Club Focus – Roma – Towards the Inter-stellar

Bologna played a very intelligent game against Roma this Wednesday. Though officially deployed in a 4-4-2, striker Henry Giménez frequently fell back into the position of trequartista, closing off the breathing space of David Pizarro and Daniele De Rossi and offering an extra man in the midfield for the Northern team. Coupled with an outstanding performance by Gaby Mudingayi, it meant that Roma’s forward slant was greatly impeded, and it wasn’t until the second half, with a shot from distance, that the score was unlocked. Yet Bologna lost. Despite the excellent interpretation of the game, Bologna lost. Compare this to Parma, who played no more than a passable game against Milan and walked home with three points. If there is a conclusion to be drawn here, it is that Roma are in a sensational moment of form. They are determined, flexible, aggressive, and even the elements on the bench appear of an excellent standard (the tandem of Júlio Baptista and Alessio Cerci were introduced in the second half of the game and they effectively closed it).

So it is a good time to face Inter, when the game takes place at home and their Champions League rendez vous with CSKA Sofia is less than a week away, but we should remember that Inter – perhaps more so than any other team in Serie A – fare well under pressure. A great deal of people were expecting them to lose at the last derby (a game of which our own is something of a repetition), and we all know how that went. We can hope, if nothing else, that things will go differently this time around.

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There are times when an onlooker must have humility and own up to his limitations, so it is with only partial regret that we admit to having no clue as to what the best way of beating Inter is. Claudio Ranieri has the option to play it conservatively, relying on the formations that Roma know best, or aggressively, unleashing the trident which has won us the last two games, but both options are a gamble, and both would be condemned as obvious failures should the result prove unsatisfactory. An aggressive approach means leaving more space at the back and allowing footballers like Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto’o to have their way, an option which rings as suicidal as that of reading Finnegans Wake on holiday. This compels the Coach to play midfielders like Rodrigo Taddei and Simone Perrotta, who are brilliant at covering spaces, but the implication is that the tremendous offensive combination awarded by the trident – potentially the only power capable of breaching Inter’s walls, and the best thing shown by Roma in the last few weeks – would go wasted. This is most pertinent when it comes to the input of Jérémy Ménez, who would end up on the bench despite his recent excellent performances. Considering that Inter are weaker at the back than they have been in a while, and that their 4-3-3 formation(s) do not point towards a particularly water-tight midfield, this may be the best possible time to throw in Ménez – but would it be a safe assumption to think that the Frenchman, famed for his inconsistency, would perform at his best? And what happens if he does not? Will Inter’s offensive squad represent an opportunity for our blooming fantasista to counter-attack, or will their physicality neutralize (not to say triturate) his feather-light pace? We honestly cannot say.

To further complicate things, there is the never-ending story of Francesco Totti’s return. Though it appears he will not play, this is another factor that people will inevitably point to should things go pear-shaped, saying that his presence (or lack thereof) would have changed the face of the game. There is just no easy answer. We shall have to trust in Ranieri to make the right calls. It is obvious that Sneijder has to be stopped in order for Roma to have any chance in the game, and this means that either Daniele De Rossi or Perrotta will be thrown into heavy man-marking. Inter have other sources of creativity in Goran Pandev or Dejan Stankovic, though if all of these names are fielded, Inter will be exposed to the counter.

A team that attacks through the center (be it by Ménez or anybody else) is probably a wiser option than one that relies on the flanks, simply because Inter’s fast, technical forwards (Ricardo Quaresma among others) arranged in a 4-3-3 and supported by such full-backs as Douglas Maicon and Cristian Chivu will give a very hard time to Roma’s own full-backs, disallowing for retaliation on that front. John Arne Riise and Marco Cassetti will be so busy keeping their respective zones safe, that we may expect them to have little to no space going forward, and this leaves wingers such as Taddei (and, in a 4-2-3-1, Mirko Vučinić) devoid of support. Better to forget that option and attack by the main gates, by Toni, Totti, Ménez or Perrotta. Notwithstanding that priority, the quandary should be evident – Inter’s gruesome strike-force leave us with a necessity to defend and an opportunity to counter-offend, but the two cannot be done at the same time. It will take a lot of skill, by Ranieri and the team both, to walk home with even the scent of laurels.

With that said, there is really not much else to do other than sit back and let the football do the talking. This is the most exciting game that Roma have had the chance to play this season, and they have earned every dream they can distil from it. A loss means that the Scudetto race is over and a draw means that it is still uphill. A win does not guarantee a title, nor even make it likely, but it would incontestably legitimate it in the miraculous case that it should it arrive.

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