Surprise effect has frequently been described as the most important advantage in battle, and it is for this reason that underestimating your adversary, an act which lends them a surprise effect by default, can be considered the first mortal sin for a tactician. As Roma walk into the den of Cagliari, the apparent danger is just that.
With the recruitment of Luca Toni, Roma have accomplished what is surely the most clamorous of this winter’s mercato moves. Questions on how this new player will affect the Giallorossi’s tactics and standings, and whether this signing will have repercussions on the Azzurri at any stage, have filled pages and pages of discussions in Italian papers. As the background noise, we have polemics on who will leave the team – candidates abound, like Julio Baptista, Alessio Cerci, Stefano Guberti, Stefano Okaka, Cicinho, Doni and even, some say, Jérémy Menez. So the sentiment to prevail around the upcoming match against Cagliari is almost guaranteed to be one of curiosity about Toni and his performance.
It may be as a reaction to this sentiment that we feel rather alarmed. The jazz around the new player is so pervasive that few, if any, have acknowledged the value of our present adversary. Cagliari are a very dangerous team, especially when playing at home. Their defence includes the most promising young Italian goalkeeper, Federico Marchetti, surrounded by a score of efficient defenders like Michele Canini or Davide Astori. Their midfield is young and dynamic, and if Andrea Cossu is having a good day, it is also creative. Finally, their offence includes one of the most consistent strikers of this season, Alessandro Matri.
Matri is the most publicised name in the Cagliari team at the moment, but, in fairness, he should not be the first concern for Claudio Ranieri’s men. Roma can boast the most powerful defence in Serie A, and if they can keep their line high, then the Rossoblù should not be impossible to contain, especially since they have no individuals capable of accurate long-range shots. The real concern is the rest of the pitch. It appears that Ranieri will field the 4-2-3-1, with Toni taking the place of Francesco Totti up ahead. We have been unfavourable to this formation in the past, so this match will serve as our cornerstone for evaluation. Let this be our public declaration – if Roma earn a comfortable win, then we were obviously wrong in saying that the formation is dysfunctional, and we shall admit our error and no longer criticise it. If the result is less convincing, then our doubts remain.
Toni has been given no time to gel with the rest of his team. We can expect him to show no chemistry with Mirko Vucinic, his comrade in arms up front, so he will be operating alone (as most forwards have done under this formation – hence our criticisms). Without Totti, there will be almost no creativity at all on the field, so the match is bound to be highly physical. Cagliari are notorious for their fair play, having earned not a single red card in their campaign to date, meaning that Roma will be at greater risk of going one man down. Further, it is not a good idea to play physical when playing away. Cagliari could be handled with relative ease at the Olimpico, but in their own home, they become twice as threatening.
Scoring in the first half would represent a terrific advantage from all points of view. The psychological condition of the team would benefit enormously, while they may suffer a sense of frustration in the second half if they reach it on a blank sheet. If Cagliari take the lead in the second half (for instance, from an unexpected flash of skill by Matri), then the situation could become seriously compromised.
Facing a deceptively strong squad in their own city, with a new player at his first game and a formation of dubious efficiency, this is a much trickier game than appearances may suggest. The danger comes less from the opponent itself, whom Roma are more than capable of overpowering, than from a potentially distracted mentality resulting from the flurry of gossip and talking points that have recently come to the fore. Ranieri is probably aware of this danger, but that’s not enough. He must instil this awareness into the players as well.
Roma Club Focus 2009/10
The senate is adjourned – August 25, 2009
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
A win that means more than three points – September 15, 2009
Ranieri chases team spirit – September 18, 2009
Champagne! – September 22, 2009
Children of Chaos – September 25, 2009
Catania is beginning to get on our nerves – September 29, 2009
Ranieri has yet to stabilise i Lupi – October 3, 2009
A solid win at a heavy price? – October 6, 2009
Rumours as IFFHS ranks the Giallorossi as best in Italy – October 9, 2009
The strange attractor of two inherently chaotic teams – October 16, 2009
The sound and the fury – October 20, 2009
The importance of being Francesco – October 23, 2009
A shot in the foot – October 27, 2009
Waiting for Godot (and the rest of our men) – October 30, 2009
Win as a team, die as individuals – November 3, 2009
Into the nest of snakes – November 6, 2009
A promise of spring – November 10, 2009
International week (Italy-Holland, Italy-Sweden)
Purgatory is not enough – November 20, 2009
The first leaves shiver – November 24, 2009
The ghost of a future derby – November 27, 2009
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
Black Wolves rising – December 11, 2009
The Imbecile – December 15, 2009
Pass the Parmesan, please – December 18, 2009
The defence does everything, where is the rest? – December 22, 2009
The man to give (us) a shove – December 29, 2009
It’s quiet…too quiet – January 5, 2010