The Champions League came and went, leaving its stardust on the pages of newspapers and its drama on the marked faces of the supporters. We watched it from a distance, as if waving from a bombed-out building. It does no longer belong to us. We shall re-conquer it one day, but until then, we can leave the striped or purple supporters to greet the stragglers from their returning armies.
One such returning army will be marching down to the Olimpico on Sunday night in search for glory or vindication. Fiorentina, the ‘other’ team to challenge the oligarchy of Turin and Milan, lost to Lyon by 1-0 on Wednesday. A dreary opening to their Champions League, no doubt, and far more affecting to the morale of their men than Roma’s game against shabby Basilea. The Giallorossi have been building a small mound of confidence in their back-garden, but there is still a long way to go before it becomes a hill they can lean upon. Fiorentina, for their own part, are seeing their own construction at risk of erosion. As with the game against Siena, then, the confrontation with the purple army will be all about morale – for the hosts as well as for their adversaries. The teams need to believe in themselves, and they will be looking for a result that satisfies such a need.
The prospect must seem daunting to the Florentines. Defeating Roma in Rome never sounds easy, despite the recent achievement by Juventus, and the Viola team has failed to impress so far. Still, the situation from the other side of the barracks does not look particularly rosy either. Roma may look like a mountain from distance, but they still have numerous cracks in their foundations. Above it all, the face of the team is still veiled. No-one knows how they will play, what formation will be used or which players will be fielded. Several educated guesses have been made, but as we said in our last Club Focus, it is too early to reach conclusions. Three weeks from now we may see a team completely remodelled in its formation and its starters. What we do know is that Roma cannot afford to play against Fiorentina the same way they played against Siena. So let’s hope they have been shaken.
Only so much can be gleaned about how Coach Claudio Ranieri intends to confront the match. The tactics are unavailable to us until we see the men on the pitch, but news is coming through regarding the psychological management of the men. Ranieri demanded a ritiro for the weekend, a case of calling the men into Trigoria and denying them their own free time until the end of the game. It is normally used as a punishment, but not this time. The move is hardly even a technical or tactical one since the intended training, according to internal sources, will be very light. It is simply a question of mentality – Ranieri is trying to create a true team-spirit, a sense that his players are all on the same plane and that nothing exists outside of their group. The men can be winning or they can be losing, but they will be doing so together. Besides, the ritiro is intended not just to keep the men from getting outside, but to keep the world outside from getting to the men. The media, the supporters, even friends and families – they are all liable to put pressure on the players, and the team is in such a condition now as to resist very little pressure – hence the need for isolation and regrouping. Roma are a disbanded flock of sheep. Ranieri is trying to become their shepherd. This takes priority over any other course of action, and it is for this reason that we approve of his ritiro wholeheartedly.
The Roma-Fiorentina preview on this site has already fleshed out the details of the confrontation, so we shall not repeat ourselves by describing the assets of the Viola. A lock will have to be placed on striker Alberto Gilardino, and some pace will be needed on the wings (meaning that a few of the oldest players may not be fielded, or at least are bound to be subbed after half-time). Sadly, Ranieri seems very reluctant to exploiting Alessio Cerci, who was not even called up with the team to go and confront Basilea. While we do not think he should start against Fiorentina, it would be nice to see him become a regular sub for the team over the year – and this seems so unlikely that he may even be sold on the January transfer market. As for the game, Roma are bound to stick to their defensive methods, which is the only thing that can be done for the moment. Mirko Vucinic and Francesco Totti represent a formidable pairing up front – assuming that they will play together, but they will need true support from the midfield. Whether this will be provided, given the geriatric average age of its players and their requirement to hold the defensive borders, can only be found out on Sunday.
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