Here at Club Focus, we have so far refrained to rain down any kind of criticism on Claudio Ranieri and his team’s somewhat leisurely start to the season. He is a hugely experienced tactician, and has proved that he is a skilled football coach by having taken charge of Europe’s biggest clubs. However, this week we will dare to question his judgement and raise an eyebrow or two at some of his decisions that may have contributed to the away loss at Naples, last Sunday afternoon. The tactical set-up of the team, which produced a quite ugly Roman performance, we feel can be legitimately debated in more depth than any previous defeats witnessed during this current campaign.
The formation can immediately be discussed as Roma used a 3-4-1-2, the first time this season with three centre backs. The ‘modulo’ itself is not an issue, as we have mentioned previously the Coach’s strength is his ability to be able to adapt his team to follow diverse set ups so that opponents can be correctly encountered. Sometimes dubbed the ‘Tinker-man’, he has never been one afraid to swap formations from week to week. However, three at the back is not usually deployed when playing a team that plays one striker alone up front. Napoli use Edison Cavani as the lone forward, so three defenders is a slight overkill. This puzzling decision on Sunday, meant that one or both of the other centre backs may be forced to push forward to mark either of the two attacking midfielders (Marek Hamsik and Ezeqiuel Lavezzi) and leave gaps at the back or to remain central and then fail to deal with these players running from deep positions by not having any reference points as to where Hamsik and Lavezzi would arrive from. Stranger still is when one of these centre backs is Marco Cassetti who certainly thrives going forward but has never been a commanding defender.
The replacement of Marco Borriello, who himself has publicly questioned his substitution, was bizarre if only for the fact that the Italian international was probably the Giallorossi’s best player in the first half. He looked dangerous on the ball and showed huge desire and commitment throughout the first 45 minutes. He certainly looked like Roma’s best chance of a goal. Surely we should not entertain the thought that Ranieri was too frightened to haul off Francesco Totti instead and therefore opted for the safer option? Let us hope that this was not the case. ‘SuperMarco’ insisted he was not tired, as suggested by his coach, and felt he could have scored, as it was the Napoli defenders that looked wearier than he was.
The most calamitous decision however, the one that can truly be argued, was the choice made by Ranieri to play Jeremy Menez behind the front two forwards as the ‘trequartista’. The ‘Phantom Menez’ was nowhere to be seen during the first half, and horrendously wasted in that advanced central position. He has always played his best football when on the wing, slicing his way past full backs at pace and either pulling balls back from the by-line or driving into the penalty area. At his finest he can be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. If not as good as those two, he certainly has the potential to be. But played centrally, all of his dribbling skills were negated by a crowded and congested Neapolitan midfield. He failed to make any impression and the tactician had no choice but to remove him for the second half. Surely if he had been used wide, as part of a trident attack, he would have perhaps stretched the Partenopei’s own back three very wide, leaving spaces for Borriello and Totti to exploit? The Frenchman is a winger in the purest and most old fashioned of senses, yet the ex-Valencia tactician failed to use one of his potent weapons to its fullest.
The Serie A break for European Championship qualification matches has probably come at the right time for I Lupi. A chance to ake of stock of their season so far, to rest those that are not on international duty and to deflect the media’s main focus onto the Azzurri rather than themselves. Ranieri has admitted that this is not the same Roma team that we saw last season, but it is his job to make them so. He has 13 days before the home encounter with Genoa, to decide how best he faces another team that prefers to play with three defenders at the back.