Claudio Ranieri was right to say there are no excuses for the manner in which they lost 3-1 away to Palermo. The team that enthralled us all not a few days earlier with an inspired victory over Bayern Munich was deservedly beaten in Sicily. No excuses maybe, but reasons most definitely. We shall look back and discuss what appeared to go wrong for the Giallorossi at the Renzo Barbera on Sunday evening and what lesson, if any, can be learnt from such a poor performance.
The Champions League win last week began in a similar fashion, with i Lupi going behind to their opponents, almost against the run of play. However, whereas last Tuesday the Coach had at his disposition a plethora of tactical options both on the pitch and on the bench, against the Rosaneri the amount of tinkering available to the ex-Chelsea tactician was severely limited. The only attacking switch that could be made was that of Júlio Baptista, a player that would no doubt have been sold in the summer if a buyer could have been found.
Ranieri set up his team as per the usual 4-3-1-2, with Fábio Simplício and David Pizarro both starting. Francesco Totti also lined up from the off, but this trio all struggled, along with the rest of the team, to play anything like at the levels we have seen in the past. The captain had a truly shocking game, notwithstanding his injury time rasping angled drive which did nothing more than double his Serie A goals tally for the season. His shooting and passing was in need of serious calibration as he appeared to misjudge almost everything for 90 minutes. Pizarro, after returning from his injury enforced absence, did not look up to match speed and the constant boos suffered by ex-Palermitano Simplício, may have affected his ability to impact positively on the game.
The Roma full-backs failed to make any impression in either half and along with a seemingly distracted Juan at centre back, Ranieri was powerless to effect any kind of tactical change to reverse the poor performances. The writing was more or less on the wall from the moment Fabrizio Miccoli hit the opener for Delio Rossi’s men as he had time and space in the 18 yard box to pick his spot. The Coach failed to make an early change as we have so often seen him do when things are going wrong. It was not until the second goal went in that he made the ineffectual move of swapping Pizarro for Júlio Baptista, which did nothing to aid his ailing charges and proves the theory of a lack of credible options at his disposition.
The team heavily relies on its wing play, whether that be through Jérémy Ménez or the full-backs, but neither were able to do this and credit is due to Palermo, who through Federico Balzaretti especially, made constant inroads into the Giallorossi rearguard. The flanks belonged to the men of La Favorita and Roma had no way of regaining this lost ground. Bizarrely this is not the first time the club from the capital has crumbled to a team playing with a lone forward and two attackers just behind. Earlier in the season against Napoli, who employed a 3-4-2-1, Ranieri’s team was again comprehensively beaten. Coincidence, or is there a strategic problem with how Roma approach their games that fails to deal with such an opponent?
Answers to these problems are not self evident, as fans we are not party to the intricacies of the footballing systems deployed and discussed by the Coach. We can only make judgements on what we see on the pitch and the attitude of the players. The team certainly needs an alternative to the defunct Júlio Baptista, who offers nothing as an impact substitute. We have mentioned in previous Club Focus’ that the full-back area needs careful consideration for its long-term future and possibly an extra midfield ‘hammer’, in the mould of Daniele De Rossi, could be of use in games where the full-backs are struggling to find space and time to attack.
Tactically, we do not have the gall to question the experienced Ranieri’s decisions but that does not mean we should not form an opinion. From what we have seen over the last few games, a front three (fitness permitting) of Mirko Vučinić wide left, Marco Borriello in the centre and Ménez wide right seems quite an irresistible attack. Along with a hardworking midfield of Daniele De Rossi, Matteo Brighi and Leandro Greco, this could allow the full-backs a lot of freedom to assist with positive forward running. Where this leaves Francesco Totti in the grander scheme of things is fortunately a dilemma, we in our comfortable armchairs, are not faced with having to resolve. Over to you, Signor Ranieri.