Another day, another week. Nothing has changed since the apocalyptic game against Inter, except there is one less game to go. Rhetoric aside, there is something epic about this end of the season. The Inter match felt a bit like the writing of Ulysses, not only for its grandiose taste, but because it acted like a temporal divide – a sign of the times, if you will, dividing the age when the Nerazzurri battleship was unbeatable from today, when the expression ‘race for the Scudetto’ has regained its meaning. That game already feels a million miles away. And the final countdown feels biblical.
The mood in Rome is anything but pessimistic, and how could it be? Bari went down, as did Inter before them, and Bologna and Udinese. 12 points in four matches – not bad for a Coach whom many believed to be a loser by disposition. The real question, however, remains the functionality of the trident composed of Francesco Totti, Mirko Vučinić and Luca Toni. Taken individually, these three men are some of the most skilled attackers in Serie A. Playing together, they have fearsome potential, but they also raise some (interesting) doubts.
The goal against Bari was such a perfect exposition of the trident’s potential that it might as well have been staged. Totti opened up game from the trequarti with a pass through the middle. Toni, with that incredibly clumsy gait of his, defended and held the ball so that he could forward it into the box. Vučinić made a run into that space and fired it in. Vision, physicality, speed. And finishing power, of course, but that’s a prerogative of all three.
If the trident could always move this way, Roma would be able to face any team in the Champions League at this moment. But there’s the rub – the beauty of the goal belies the fact that it was one of a very limited number of chances produced by the Giallorossi. And when your team is fielded with such an offensive formation, this fact is a little worrying. Most of the time, the presence of Totti and Toni together on the pitch meant that the team lacked pace. Without David Pizarro, this match may have ended the other way round. It should also be noted that Totti, while doing a fantastic job at distributing game from his position, sees a part of his enormous talents wasted when he is played so far away from goal. Vučinić suffered a little from this as well, though it is true that he was lacking support on his flank (John Arne Riise was a little too busy marking the super-sonic Edgar Álvarez to offer much support coming forwards).
With Totti and Toni lumbering around like wounded hippopotami (albeit very classy hippopotami, no argument on that), velocity was required on both flanks. Vučinić did his best on the left, and the fact that he played deeper down also allowed Daniele De Rossi to sprint forwards a few times and lend a hand to Totti. Rodrigo Taddei was handed the right flank, and it did not go as well. The rest of the team was simply too unbalanced towards the front, and poor old Taddei was working practically as a mediano to compensate. One had the impression that this was exactly the kind of game where Alessio Cerci, fielded on the right and supported by the vision of Totti, would have wreaked utter havoc. But then, fielding Cerci would have been extraordinarily risky – the formation, by roles, would have resembled a 4-2-4. In a match as delicate as this, where a single goal held the weight of the world, leaving the right flank unguarded was simply not an option. No wonder that Matteo Brighi ended up coming in – Claudio Ranieri had obviously figured that a team so offensive in slant needed a little recalibrating backwards.
None of this is a direct condemnation of the trident. It remains, most likely, our best weapon from here to the end of the season, and it even opens some interesting prospects for la Nazionale. Notwithstanding these facts, we need to see more of it before we can cast a truly positive judgment. The trio gave us hints of tremendous power, but it also displayed some very real weaknesses. If Ranieri intends to keep making use of it, he needs to spend this week filling up the leaks (perhaps even throwing young Jérémy Ménez into the equation). The good news is that the next game is against Atalanta, a much softer opponent than those of Milan and Inter. Not to underestimate the game, much less to suggest that its three points are anything but crucial, but it will serve as a good testing ground.