As Roma prepare for the weekend match with Chievo, the crushing news that John Arne Riise has pulled a muscle and will be out for around two weeks will not be the Christmas present they were hoping for. After the Palermo defeat, Claudio Ranieri will be hoping his team can bounce straight back and keep their title challenge alive, but those plans will now be hampered as the injury to the Norwegian will make his approach to the game against the team from Verona that bit more difficult.
We have recently spoken about how much of Roma’s build up play comes from the flanks. Riise is integral to that and he is certainly famed for his attacking abilities rather than his defensive qualities. Along with a mallet for a left foot, the full-back creates many opportunities for his fellow teammates with his rampaging runs and that is now something that will be sorely missed until the New Year. His direct replacement will probably be ex-Parma defender Paolo Castellini. Not quite as effective, Castellini was brought in as cover for Riise during the summer. The left-back position was one the Giallorossi were desperate to find someone to fill once the ageing Max Tonetto was released. Ranieri’s options on that side of the defence were non-existent but the problem the club faced was getting a player that was not only very good but happy to sit on the bench and play mainly when the flame haired Riise was unavailable. Finding such a player proved virtually impossible and Castellini was signed almost as a last resort. He will now get a run in the team to show whether that decision was a wise one or if the club might need to look elsewhere.
However, as one side of the Roma team is weakened so the other could be in line for reinforcements. Rodrigo Taddei is back in regular training and could find himself straight in the team on the right side of midfield. If this turns out to be the case, we might see i Lupi return to Ranieri’s favoured 4-4-2 formation, with Jérémy Ménez taking up a position on the left wing. It will not be too much of a concern to see the Frenchman utilised in that fashion and the fact that he is not usually the first to track back should not be a big worry if Castellini limits his own forward incursions to help cover the space.
The forward line is much more difficult to guess and the Roma Coach has much to think about. Marco Borriello will probably be the one definite starter, but the second forward shirt has many solutions, and not for tactical reasons. Francesco Totti, Mirko Vučinić and even Adriano will be expecting to get the call up but two of the three will almost certainly be on the bench. The Captain had a truly terrible game in Sicily. His goal in injury time did not mask his lethargic movement and inaccurate passing which severely affected his team. But he is Totti and usually that is enough to be handed a starting berth. Vučinić has been carrying a slight knock but should be fit and available. The Montenegrin can single handedly win games (Inter earlier this season) but can also be horrendously inconsistent. More worrying are the constant transfer signals that surround him, especially from the Nerazzurri who are hoping to strengthen in January. Giving Vučinić a first-team spot might help to warn off any potential suitors and dissuade the player from considering any offers.
A similar issue surrounds the Brazilian Adriano, who now is fit and will want to show he is capable of doing what he was brought in to do over the summer. L’Imperatore is also subject of much transfer speculation, and reports are suggesting a move back to Brazil with Corinthians is what he really wants. This would be quite embarrassing for Roma, as he is their stellar signing from pre-season and should he be allowed to leave, it will be considered a huge failure in the transfer market. Given a chance against one of the lesser Serie A clubs, he could re-launch him as a credible striking option and if Roma have aspirations of winning the title they need not only a depth of squad but a quality therein, especially in attack, which was the biggest disappointment in last weeks match at the Renzo Barbera.