Lights of the Olimpico, me love you long time. Like the war-time prostitute who uttered the above sentence (or part of it), those of us who know what the Roman derby represents will only be able to explain it by imperfect grammar. For, this is not just another contest for every damn Sunday. This is our Vietnam. This is our Stalingrad. These are the dire gates that beckon to us, full of blood and history, and this is the night, opening below our feet like an unknown sea. This is where we come to bleed, and this is where we learn to like it, this is where the rest of the Italian games are erased like daffodils in a firestorm and all that matters is the Here and the Now, the Right here and the Right now, caught like a scream in our throat until a goal arrives to unlock them. Over the rest of the year, this is our city. Tonight, this city is ours. Come and get it, Laziali.
Firstly, the technical questions. Claudio Ranieri has unearthed the 4-3-3 (or 4-3-1-2, depending on how Jérémy Ménez is employed) as one of the most effective and functional formations for the Giallorossi. It is the fruit yielded by months of tactical experimentation, and everything suggests that he will be using it again for the derby. The popular response to the formation, so far, has been enthusiastic. But the popular forums would do well to remember that it has only been tested against the likes of Bari and Atalanta in Serie A, not against heavier opposition.
The game against Lazio, in a surreal twist, will provide the greatest possible test yet the only one which will yield no answers – the Roman derby has a fame for defying logic (hence its constant shattering of predictions), so a loss will no more indict the formation than a victory would crown it. Fielding the 4-3-3 leaves us with some doubts because, unlike the 4-4-2, it offers a very obvious weak spot. If Ménez is fielded as a trequartista, then very much will depend on his performance to make the team run smoothly. Let us hope that his humming-bird thorax can take the pressure and the physicality of the Roman derby. We should also hope that a three-man midfield can provide enough support to the backline, though the form and performance of the individual defenders suggests that less trouble is in store for us there.
The importance of this game is, needless to say, colossal. Not only for the traditional value of derby victories, but for the times when this derby befalls us. This is the third in a string of seven games which we identified as crucial in the formative process of this team. The first part of Ranieri’s management, from Siena all the way to Inter, consisted in extracting the team from darkness and chaos. The second part, unfolding over these seven games, involves giving the team a face and an identity, and the third part, hopefully to start with the second-leg games of the season, will mean using this identity to lead the team to real achievements.
The derby has the power to delay the onset of the third phase almost indefinitely, because a defeat could have such disastrous effects on the morale of the team that they could plunge – however temporarily – back into chaos. After all, what could be more crucial to the Roman identity than the Roman derby? We are not saying that a defeat will necessarily have these consequences, but it could. Be aware that it could. We want Roma to end these seven games with a spirit that lets them pull the very best out of the potential of their players, we want them to show a face in the shape of a heart rather than the heart’s torn face. Lazio are the only obstacle that stands in the way of that. A draw is the absolute minimum result.
At such a time it is hard to think of the meantime, but rumours abound regarding the mercato, and we should expend a few lines to discuss them. Roma is said to need a striker, and they are tossed between Luca Toni, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Adriano and Roman Pavlyuchenko. Who would be best? The answer is – none of the above. Roma currently enjoy an overabundance of offensive players, and adding one of these men to the roster would only stifle the growth of Stefano Okaka without significantly elevating the firepower of the team. Instead of a striker, Roma should focus on buying a creative midfielder as an alternative to David Pizarro and to plug the chasm left by Alberto Aquilani. Roma need their version of Diego, their Marek Hamšik, Gaetano D’Agostino or Thiago Motta, or else – should Ranieri eventually opt for a wider formation – they need a truly outstanding winger. Purchasing a striker now would be misguided. Still, if Lady Destiny says striker, then Adriano is the best technical option – potent from short and long range, familiar with Serie A and not too old. If he is inaccessible in terms of price, then Toni probably provides the best value for money.
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