Crisis? What crisis? That was the cry bellowing out from the bowels of the Stadio Olimpico last night as Roma continues their charge up the Serie A table and who knows, a possible assault on the Scudetto in the New Year. When Claudio Ranieri took over at the end of August the Giallorossi were in total disarray – bottom of the table and heavily in debt, the club were on a one-way ticket to oblivion. Then the Tinkerman got to work. Almost three months later, the capital giants sit fourth in the table as we head into the Christmas break, and are most definitely Serie A’s in-form side. Ranieri has done the exact opposite of what his nickname suggests and has breathed new life into a squad that seemed disillusioned with themselves as the summer came to a close.
Yesterday’s 2-0 win, at a sun drenched Stadio Olimpico, over Parma epitomised everything that Ranieri has brought to this team. Players who were viewed as surplus to requirements under the old regime have found a new impetus under Ranieri. Marco Cassetti, a player who seemed short on confidence at the start of the campaign, looks like a seasoned international under the tutelage of his new boss, culminating in his memorable goal in the derby just two weeks ago. Rodrigo Taddei is simply unrecognisable from the player who, every time his name was announced prior to a game, filled the tifosi in the Curva Sud with dread rather than excitement. His scintillating display yesterday is a tribute to the belief Ranieri has given the Brazilian over the last three months. Goalkeeper Júlio Sérgio, who waited years to get his shot at the big time, has repaid the faith his boss has shown in him with some outstanding displays this season and is now a genuine world-class goalkeeper. Six unbeaten in the league is no mean feat and yesterday’s game was billed as a Champions League shoot-out. It was simply no contest as the Giallorossi controlled the match from start to finish.
The back four looked solid all afternoon, with the Brazilian Juan and Nicolás Burdisso playing in perfect harmony in the centre, a major plus for Ranieri should the club decide to cash in on Philippe Mexès in the next six months. Daniele De Rossi and David Pizarro bossed the midfield and Matteo Brighi was outstanding playing just behind Francesco Totti, alongside Taddei and Mirko Vučinić. Goals in the second half from Burdisso and Brighi capped off a wonderful afternoon in the capital and only an injury to Totti in the second period (which was later deemed to be nothing serious), dampened spirits inside the stadium. So the garden is rosy, Totti has signed for life, the squad is recapturing the form that saw them push Inter all the way a couple of seasons ago and who knows, if they can hit the ground running after the winter break, the 11 points that separate them from José Mourinho and his team may not be beyond the realms of fantasy.
On a weekend decimated by snow and ice, Juventus Coach Ciro Ferrara could consider himself unlucky that his side’s game at home to Catania on Sunday afternoon took place at all. After 90 frantic, heartbreaking minutes, Ferrara’s team had succumbed to a 1-2 home defeat to Catania, their first in Turin for 45 years, a result that leaves the Bianconeri’s season in tatters. Prior to the game, banners in the crowd proclaimed that the squad had no balls. At the end of the game, enraged tifosi had to be restrained by riot police as they made their feelings known to the players and management outside the stadium. Again, Juventus chief executive Jean Claude Blanc reiterated that Ferrara would not be replaced and that the club would not dip into the transfer market during the January window, but how much longer can the powers that be in Turin make excuses for a Coach who is seemingly way out of his depth at this level. One consolation for la Vecchia Signora last week was that they picked up the first gong of the season. The annual Bidone d’Oro, or Golden Bin award, is given to the worst player of the year – the lucky recipient this time around is Felipe Melo. As the disgruntled Brazilian licked his wounds, after another below par performance saw him substituted again, he should thank his lucky stars that events off the pitch in Turin are deflecting the attention away from the current form of a player we all know is capable of much, much better.