Club Focus – Roma – Houston, we have a problem

One of the most common inscriptions which can be read on Roman banners at the Stadio Olimpico is the phrase ‘Nun c’è problema.’ It is Roman dialect for ‘No problem,’ and it is a truly endearing phrase as it expresses a sense of cool and Roman confidence while simultaneously reminding us that football is no more than a game. Unfortunately, ‘Nun c’è problema’ is one of the last things passing through the mind of any Romanista at this moment. We do have a problem.

The upcoming game, the seconda giornata, is a clash at home against the tyrants of Juventus. This site gave them as favourites to win the league, and for the moment, we stand by our prediction. Juventus are indeed the strongest team in Serie A, the last that anyone would want to face right now. There are some weaknesses in their game, but there is not one criticism we could level towards them which cannot be turned back on Roma threefold. It has been more than five years now since the Giallorossi have emerged victorious from a confrontation against this particular adversary, and the trend does not look set to be reversed now.

The current Juventus team should be faced by means of a muscular midfield. Their main creative springs are in central midfield, through Diego and Felipe Melo (or, potentially, Claudio Marchisio). Their wings seem to provide less obvious threat, especially now that Pavel Nedved has left them. So an ideal starting partnership for Roma would see Daniele De Rossi and Matteo Brighi both playing in the centre, ready to quaff the Verdeoro assaults. Unfortunately, De Rossi is in a bad state of form at the moment and fielding Brighi would require the benching of David Pizarro, something which Coach Luciano Spalletti seems reluctant on doing. This is understandable – taking out Pizarro, there are virtually no creative outlets left for the team in the central midfield (there used to be one kid called Alberto Aquilani, but we all know how that went). Fielding Brighi and De Rossi means leaving no options to counter-attack, that is to say, playing for the draw. Not only is that insulting when a game is being played at home and at such an early stage in the campaign, it is also unlikely to work.

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Even though a draw would be a welcome result in this writer’s opinion, Roma cannot play with that outcome in mind. The principle of containment is unlikely to hold against the Bianconeri – even though their forward line is not the most dangerous at the present time, the Roman defence is not the most effective either, even allowing for the return of Philippe Mexès. One cannot hope to play the game with the ‘give them nothing’ mentality of Marcello Lippi, because the Old Lady will take something whether one likes it or not. Instead, Roma will need to try and score, and just hope that they score more than their adversaries. The plan did not work against Genoa, but it is still the only plausible plan they have got.

The question of how to score is a very problematic one as well. Once again, the Juventus defence is not free from some criticisms, but the Roman offence is in trouble of a yet deeper kind. In fact, the only comforting thing in the entire scenario is the goal-scoring ratio of Francesco Totti. Against Genoa the man seemed distinctly unimpressive, though it is true that he was being very heavily man-marked. He still managed a goal somehow. That makes for eight goals in four matches in less than a month. Will he keep that up against Juventus? The readings of the oracles say no – the Bianconeri defence is just too competent, and the support he will get from Jérémy Menez too vague. But then, looking at his performance against the Grifoni, anybody would have said the same during that match as well. Spalletti will field Totti and cross his fingers. Sadly, we can only follow suit. Totti and Menez will both have to be very good this weekend. Perhaps even more importantly, Juventus will have to under-perform. The game is theirs to lose more than it is Roma’s to win.

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The real danger of course is not the loss of the three points, but the hit in morale that could result from two defeats in a row at the beginning of the season. The team needs to think positively if they are going to play positively. So far, the only one to have expressed some good feelings is, funnily enough, newcomer Nicolás Burdisso, who stated quite openly that Roma can fight for the Scudetto. The ex-Inter defender is right, too. On paper, and given that they are playing without the burden of the Champions League, Roma can put up a real fight this year. All of their problems are of a nature other than technical. Briefly put, they need to believe in themselves. A loss to Juve may damage that belief quite seriously, and by the way things are shaping, the prospect of losing is not unlikely at all. We definitely have a problem.

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