Juventus versus Roma. A clash between two of the giants of Italian football. Two teams that have played their part in helping Serie A shed the boring, pro-defence image that it has developed over the years. It is then somewhat ironic that the two teams who were the highest scorers during last year’s campaign (each scored 72 goals in 2007/08) are struggling in front of goal this season. Both are suffering from a shortage of goals, yet the cause of the problem seems to be different for either side.
Juventus ‘keeper Gigi Buffon proclaimed their attack as “the best in Europe” at the start of the season. It cannot be disputed that David Trezeguet, Amauri, Alessandro Del Piero and Vincenzo Iaquinta are as good as any attacking line-up in Serie A. What seems to have been overlooked by the powers that be at the Bianconeri is that this stellar line up needs chances. Trezeguet, and to a lesser extent Amauri, are players who rely on goal scoring opportunities being created for them. One look at any Bianconeri line-up and you will see a side devoid of the creative options needed to feed their front players.
Claudio Ranieri’s men were linked with a host of creative midfielders over the summer. Rafael van der Vaart, Diego, Dejan Stankovic, the list could go on. Signing one of these proved elusive, and as such they entered the new campaign with a set of ball-winning central midfielders. In fact, they added to their collection by acquiring another one in the summer, Christian Poulsen. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the type of central player needed. The Danish international, Cristiano Zanetti, Momo Sissoko and Claudio Marchisio are all very good at running around and chasing. In tight games, where vision or a killer through-ball is needed to break down a defence, these are not the players you would look to give the ball to. They’re certainly not players who are going to improve a tally of nine goals in nine games to date.
Fans may point to the presence of Pavel Nedved and Mauro Camoranesi on the flanks. The former is now 36 years of age, and is not the creative (or goal scoring) force he once was. The latter, as good a player as he can be, is limited against the top sides. Look through the squads of these top sides, at home and abroad, and you will see at least one creative midfielder – Totti (Roma), Kaka and Ronaldinho (Milan), Xavi and Iniesta (Barcelona), Sneijder and van der Vaart (Real Madrid), Deco and Ballack (Chelsea).
All of this leaves much of the creative burden on the Old Lady’s captain, Del Piero. At 33 years (34 in November), Il Pinturicchio cannot shoulder this on his own. There are games where he will have to be left out by Ranieri in order to keep him fresh and of course the injury problems that will inevitably hit. Indeed, he has already missed two games this season, and was left out of the squad for Wednesday’s game at Bologna. That’s three matches from nine that he has missed already this year. The over-reliance on the aging striker so early into the new season only highlights the failure to obtain an attacking midfielder in the summer.
Roma’s problem is harder to define. The attacking talent the Giallorossi have on paper would leave any observer surprised by a return of nine goals in eight games. Alberto Aquilani, Francesco Totti, Jeremy Menez, Rodrigo Taddei, Simone Perrotta, Mirko Vucinic and Julio Baptista. All are more than capable of forging chances for themselves and one another.
The easiest thing to do would be to point to the absence of Totti. The figurehead of this Roma team and the focal point of Luciano Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1 system. There is not a single player in the squad who can effectively replace what he brings to the side. Having only made his return in the game against Inter, it is difficult to establish whether this is the sole reason for his colleague’s struggles to find the back of the net. It is unlikely to become clear until he regains full fitness and match sharpness.
There are various other theories one can put forward for the lack of goals. Two wide players in Ludovic Giuly and Amantino Mancini were sold in the summer, and with them went over 20 goals. Last season they contributed eight and 13 respectively in all competitions, all from a wide position. The Frenchman’s haul is all the more impressive when you consider he was not a regular starter. Brazilian Rodrigo Taddei often started in front of him, yet only provided six goals.
Selling such valuable players requires replacements of equal quality to be brought in and it is questionable as to whether Roma managed to do so. Menez and Baptista arrived, yet neither are natural wingers. Both prefer to play centrally (though Menez has been used out wide in the past), but both have been filling in on the left wing this season. Baptista, the club’s top scorer at the moment, has returned three goals but he has been used in his favoured central position at times this season, as well as wide left.
The lack of natural width has arguably hampered their forward play this year. With only one natural winger in Taddei, space in the centre is harder to come by for players like Perrotta and Totti, as teams are not being stretched on both sides. It makes it harder for them, along with the clever Aquilani, to create chances for each other.
There is also a debate as to whether the opposition have become accustomed to Spalletti’s system. Very little has changed with regards to the players who fill the positions. Perhaps it is time to freshen up some of the attacking players. Complacency is always an issue, especially when you make the starting line-up so consistently taste success.
Two clubs with such an array of attacking or striking talent are unlikely to keep the figure in the “Goals For” column on the league table small for much longer. Both sets of fans will be hoping it is just a matter of time before a game arrives where things “click” when going forward. Both sets would undoubtedly love that game to be this Sunday.