Five games, thirteen points, and one minimum seasonal target already achieved. Hold these positions, and Roma will take part in next year’s Champions League.
Obviously these results please everyone, but there are some questions relating to the team’s game and execution which should not be ignored. These are strange times to look at Roma and the risks of simplifying a complex situation are very real, but in a nutshell the problem is this – Claudio Ranieri is building his team around a philosophy of catenaccio. Are we satisfied with that?
To give credit to the Coach, the team’s growth over the last six weeks is real, not deceptive. Roma are a far better team now than they were at the beginning of the season. Great. Now let’s look at some of the details. In the last game, Roma had to rely on a defender to unlock the score, and it was only in the last minutes of the game, when Parma’s defence was exhausted, that spaces were opened for a midfielder to double the tally. In the game before that, against Sampdoria, no-one scored, nor even came too close. Before that yet, against Lazio, it was again a defender who threw the ball in. In none of these games did Roma concede a goal.
Ranieri, at least the way he is playing now, makes Giovanni Trapattoni look like a suicidal offensive kamikaze strategist. This is catenaccio, by the book. The team doesn’t really offend, rather they close all possible spaces and then wait for their adversaries to make a mistake in the defence. Like vultures. When such a mistake doesn’t come, the game ends on a 0-0, as against Sampdoria. As for the men fielded, look at the last match – four mediani and two forwards, one of whom was employed as a wing and the other as a trequartista. Exactly who was left to go forward? Who was there to pick up Rodrigo Taddei’s crosses? The midfielders were supposed to run into the box, but midfielders are not forwards (as Simone Perrotta’s endless bloopers exemplify). They do not have the technique or the finishing power to crack defences by skill and control – only by force and insistence. Later, one of the forwards was subbed out for a full-back, Marco Motta, meaning that the team had five defenders, four defensive midfielders and one forward on the pitch. Talk about the most beautiful game in the world – it took twenty-six minutes for the first shot on target to be seen, and it was by Parma. Honesty compels us to state that Roma did have a few shots off-target before that, but mostly they just held possession (62-38 at the end of the first half).
This is what we were expecting when we brought in Ranieri and his ‘results-oriented’ football, so we should not be surprised. As long as the team continues to fly up the rankings, we should not complain, either. We should only keep in mind a couple of things, so there are no surprised faces when the other shoe drops. Firstly, the clean sheet will not last forever. It’s one thing not to concede against Parma, it’s quite another not to yield against Milan. Roma have gathered a lot of points, but they did so against very modest opposition. This leads us to the second thing we should not forget – that if the team struggles to score against these minnows, they will be completely toothless face to the major adversaries (except perhaps for Juventus, who are not exactly ‘major’ at the moment). If Francesco Totti picks up another injury, as he almost did against Parma, this issue is going to become even more serious.
Ranieri developed a tactical set-up which is satisfying in the short term and sufficient to earn us the minimum targets. We take no pleasure in raining on anyone’s parade, especially when it’s our own team that is on the fanfare, but the good moment must not blind us to the football philosophy that underlies it – and it is a philosophy which is antiquated, sterile and no more than middling in its aspirations. Ranieri’s catenaccio will prevail over the smaller teams, but we fear it will earn draws or defeats against the greater ones. It will never win us any trophies, and it will certainly lead nowhere in the Champions League, assuming we qualify for it next year.
We praise the Coach for having successfully extracted a tactical identity from the mess of a team he was given, but we can hardly be pleased with the direction he has chosen to take. We are not so cynical as to think that results can only be garnered by ugly football (and Roma’s current matches are frankly quite boring to watch), nor do we think it is a far-sighted philosophy to insist on Taddei when Alessio Cerci just scored two goals and Jérémy Menez is available on the bench. The same is true for Marco Cassetti and the far more promising Marco Motta. There is still time to change and we hope that Ranieri does that, because nobody likes catenaccio. It is not as effective as the games against these weaker teams may suggest, and if this is the face that he wishes to sculpt upon Roma, then let him earn the Champions League this year and then leave for a better man. Unless the second half of the season shows a solid game to back the (often fortuitous) results, this will be our opinion. The court is adjourned.
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