Lo and behold, the trident is not the solution to all of Roma’s problems. We are not here to say ‘we said so,’ but we said so. Predictably, the weak link of the chain was Jérémy Ménez, whose lacklustre performance serves to counterbalance the excellent contributions offered in the previous matches. It was the significance of the latter which led Coach Claudio Ranieri to field three offensive players together, a decision which seems atypical in light of the man’s tactical history. Now the decision must be revised. Not scrapped, at least not yet, but revised.
Our considerations may sound a bit sombre in tone, considering that Roma won and now is standing only three points away from fourth place, but as we mentioned in last week’s column, the match against Atalanta must be read as the prolegomenon to the derby. From this point of view, the disposition of offence and midfield gave some worrying signs. Francesco Totti and Mirko Vučinić play very well as lone strikers, but Ménez is somewhat overburdened when asked to support them both in a trident. This results in a bridge between the midfield and the forwards which is potentially very easy to close. The trio can learn how to play together and they show great promise for the future, but the derby is not the future. The derby is right now. Ménez has demonstrated a tendency to suffer physical teams, and Lazio play very physical football – especially in the battle for the capital, which sometimes resembles a brawl between two herds of hippopotami more than it does a football match.
It is not a coincidence that last year the first leg of the derby should have been resolved by Júlio Baptista, the most physical of the Roman players alongside Philippe Mexès. If Ménez acts as a striker, he can cause real damage to the Biancocelesti – he has more than enough speed and agility to face their shaky backline. As a trequartista in the current trident, however, he is asked to confront the midfield rather than the defence. There, he is bound to receive more blows than the anvil of a blacksmith. Even from a psychological point of view, we doubt he shall be able to handle it. The team should work even if the Frenchman is running on second gear, but then the question becomes – why field a dim version of Ménez rather than a fourth midfielder in a 4-4-2? The extra man would go miles towards keeping the team’s defensive hold together. Roma cannot risk going under as they did against Atalanta, not again – among other things because the Nerazzurri did deserve a penalty towards the end, and if that had been conceded, it is farewell to the three points and the end-game celebrations.
Ranieri knows all this, and that is why he sounded only half-satisfied after the match. ”We’re pleased with the win,” he declared, ”but there are several things which need to be perfected with this team.” The man gets it. Specifically, the question he will have to confront relates to the formation. The trident is a possibility for the future, albeit a doubtful one, but right now the derby against Lazio must be won. It is a seasonal objective, up there with qualifying for the Champions League or claiming the Coppa Italia. The 4-3-3 is a formation which has yielded results, but it would be a considerable risk to field it against Lazio. A more cautionary approach would be to go for a 4-4-2, regardless of how the central midfielders are arranged. It would be a shame not to field a player like Ménez, but at the same time, it would be disastrous to lose the next match – for questions of morale more than for the three points. Ranieri is faced with a true dilemma. Hopefully this week, and the match against Basilea, will give him the time to make an enlightened decision.
Besides, the best piece of news in the game against Atalanta was provided by the defence. Mexès and Juan both seemed in good shape, and Júlio Sérgio (whom the television commentators adamantly refer to as Júlio César) is still looking excellent. John Arne Riise is improving in terms of defensive skills, though Marco Motta needs to be more consistent. Nicolás Burdisso will probably take his place for the match against the Biancocelesti. For once, all the elements are healthy and ready to go. The defensive performance will be key to success in the derby, especially since the offence is the only department where the Lazio team look truly threatening. Ranieri will be relieved. Having a solid back means that he has carte blanche with the midfield, free as he will be to give the team an offensive slant without worrying that the backline will fall to pieces.
Let us close on a positive note. We mentioned that Roma ought to conquer 15 points in seven matches. Two of the matches are gone, six points are in the bag. The opening is excellent. Let’s see if we can hit nine with the most important of these games.
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