were strong, convinced, in control of the drama and successful at executing their manoeuvres. There was something reminiscent of Spalletti’s Roma, the old one, in this game. Ranieri’s debut match against Siena gave us a team that looked terrible on the pitch (victory notwithstanding). Only a week later, they already displayed cohesion. That they managed this against a Champions League-calibre team like Fiorentina is something of a minor miracle – and a measure of their achievement is given by the fact that they pierced their net three times, a net which had conceded only once in the first three league games. More goals could have been scored in fact, if only Simone Perrotta could hit the side of a barn. We have been very critical of Perrotta’s inability to finalise under Spalletti, in the past. But his inclusion in Ranieri’s squad is irreprehensible. His tasks in the new set-up are mostly defensive in nature. In this, there is no doubt that the mummified couple of Perrotta and Rodrigo Taddei is more efficient than that of young wildcats Jérémy Menez and Alessio Cerci, however painful their exclusion from the starting list may be. For now, and until a true sense of tactical stability can be found, the grandpas take the cake.
Some words should also be expended on the exclusion of Philippe Mexes. This too was laudable. The Frenchman is in a very poor condition of form and the team performed better in his absence (thank God that Nicolas Burdisso was picked up, or who knows where Roma would be now). It also sub-communicated to the rest of the group that there will be no senators in this Roman republic. Those who do not perform on the pitch will not start. Even Totti, prior to the match, was subject to some public and – in terms of balance of power – much needed criticism. Showing to the players that no-one is untouchable is in fact the only plausible reason why Ranieri would make his criticism through the media, as opposed to seeking a private conference with the captain.
There is one final thing that cannot go without discussing. We stated that Roma won because they played well. But Fiorentina could have balanced it out if they too had played well – the two teams are, after all, almost equal. The question then becomes the following – given two teams of very similar power, how do we explain that one performs very well and one very poorly? The influence of playing at home or away comes into the equation of course, but in this case the answer is a little more complex. Fiorentina played in the Champions League last week, and Roma did not. La Viola expended an extraordinary, exhausting charge of moral and physical energy in their match away against Lyon, one which cannot be compared to the distracted effort which Roma put in against Basilea. Our column has claimed for a while now that Roma have a decisive advantage over their major competitors inasmuch as they are not fighting for the Champions League, and the game this Sunday provided the perfect practical demonstration of our argument. Fiorentina, Juventus, Inter and Milan will all suffer periodic dips in form and concentration within the domestic league which Roma will be immune from. On the long run, this will mean something between ten and twenty points gained for Roma on each of these teams – and given that they exploited Fiorentina’s first dip in a direct confrontation, it has already won the Giallorossi six points on them. This can be huge for Ranieri’s team this year if they only play to their potential. We said at the beginning of the season that Roma could go far, but that the only problem was Spalletti. That problem has been removed. Now go far.
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