Over the last four or five seasons, AS Roma have not been governed by the conventions dictating the performance of other major clubs – especially in Italy. Time and time again they have matched their limitations with creative solutions, achieving a level of success not rooted in either player acquisition or meeting spiralling wage demands – an unimaginable feat in any other league, by any other club. However, does this dreadful start to the campaign by I Lupi point to the end of a truly remarkable era?
Roma have finished second in the league three seasons out of the last four. Considering their diminished resources, it took some doing. Faced with a paucity of strikers, Luciano Spalletti, out of necessity, adopted his famed 4-6-0 formation. Further, battling the limitations of a small but talented squad, the club focused on fitness, pace, creativity, and fluid, short-passing football.
Ironically, now that the Giallorossi have imported a string of classy players, they appear far less cohesive. They have two good ‘keepers, three very good central defenders, and a midfield packed with bite and flair. However, it is in attack where a lack of depth is really restricting the team’s overall performance.
In Mirko Vucinic they have a majestic player who time and time again has snatched three points in the dying moments of a game. Aggrieved, he now finds himself on the bench. Marco Boriello has commanded a starting berth in his place and has looked productive, yet his agitating comments after his recent substitution against Napoli reveal a sense of entitlement he simply has not earned.
As if Boriello’s petulance wasn’t enough of a disruption, the club has the hulking, sulking Adriano to contend with – a player who at nearly 100kg weighs more than David Haye, the current WBA Heavyweight Champion of the World. Add to the mix the inconsistent Jeremy Menez and the inexperienced Stefano Okaka, Roma now have extraordinary striking talent but with an extraordinary set of problems.
Claudio Ranieri’s biggest dilemma, however, remains what to do with Francesco Totti. Such is the standing of Er Purpone, dropping him is no longer a football decision but a political one. Perhaps if Roma were at the top end of Serie A, Ranieri could withstand the fallout of benching the talisman. But on Saturday evening he withdrew the lively Boriello instead of the heavy-legged and ineffective Totti.
But we can’t hang the Club’s poor form on a man who is arguably still their best player. In fact, on the evidence of what we’ve seen so far, Ranieri appears far less strategically deft than his predecessor, certainly in an attacking sense. Indeed, his major tactical alterations of late have been downright basic, simply swapping one striker for another and hoping the substitute can come up with something special. This rudimentary ploy worked against Inter but it was an exception to the rule.
In Europe against Bayern Munich, Ranieri attempted none of the creative problem-solving the Club has become renowned for. Confronted with an attacking force, he simply defended. Against Napoli, they were reckless going forward, leaving no protection for their defence. Ultimately, perhaps a manager so tactically conventional and rigid is a severe mis-match with a Club so recently defined itself by its fluidity and flair.
One thing is for sure, if Ranieri is to hang on to his job past January, he will have to find a winning formula sooner rather than later, because a club as cash-strapped as Roma simply cannot afford to miss out on the top four.