Myths, Confessions & Other Nonsense
Confession: I'm sometimes amazed at those who can analyze Roma while simultaneously being a fan. I leave my sane mind at the door when Roma kicks off, and the next ninety-ish minutes are spent in a frantic intellectual haze of utter bias and my beady eyes rarely leaving that little white ball. No, I cannot figure out what the fuck is going on tactically, who's moving where off the ball, because I'm too busy trying to find the nitro tabs - often figuratively, sometimes literally. Yeah, I'll go toe-to-toe with Ottmar Hitzfeld when it comes to tactical analysis for any other team, but Roma? Pfft. Don't even think about it. The heart overrides the mind. Which is funny, because I'm arguably the one person who should be winning the race, so to speak, and yet I'm over here, doing the doggy paddle with one arm attempting to stay afloat.
Lot of commentary in Tachtsidis' game in the last sentence. (Segue alert.)
I don't know how some people do it, so my hat's off to them. But there isn't a game happening at current, so let's delve into some of those considerations now, and more to the point, debunk some myths, perhaps even explain some things (novel territory in these waters, that).
ia. MICHAEL BRADLEY CANNOT JUST REPLACE PANAGIOTIS TACHTSIDIS SO STOP SUGGESTING IT 'FORE I CAP YO ASS.
ib. NEITHER CAN MIRALEM PJANIC.
I'm done shouting now, but seriously. Seeing those two things suggested is like suggesting Rihanna sit in for Yo-Yo Ma. Yes, they're both musicians. Talk to me about the rest of it.
Smokey Old requires a regista sitting deep in front of the defense to both conduct the game and remain as a reference point to create the midfield triangles which are demanded on the walls at the gate of Zemanlandia. Michael Bradley is, as far as midfielders go, the furthest thing possible from a regista. A regista is the deep-seated playmaker, a la Pirlo or Verratti (last year's Zemanlandia) or...shit...I know there was a guy whose name begins with a P here...ummm...I forget. Anyway, this is the spot for someone to conduct the game; to control things from the back and launch the entire thing, or act as the key reference point. Bradley's an all-action box-to-box midfielder, which obviously has value, but isn't the silky smooth slinger required. Apples and eggplants. Pjanic is, in truth, far more of an advanced playmaker, someone more adept at sitting in the hole, or to the left or right of center, as a playmaker; he's more naturally suited to playing further up the pitch where he can be dribbly, conduct the final movement, rather than the whole damn thing, while also making runs into the box (not unlike a Modric, whom he was considered to replace at Tottenham).
Truth is, for the qualities Zeman demands - and suggesting Old Smokey change at this point is barking up an even deader tree - Tachtisidis is the only choice. His passing has been woeful at times, and he seems confused at others, doing better when stepping aside such that DDR may take control, but he is still very young and more importantly, he inherently holds the qualities of a regista Zeman demands. Pjanic could be, De Rossi could be, Tachtsidis is. And thus...
Moreover, Roma was always going to eat a few positions for the sake of development. Earlier in the year, Lamela appeared to be one; that has since changed (shhh). Florenzi would've been one had he not greyhounded out of the gates from the whistle. And so it's Pana right now. To not spot his talent is near criminal, so if they can somehow allow him the time to develop while still remaining successful, all the better. The ability to intellectually manipulate the game at a young age is something which is so rare, making players like Pjanic all the more impressive. What Pjanic can't do is impose himself defensively, so once Taxi does get his shit together, he's going to be an incredible asset to Roma. He can dominate the midfield alone - it's worth waiting for and swallowing the unfortunate in the meantime.
ii. Zeman's going to change anything he does.
iii. Marco Borriello is somehow anything less than an excellent footballer.
I hated this when he was in Rome, hate it more now. The match against Genoa should be enough evidence of the damage he can do. What he isn't is anything but what he is. There are schemes for which he is better suited, yes, but he's an excellent, excellent footballer, one who carried Roma on his back during the first half of 2010-11, and then became something of a square pig-round holed right winger in the second half of the season for whatever reason. His work rate, positioning, strength and technical ability make him an excellent throwback targetman; the pass on Kucka's goal was phenomenal. The problem for him is he sort of has a role. The team for which he plays needs to both employ and put him in that role, otherwise it just doesn't work.
He's feloniously underrated.
iv. Pablo Osvaldo has suddenly become a great striker.
No. No, no, no. Yes, he's good, but this is Zemanlandia we're talking about, and he's a box player - a box player adept at finding space in what will be an increasingly crowded area. He's going to score goals. A lot of goals. Ciro Immobile scored twice - count 'em: one, two - in 20 Serie B games in 2010-11; in 2011-12, under Zeman, he scored 28. Twenty-eight. This ain't a coincidence. Marco Sansovini, a lifetime Serie B journeyman, went from 11 to 16 in 400 fewer minutes.
Jonas would score twenty, and he only shows up on Tuesdays. Ozzy's good, but this could get out of hand when he achieves what even a decent striker on a Zeman team is supposed to achieve.
v. The Piris of September is the Piris of October.
Nobody’s gone from punchline to asset quicker than Ivan. Maybe not since Adriano rescinded his contract, anyway.
Things Old Smokey desires for his 4-3-3...and it will only ever be a 4-3-3:
i. Starting from the back, quick distribution and good play with the ball at his feet from the keeper. You'll notice over the last several matches that Maarten's been releasing the ball like a shortstop. In'n'out, one move. Perhaps it's partly a result of Zeman, but he probably also hears the pitter patter of little Goicoechea footsteps. Whatever the case, attack, attack, attack.
ii. Pacy, attacking fullbacks sticking in inch perfect crosses to numbers. Basically, he wants his fullbacks playing as wingers do for most other clubs. When things are really clicking, Balzaretti and Piris will be spending more time hovering on the end line than the opposing keeper. And one of the things which has seen the games of both Lamela and Piris improve so dramatically over the last weeks is their understanding with each other; Erik now knows where Piris is going to be, ivan knows where Erik likes him to be and vice versa.
iii. A deep-lying playmaker - a regista. As explained above. It's Tachtsidis, for now. But what's curious is how much more effective the team was against Genoa when Daniele sort of shared the responsibilities, or took up the majority of it, pushing Taxi out of the picture. This is something which bears watching, because Daniele's refusal to sort of fill the role asked of him is the reason for his benching against Atalanta. (I'm of the opinion the team would be best suited with Daniele acting as regista until Taxi gets his shit together, unless they can eat his growing pains, but thinking Old Smokey is going to do anything but what Old Smokey wants is idiotic and a waste of preciously limited brain power.)
iv. Runners in the remainder of midfield crashing the box with good, quick - emphasis on quick in the midfield; emphasis on this is why they lose the ball; emphasis on this is why the defense gets hung out to dry like Amish laundry - technical play. Florenzi has made that LCM role his and his alone until he loses it, ticking all the right boxes early; the other spot is dependent upon a number of factors. The one thing going against Bradley is that he's far, far, far less technical than, well, anyone else.
v. Triangles. Zeman loves passing triangles beginning in the midfield to open up space and manipulate the positioning of the defense.
vi. This is where it gets tricky, because Totti is not a Zeman forward, but he has to be on the pitch, and arguably, he's assumed a sort of "Spalletti trequartista-line" like position, making the entire space for the "3" in the once "4-2-3-1" his, roaming about the field, dropping back and rushing forward when the occasion calls for it. Lamela is that cut-into-the-box forward which is more typical and a position in which he may thrive, though he doesn't get as close to the six, breathing down the keeper's neck. The thing here is that because of the fullbacks playing as second wingers, the actual wingers have to drop back and do their defensive duties. With Totti so often drifting left to right, this explains why Balzaretti needs an O2 tank by the hour mark of every game. He should be getting two paychecks.
In a sense, though his crossing is subpar, maybe Riise should've gone on loan instead, eh?
vii. More typical striker. Osvaldo's done very well, but so too has Destro. Pablo's game is entirely inside the box, where he thrives, but he's simply a get-it-and-dump-it-quickly player anywhere else. Destro can play outside the box too. Obviously, Pablo will provide more "what have you done for me lately" bang for his buck, but as far as potential goes, the two are rather incomparable; Destro's ceiling is much higher because he can create for himself as well. This, in some respects, is why I go to the lineup cards each day knowing one is the best option, but hoping it's the other.*
* - Forged an entire website based off of this long ago. Shhhhh.
And then they gatecrash the box. And it's more direct. And it's quick. And there are lots of spaces at the back. And it's frantic. And everybody best be in incredible physical shape because of that.
And it's never, ever* going to change. Plan your prematch Roma fantacalcio formations accordingly.
* - Ever.
* - Like....ever.