When Luigi Del Neri took over the reigns at the Blucerchiati in the summer, many eyebrows were raised. A Coach whose main achievement had been guiding Chievo to the dizzy heights of Serie A for the first time in their history seemed an odd choice to succeed Walter Mazzari at the helm of one of Italy’s most iconic clubs.
Del Neri’s unsuccessful spell at Roma and then a less than spectacular return to Chievo, was followed by two years in Bergamo with Atalanta where his team were solid if not extravagant. Humble pie may need to be consumed, because as we come to the end of week four of the Championship, Del Neri has seen his team take maximum points to sit proudly on top of the Serie A table.
He has gone back to basics, playing with a 4-4-2 formation marshalled by his excellent midfield general Angelo Palombo – whilst his forward line has been led by the wonderfully gifted Antonio Cassano and a resurgent Giampaolo Pazzini. The addition of Daniele Mannini from Napoli and Franco Semioli from Fiorentina have been inspired, Mannini scoring his third goal of the season Sunday afternoon against Siena.
Del Neri’s formula is simple- the four midfielders do the hard graft allowing Cassano to float around in the last third of the pitch where he is at his most effective. After another scintillating display from the boy from Bari, who seems to be maturing with every passing game, his club has been the revelation of the season so far.
Francesco Totti’s rather strange announcement this week that the Roma players were finding it hard to understand coach Claudio Ranieri’s tactics is just another example of the huge unrest inside the capital club at the moment. The Sunday night clash with Fiorentina had the potential to heap even more pressure on the Sensi family and their continuing war with the club’s hardcore tifosi.
For half an hour, the Giallorossi looked nervous and uptight, a shadow of the squad who have thrilled Serie A audiences for the past four years. Ranieri however, is nothing if not resolute and he believes his 4-4-1-1 formation is the way forward, many will argue that the squad he has cannot play this way and the sudden change in tactical set up will damage the equilibrium of the team.
Mirko Vucinic is a player who Roma now need now more than ever, and he won his side a penalty after 27 minutes which was despatched by Francesco Totti with usual aplomb. Suddenly, the atmosphere changed in the stadium, this was partly due to a protest organised by Roma fans, who, in response to nine tifosi arrested in Basil last Thursday, boycotted the first 30 minutes of the game.
For Roma it was the same old story as their inspirational captain Totti helped in no uncertain terms by Vucinic and Daniele De Rossi, dragged his team forward. Two more goals before the break, another from Totti and a wonderful team goal started and finished by De Rossi, eased all the nerves inside the stadium.
How much longer though, can this team rely on their ageing talisman? Totti was simply outstanding against Fiorentina, even by his high standards, as he orchestrated all that was good from the Giallorossi. Totti and Vucinic are a double act that seems to have developed a telepathic understanding over the past couple of seasons- on their day they can match any strike force in Europe. An Alberto Gilardino goal five minutes from time was scant consolation for a woeful performance by Fiorentina who must have left their coach, Cesare Prandelli, perplexed as to why they had performed so badly in a game they were expected to win.
Ranieri has his second consecutive league win, but neither performance will convince the tifosi that this team has turned a corner. He and his troops will return to the training ground to work on more improvements that will be needed to propel the club into the upper echelons of Serie A, and of course, give the players some much needed time to get to grips with their coach’s tactical formations.