Roma ensured a place in round two of the Champions League with the point they needed after the 1-1 draw against Cluj on Wednesday. But, rather than being in celebratory mood the team suffered the indignation of surrendering yet another comfortable lead against supposed inferior opponents. It’s a trend that Coach Claudio Ranieri will have to put a stop to if his team have any desire to win a trophy this season.
Qualification was not guaranteed, but only a defeat in Romania and an improbable Basel victory away to Bayern Munich would have put the Giallorossi out of the Champions League knockout stages. As on Saturday, the team started well and their dominance paid off when Marco Borriello broke the deadlock with his tenth goal this season, finishing coolly after being sent clear by Fabio Simplicio.
Sadly, Roma’s vibrancy in the first half disappeared after the break, showing lethargy reminiscent of last weekend’s draw at Chievo. Despite creating numerous opportunities to score and kill off their opponents, they repeatedly wasted chances and allowed Cluj to get a foothold in the game.
The Romanians took control and giant striker Lacina Traore missed three good chances before eventually levelling as I Lupi continually failed to stop incursions down the flanks in the last 20 minutes. Full-back Paolo Castellini was particularly culpable, allowing cross after cross to come in, and stand-in keeper Bogdan Lobont was helpless as Traore cancelled out Super Marco’s opener with a firm header, leaving Ranieri to scratch his head in bewilderment at why his team fell asleep during the second half for the second game in succession.
The reasons for Roma’s lack of focus throughout games, especially away from home, are indeed difficult to understand. The team become wasteful in front of goal and back off their opponents when they counter-attack. Wednesday’s game was a classic example of this. Here at Club Focus we are as baffled as the Coach is, though the initial problem appears to stem from the Giallorossi’s inability to convert good scoring opportunities into goals and finish off opponents. The misses only seem to give the opposing team fresh impetus and a belief that they can take something from what should have been a lost cause.
Ranieri’s team are not quite so forgiving at home and hopefully the weekend match against Bari – a routine win on paper – will provide a catalyst for a good run and more consistent performances. They can ill afford to lose further ground on the Serie A leaders if they harbour desires to win the Scudetto.
Nevertheless, it certainly will not be easy as injuries once again become protagonists in the Coach’s team selection. John Arne Riise will miss out, as will Simone Perrotta and Julio Sergio, the latter injuring an adductor muscle just prior to the game in Romania. Borriello has a very sore shoulder but should be fit to play, and David Pizarro should recover from a bout of influenza. Daniele De Rossi is suspended, though his ban is for one match only and he should be back the following week.
Other news emanating from l’Olimpico are rumours surrounding the futures of Mirko Vucinic and Philippe Mexes. Both are crucial to the squad but have worryingly been linked to moves elsewhere in January. If such a scenario occurs, Roma will be severely weakened unless Ranieri has quality replacements lined up.
Vucinic did not get any playing time in Romania despite a visibly injured Borriello and an off-form Francesco Totti. Inter and Tottenham Hotspur have both been linked the Montenegrin striker, though whether a move to either would ultimately suit Vucinic is questionable. Would he really be better off in Milan, where he will be competing with the likes of Diego Milito, Samuel Eto’o and Goran Pandev? Should he risk going to the Premiership, which has a totally different climate, both in terms of weather and the style of football? The Giallorossi faithful can only hope he remains faithful to the red and yellow jersey he currently wears.
Mexes is perhaps the bigger worry as he has still not signed a new contract despite reports that a deal has been offered. Signs here of a split between Club and player could be beyond repair and, according to Il Corriere dello Sport, only his family ties in Rome can persuade him to remain a Giallorosso.
Any hope of winning a trophy this season will hinge on player fitness and a consistency within the squad. Top players arriving is always a welcome sign of a Club striving to improve, but losing equally good players is an indicator of the sort of disharmony within squads that more often than not leads to failure to land silverware. Events next month should give us more of a clue.