Club Focus – Roma – Half-Full Or Half-Empty?

We can breathe a sigh of relief. And thank Gian Piero Gasperini, since we’re at it. The man has been allotted a strange fate in the last few years – after the fairy tale with Genoa, most people pointed to him as the next best thing, and voices even called for him to be at the helm of the Giallorossi. Regardless of what he would have done with our team, the entirety of the Roman tifoseria must have been grateful on Sunday that he chose to stay where he was. Without Inter’s draw to Genoa, the title-run would have been all but over. Instead, it is only postponed.

Sensations have been mixed after this match. We discussed last week that this was a good time to take Milan, and some supporters have bemoaned the missed opportunity of beating them and snatching back the second place. Others have pointed out that a draw with a team of their caliber is a good result. Public opinion is split – quite limpidly, for once – between pessimists and optimists. Let us put things in perspective. Yes, a draw with Milan is a good result. No, two draws in two crucial games (Napoli before this one) are not a good result, and in truth, Roma did not lack the means to do better. Points could have been gained on Inter and Milan both. A partial of four points out of six should have been the objective. Furthermore, these results are something of a dark omen for next year. They suggest that Claudio Ranieri does not perform well in one-on-one encounters. This is not too bad in the national league, if he can keep up a good pace over the minor matches, but what prospects does it leave for us in the Champions League?

There is no denying that a draw with Milan has some strategic sense behind it – after all, preventing our opponents from gaining points is no less important than winning them for ourselves – but it is hardly a positive philosophy when a knock-out round comes up. Last year, in the Champions League, he held back Sebastian Giovinco against Chelsea until the final minutes, and Juventus were booted out. This year, he lost to Panathinaikos. The signs are not good. Still, an omen is only an omen. We shall see on the actual day.

It is plausible to think that those Roma fans who are frustrated feel this way not so much because of the draws, but for the way they have come about. The Napoli debacle at the 89th minute needs no further mention. The game against Milan also left some wry mouths. Not because the draw is a bad result, but because Ranieri’s approach seemed overly cautionary and conservative. In other words, he seemed afraid – and this is twice as perplexing since the cards were all in his favour, from the presence and absence of the two teams’ respective key men, to the motivational background, to the fact that we were playing at home. Yes, Milan possesses a terrifying offensive power, and one needs to keep a high guard against it. But fielding Marco Cassetti instead of Marco Motta does little to improve the defence. It just belies the assumption that an older guy will play better than a younger guy because he has done it before. Technically, the difference between the two players in the defensive phase is not that great – and Motta is so much better at coming forward.

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Then there is Luca Toni, whose return everybody raved about for a month, and who was sent to the bench. Considering how much he had done in his first few games to offer Roma weight up-front, how respectable Milan’s defence appeared and how unconvincing some of Roma’s recent games had been, one would have expected the ex-Bayern ace to see the greens. His form was something of a gamble, but if you do not take a certain measure of risk when the stakes are so high and so favourable, then when should you? Especially since the alternative was almost guaranteed to be a rather stale offensive play.

Finally, it is impossible not to mention the lack of substitutions. The match was pretty balanced for most of its duration, but the Rossoneri made three substitutions and Roma only one (a striker, furthermore), and by the last 20 minutes, it really showed. The midfielders in red and yellow were running around with their tongues falling below their waists while Milan were opening channels all over the place (particularly through the middle, which seemed to give way around the 70th minute, and where a Ronaldinho–Andrea Pirlo axis was formed which almost closed the match). It would have been a great moment to bring on any of the younger guns – Matteo Brighi for Simone Perrotta, Jérémy Ménez for Mirko Vučinić or Alessio Cerci for Rodrigo Taddei (or other combinations). Some of these choices would have been somewhat risky, certainly. But once again, if you are not ready to take some risks in these conditions, then when will you? And it is not like Cerci cannot defend at all. He may not have the expertise of Taddei, and he may be slightly too hot-headed to actually start yet, but he does provide coverage. It was worth a shot.

Ranieri was afraid to lose. It is not the fact that we didn’t get three points that bothers us, nor even a supposed lack of tactical acumen – it was the lack of courage. Willingness to run on the edge of the razor at times, to play high stakes when it is high time, is part of what we call a winning mentality. You can afford to never take risks if you are coaching Inter, who are the best team by default, but not when you are the underdog (or underwolf), and need to scrape it against the odds. Unless you are okay with being the underdog, of course. The stumbling of Inter on Sunday means that fortune came to lend a hand, for once, and that all is not lost. But we shall not call ourselves particularly happy with the last two matches, nor with the things they spell out about our future. The return to form of Daniele De Rossi, who looked like a sun come back from under the horizon and feels like pure light shed upon the immediate future (especially for the limping national team), is enough to bring more than a half-smile to our faces. The rest is a bit of ash in our mouths.

Roma Club Focus 2009/10

Week 1


The senate is adjourned
– August 25, 2009

Week 2


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

Week 3


A win that means more than three points
– September 15, 2009

Week 4


Ranieri chases team spirit
– September 18, 2009


Champagne!
– September 22, 2009

Week 5


Children of Chaos
– September 25, 2009

Week 6


Catania is beginning to get on our nerves
– September 29, 2009


Ranieri has yet to stabilise i Lupi
– October 3, 2009

Week 7


A solid win at a heavy price?
– October 6, 2009


Rumours as IFFHS ranks the Giallorossi as best in Italy
– October 9, 2009

Week 8


The strange attractor of two inherently chaotic teams
– October 16, 2009


The sound and the fury
– October 20, 2009

Week 9


The importance of being Francesco
– October 23, 2009


A shot in the foot
– October 27, 2009

Week 10


Waiting for Godot (and the rest of our men)
– October 30, 2009

Week 11


Win as a team, die as individuals
– November 3, 2009

Week 12


Into the nest of snakes
– November 6, 2009


A promise of spring
– November 10, 2009

International week (Italy-Holland, Italy-Sweden)

Week 13


Purgatory is not enough
– November 20, 2009


The first leaves shiver
– November 24, 2009

Week 14


The ghost of a future derby
– November 27, 2009

Week 15


The front needs work but the back looks good
– December 1, 2009


The only game in town
– December 4, 2009


We need an alternative, fast
– December 8, 2009

Week 16


Black Wolves rising
– December 11, 2009


The Imbecile
– December 15, 2009

Week 17


Pass the Parmesan, please
– December 18, 2009


The defence does everything, where is the rest?
– December 22, 2009

Winter break


The man to give (us) a shove
– December 29, 2009


It’s quiet…too quiet
– January 5, 2010

Week 18


No offence intended
– January 8, 2010


All I know is a door into the dark
– January 12, 2010

Week 19


The halfway buoy
– January 15, 2010

Week 20


Standing ovation. Seriously
– January 19, 2010

Week 21


A song of ice and fire
– January 22, 2010


Marching upon the ashes of the fallen
– January 26, 2010

Week 22


The unfortunate tale of Stefano Okaka
– February 2, 2010

Week 23


The De Rossi effect
– February 5, 2010


Sometimes you need a bit of luck
– February 9, 2010

Week 24


Take delight in the desperation of your enemies
– February 12, 2010


With Palermo slain do Roma dare to dream?
– February 16, 2010

Week 25


A Greek tragedy? This should have a happy ending
– February 19, 2010

Week 26


Just five points to the top
– February 24, 2010


Good bye Europe and other musings
– February 24, 2010

Week 27


Late draw closes curtains on nothing
– March 1, 2010

Week 28


Yes we can
– March 5, 2010


Half-full or half-empty?
– March 9, 2010

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