If the hangover has passed, bring your feet to the ground and start thinking. Roma is at a turning point and meditation is very much called for. The match against Atalanta, with its sloth and white-knuckled result, was enough to hint that the trident is not the key to the promised land. The derby has sculpted that truth in stone. The win was hard-fought and hazardous, one of those victories which leaves us with more relief than satisfaction. Lazio deserved the draw, at the very least.
Claudio Ranieri went into the game with three strikers, which may have been the only real option available to him. The danger was visible from a distance, but the alternatives were few. The team had gathered such results and shown such flashes of skill with those players that to opt for anything else would have seemed like a condemnation. Also it would have been a tremendous personal risk – had the team gone for a different formation and lost, the Coach would have been thrown into the fire for not using the trident. Retrospective thinking does that. So he gambled, and he almost lost. In fact, the only thing that kept the team from crumbling like a wafer was the extraordinary performance of the defence. We mentioned in our last columns that recent outings showed a promising back-line, but Sunday night fulfilled all of the rosiest promises and more.
When Roma’s defence is fully fit (which is a bit like saying ‘when Luciano Moggi is sanctified by the people,’ but bear with us), it makes for an awe-inspiring show. Juan was imperial. Considering the pressure that Lazio was imposing on the Roman wings and the ease with which they crossed the midfield line, the fact that they had such few shots on goal – much less an actual goal – is incredible. Credit goes to Julio Sergio and his capacity to leap from a sitting position like a spring-jack, but he could not have done it on his own. The defence saved this match on Sunday, much like the geese saved Rome 2000 years ago.
The only reservations down there were the full-backs. The day that Simone Loria is hanged, Marco Cassetti will become the most talented defender at gifting adversary strikers with golden opportunities. So he scored a goal, too. Congratulations. But the fact remains that it was his fault if Mauro Zarate managed to hit the post and Julio Sergio had to invoke occult powers to save the shot by Stefano Mauri. Considering the difficulties that the team was encountering in going forwards, it is a wonder why Ranieri did not insert Marco Motta instead of Cassetti. Furthermore, Nicolas Burdisso only seemed effective when he was shifted to the middle. The man is very competent at holding his line, but he has no offensive slant, and is therefore best not employed as a full-back again.
The important question that we take away from this derby is this – what kind of alternatives to the trident does Roma possess? Lazio demonstrated that a well-organized team with a high defensive line can easily lock down the sketched spirals of Jérémy Menez, Francesco Totti and Mirko Vucinic. Lazio Coach Davide Ballardini fielded a fortress of a team – three destroyers behind, Mobido Diakitè, Guglielmo Stendardo and Stefan Radu, and two full-backs on the flanks, Stephan Lichsteiner and Aleksandar Kolarov. No Pasquale Foggia, no Tommaso Rocchi until the second half. You may criticise his defensive approach, but Roma was rendered helpless – the trident failed to pierce the wall, and the Roman midfield was so thin that Zarate alone was enough to scour them at will on the counter. Much like the 4-2-3-1 of Luciano Spalletti could be aborted by high man-marking on the two mediani (something revealed by then Lazio Coach Delio Rossi, incidentally), so the current deployment can be neutralised with a dense coverage of defensive spaces and a little teamwork. If the forwards also happen to be putting in some poor performances, as Menez and especially Vucinic were doing yesterday, the she-wolf is as good as roasted.
Roma were graced by the divine powers against Lazio, but luck does not last forever. Next time, when Julio Sergio fails to stretch his arms like one of the Fantastic Four, the Giallorossi must be able to pick themselves up by their own strength. This means that they must develop a dependable alternative to the 4-3-3. The second half of the game showed that Roma are capable of working just as well, if not better, with a 4-4-2. Such a formation also allows certain excellent players not to be wasted – Stefano Guberti and Alessio Cerci, off the top of this writer’s head. Ranieri shouldn’t ditch the trident right away – the next team up is Sampdoria, and if there is anyone who is bound to suffer the trident, then they’re the ones – but he should start pondering his alternatives. We have been stating for a while that Roma’s formative period is seven games long since Bari, and that 15 points must be conquered over this cycle. Three games are down, nine points are in the bag. Ranieri has four games left. Getting six points will be easy. Developing and settling the most effective formation before the second half of the season begins will be the difficult part.
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