Club Focus – Roma – Oxygen on the way to the derby

The good news is that they won. The bad news is that everybody else did too. The victories of Genoa and Fiorentina leave the team in a position of very dire appearance, but one which it is still not impossible to get out of. This is the moment to fight, as Francesco Totti declared last week. If those words were anything more than fluff, then this is exactly the time to prove it. The fourth place will not and should not be handed down to Roma on a silver platter, and if great teams are recognised by the overcoming of great difficulties, then the Champions League qualification will have to be earned with sweat and tears. Onwards then, and let no-one look back.

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Even as the team was still picking up its pieces, it was good to see Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and David Pizarro playing together again. It was also good to see Jeremy Menez finally given a chance, and he produced a pretty discrete performance which – while not decisive to the conclusion of this match – gave some indications as to what this kid can do in the future. He needs to grow physically and gain confidence of course, but the technical prowess is undoubtedly there. Totti’s presence on the pitch, in the meantime, went to show just how much this team has been missing its captain, over and beyond the two penalties he scored. No wonder that Luciano Spalletti praised him in the post-match – his performance was dynamic and effective and he did exactly what the team was most in need of over the course of his absence, that is to say, he created bridges between midfield and offence. Had he been with the team the whole year round, who knows that the entire crisis may have been averted. Julio Baptista also showed his worth by proving yet again just how decisive he can be – even though his overall game was underwhelming, he has the merit of having earned the second penalty, which ultimately led to the three points. The Brazilian is a player to be treasured, one who could prove very useful over the next few years if well-employed. Honourable mention for good performance also to Max Tonetto.


The return of some individual players aside, the game showed little of encouraging. It was slow and stinted, showing no steps forward in the resolution of the problems that Roma has been suffering from over the season. The opening of the match was actually pretty impressive – as is often the case with the Giallorossi – but the immediate post-goal performance gave us a classical display of the infuriating psychological attitude that Roma has so long been suffering from. In other words, they passed from being an effective and incisive team to eleven cadavers on the field as soon as they took the lead. When Bologna finally took advantage of this and scored a goal, it was utterly deserved. It was only the grace of the post (hit by Marco Di Vaio) which saved Roma from going under. While it may be an overstatement to say that Bologna deserved a point (their defensive game was limited to sending out ex-Lazio players like Massimo Mutarelli and Gaby Mudingayi and have them beat everyone up like blacksmiths (no wonder that Menez picked up another injury and may skip the derby), it is also fair to say that Roma showed little to deserve three full points in turn.

The next game is against Lazio. The derby. You could say that the uphill struggle begins here, but every game is a final by now and there are other matches which – in terms of stats and stands – will matter more than this one. The one against Fiorentina comes to mind as the obvious example (incidentally, the best news for Roma this week has been the injury of Viola creative forward Adrian Mutu, who will be out for five weeks and in whose absence Fiorentina becomes a significantly weaker and less fearsome competitor). What makes the derby crucial this week is not so much the quality of the opposition, which at this stage is rather modest, but the potential effect that the game’s outcome could have on the morale of the squad. The Roman derby is, after all, a seasonal objective for both teams involved, and it is no coincidence that Roma’s November resurgence should have begun with their 1-0 derby victory (again decided by Baptista). A victory here could provide precisely the kind of boost necessary to surpass the odds and conquer that fabled fourth place. Unfortunately for Roma, derbies are inherently unpredictable and the superiority of their squad is not enough for us to call them favourites.

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Lazio Tactician Delio Rossi has been one of the first and most successful Coaches at neutralising Spalletti’s otherwise highly penetrating 4-2-3-1 (including an historical and utterly unexpected 3-0 thumping a couple of years ago). The solution he devised was simple – to ease pressure on the most obvious targets for man-marking (incendiary offensive midfielders like Amantino Mancini and Simone Perrotta, as well as forward Francesco Totti) and focus it instead on holding players Daniele De Rossi and David Pizarro. With these two pawns incapacitated, the entire offence was short of being fed and came to a grinding halt. This approach was also naturally very suited to Delio Rossi’s preferred formation, which made use of three midfield bulldogs to choke the central mechanisms of the opposition.

In the early derbies, the most acute observers may already have seen the lack of tactical flexibility that has proved so great a weakness in Spalletti’s team this season. Yet the Coach who will have to prove flexible this weekend is Rossi. The tactical scenario has undergone a mutation this year, and if he goes into the game with his usual approach (‘kill De Rossi and watch the rest crumble’) he will walk into a defeat, as he did after all in this year’s first leg. In that match, we saw both teams being deployed in a 4-3-1-2 formation. Eventually the tactical stalemate was decided by the finer quality of the Roma roster, who found in Totti the assist-man and in Baptista the finisher which Lazio did not possess. Today, Roma appear to have gone back to the 4-2-3-1, but the way they play still bears some streaks of the old formation and the changes in the squad with respect to the last years (in the inclusion of Matteo Brighi, for instance) mean that Rossi can not use the same tactics to achieve the same performances.

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For their own part, Roma will need to worry primarily about their defensive hold. Lazio is a highly inconsistent team, capable of winning and losing by a flurry of goals three times over in the space of one month. When on fire they possess formidable offensive impetus. Goran Pandev is an often delightful game-creator who is worthy of playing in a stronger team than the one he’s in, and Mauro Zarate has been giving all the signs that he wants the starter’s shirt back. Pasquale Foggia is the best Italian winger (by virtue of being practically the only one) and Tommaso Rocchi is a good poacher with a solid all-round shot. Lazio come from a crippling defeat to Siena too, so it is reasonable to expect ferocity from them. With central defender Juan still out, the onus will be on Philippe Mexes and Christian Panucci to hold the back-line together (a major step forwards, if nothing else, compared to the time when Simone Loria was being fielded).

Given Roma’s situation in the stands, and the difference that an access (or lack thereof) to the Champions League will make to the next season, three points would be absolute gold – whatever the game. Even so, the derby will be played for the refreshment one can get in the heart as much as the one in the boards. It is said that football is played with the heads as much as it is with the feet. It is Roma’s head that will be held on a platter, this weekend. Let us hope that they don’t lose it.

League Table and Fixtures


Team

GP

W

D

L

GS

GA

GD

P

4.

Genoa

30

15

9

6

40

27

13

54

5.

Fiorentina

30

16

4

10

41

30

11

52

6.

Roma

30

14

7

9

46

42

4

49

7.

Cagliari

30

13

6

11

35

29

6

45

8.

Palermo

30

14

3

13

40

38

2

45


March 22 – Week 29 Roma 1-4 Juventus – Loria (48); Iaquinta (34), Iaquinta (55), Mellberg (68), Nedved (74)

April 5 – Week 30 Roma 2-1 Bologna – Totti (12), Totti (58); Marazzina (26)

April 11 – Week 31 Lazio vs. Roma

April 19 – Week 32 Roma vs. Lecce

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