Let us state two qualifiers to begin with. Firstly, we have always been defensive of Coach Claudio Ranieri. Even after draws where he seemed too defensive, or after mediocre results in the Europa League, we praised his work of reconstruction and his tenacity in giving discipline to a team that was a mess. Secondly, the general reaction to Sunday’s 0-0 draw between Roma and Sampdoria, at least from what we gathered, is that Ranieri should not be blamed for a performance which was somewhat lacking in heart against a team that put up a good fight.
With these two things in mind, it may come as a surprise to our readers to find us in a state of anger such as we only experienced after the Milan game, and that we should call Ranieri nothing less than a complete imbecile for throwing out of the window two points that were ours to be taken. Yes, the wasted opportunity – for that is what it was, there is no getting round it – is entirely Ranieri’s fault. His tactics coming into this game were simply ludicrous. Sources were divided before the game as to whether the man would field a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1. When the players walked onto the field and the 4-2-3-1 was announced, this writer was certain that it had to be a mistake. That might have been the formation on paper, but surely, on the field, the players would go back to their usual 4-3-1-2 positioning, with Simone Perrotta behind Francesco Totti and Mirko Vučinić upfront. That was not the case. Vučinić played way out wide on the wing, as did Rodrigo Taddei on the opposite flank of the pitch, and Totti kept dropping back from his forward position to swap tasks with Perrotta. It really was Luciano Spalletti’s old 4-2-3-1.
What motivation may have led Ranieri to field the Giallorossi in a formation which has earned them more whacks than a smack-ball at a beer festival over the past year and a half is beyond us. The formation is obsolete – is it not completely obvious? Likewise, it should be obvious that a midfield with three offensive sprinters requires a director of play to feed them the ball. So why on earth would you employ the formation on the day that David Pizarro is disqualified? We had not seen such a sterile Roma team in two months and a half, and even in the second half of the game, when the Giallorossi were supposedly ‘dominating,’ we still witnessed De Rossi’s desperate long balls as the primary mean to bring the team forwards.
It would have been a misguided choice of formation against any team, but it was asinine against Sampdoria. If there is one thing that the Blucerchiati are awful at doing, it is covering the wings. Milan tested the principle last week, and they scored three goals in 20 minutes. True, their Coach Gigi Del Neri had renovated his squad somewhat and they were playing better than on the previous weekend, but the tactical principle went completely unvaried. If anything, with a team that fielded a forward like Claudio Bellucci on the same wing as that avatar for incompetence that is Marius Stankevicius, and Daniele Mannini on the other wing with Antonio Cassano in the middle, it should have held ever more true. Sampdoria left enough space on the flanks for a herd of buffalos to go grazing on the Luigi Ferraris, so it made sense to offend them there. The 4-2-3-1 does include movement on the wing, but it does so at the expense of the forwards. Vučinić was getting the ball, but there was little he could do with it because he had no-one upfront with whom to connect, not as long as Totti was bouncing down to play trequartista. Taddei was running down his flank, only to find that no-one was in the box to receive a cross.
What was the point? What is wrong with a simple 4-4-2, with two wingers running down and connecting with two forwards as lethal as Totti and Vučinić? We are not calling for some fantasy football fantastical formation, we are asking for the most basic disposition that is possible in this particular sport. Ranieri used it at Juventus, so why is he allergic to it now? It is not like he doesn’t have the men for it. Alongside Taddei, we have Stefano Guberti and Alessio Cerci who are pure wingers. They would have been perfect for this match, and at least one should have started. Instead, make way for Perrotta (yet another match-deciding sitter missed, someone buy him some glasses) and let these people be sold in January. It is not like Cerci is a young Roman promise after all. Then there is the fact that the entire 90 minutes were spent without substitutions until the very last breath. Júlio Baptista, Guberti and maybe even Marco Motta should have been introduced around the 65th minute, not the 85th. The match could still have been won.
Let’s face it, on the day when Inter, Milan, Juventus, Fiorentina and Genoa all dropped points, it was Roma’s obligation to outclass a shabby Sampdoria team and earn themselves a VIP ticket towards the fourth place. Ranieri messed this up for us. It was not the players or the performance, it was the poor tactical disposition from the outset. In fact, the one point was saved only by the defence, which has become increasingly impressive over the last few games (even Marco Cassetti, against our expectations, was very good at holding Cassano). Some day the posts-with-rebound hit by Mauro Zárate and Stankevicius will turn into goals, and then the tactical dimness of Ranieri will become evident. His job at pulling the boys together has been excellent in terms of morale and psychological management, but the more we look at his games, including the last derby, the more we fear that the man is a tactical imbecile. Are we exaggerating? Maybe we are. Maybe it was only averse destiny and misfortune that denied us our three points last Sunday. There are three games left before the midway point of the season, and by then Roma must know exactly what formation(s) they are playing and why. Our impressions that Ranieri would achieve this are beginning to falter. Perhaps we are wrong. Please, please let us be wrong.
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