Sunday's No Show at Napoli, beyond being an unmitigated disappointment, marked the official half way point of Roma's 2012-2013 campaign. What Roma has lacked in defense, they have made up for in goals, controversy and drama.
Following 19 games played, well 18 and 1 forfeiture, Roma have tallied a 10-2-7 record, good for 32 points and sole possession of sixth place, three points behind Fiorentina for Italy's final Europa League qualifier and five points behind Napoli for Champions League qualification.
Despite our evisceration at the feet of Edinson Cavani over the weekend, there can be little doubt that the aura around the team and fans has improved markedly from the season's early days. While the midfield has struggled at times, goals have been relatively easy to come by, some young players have flourished, while others have fatigued, some veterans continue to astound, while others simply confound.
Whatever your opinion of Roma's current philosophies, the momentum and tide of good feelings Roma experienced in November and December, not to mention the product on the field, were but mere glimpses of this clubs true capabilities. Led by a legend and a menagerie of mere children, Roma has subdued opponents with its attacking gusto and defensive dynamism (Make no mistake, Roma's true defensive capabilities are belied by the sheer amount of goals they concede), leaving hope for better days still ahead.
Given the fantastic glimpses of Zemanlandia we've seen on the pitch through the first 19 matches, led by that impressive cadre of young twenty-somethings, you'd be forgiven if you proclaimed the future was Roma's to lose.
But, as I'm sure we're all too familiar with, there have been peaks and valleys through the first turn, so, much as we did with our quarterly analysis, let's take a somewhat objective look at Roma's recent run.
First we'll take a broader look at the team as whole, what they've done and how they compare to their peers in Italy and throughout the continent, then focus on a few key and/or interesting players.
First up, offensive statistics
- 43 goals forced, tops in Italy
- 33 goals conceded, worst in Italy
- +10 differential, 4th in Italy
- 55% possession, 4th in Italy, 17th in Europe
- 18 shots per game, 2nd in Italy, 5th in Europe
- 6.5 shots on target per game, 3rd in Italy
- 83% passing, 4th in Italy, 15th in Europe
- 26 goals from open play, 1st in Italy
- 5 goals on the counter, 2nd in Italy
- 7 goals from set pieces, tied for 4th in Italy
- 31% of action in opposition's half, 2nd in Italy
- 12.4 shots conceded per game, 6th fewest in Italy
- 21.1 tackles per game, 2nd fewest in Italy
- 16.9 interceptions per game, 5th in Italy
- 13.7 fouls committed per game, 2nd fewest in Italy
Based purely on the hard team statistics, Roma, offensively at least, are among the Italian heavyweights, ranking in the top four in most of the major offensive categories. The numbers pretty much support what one can reasonably expect from Zemanlandia; a high number of shots, both gross and on target, and an absurd rate of scoring and conceding goals. Despite his disdain for pointless possession, the club is in the upper reaches of this category. However, when you factor in how much time they spend in the attacking third, it's not surprising they hold over 55% possession, a fact aided by their extremely accurate passing.
Zeman has, to an extent, successfully instilled his attack-at-all-times mentality among his squad. The numbers, in terms of shots, goals, passing, and possession bear this out, as Roma, by these objective measures, is a top four club. So in a sense, Roma has attacked their way to the top, subduing opponents through sheer force of offensive will.
The problem hasn't been so much how many goals they concede, but rather the timing of the goals conceded. From minutes 31 to 45, Roma has conceded eight goals, while scoring only three, a recipe for blown early leads if ever there was one. Similarly, in the latter third of matches, minutes 60-90, Roma has scored 17, while conceding 14 goals.
So, as you can see, Roma has been a somewhat schizophrenic team, both securing and squandering late leads, often conceding at the most inopportune of times, which has, on many occasions, put them behind the eight ball, desperately seeking a late winner or equalizer. Not exactly a plan for sustained success. How the squad manages the ebbs and flows of the second 45s will dictate, in large measure, the degree of success Roma manages in the second half of the season.
Taking a look at the defensive numbers, we can see that goals conceded are an admittedly ugly part of a much larger story. Led by Marquinhos, the back four has put up some surprising numbers, particularly when the forward thinking nature of Zeman's football is taken into account.
It is interesting to note that, while Roma concedes shots and forces tackles at relatively low rates, which would be expected given their high rate of possession and possession in the opponent's attacking third, their interception numbers are rather high. Essentially, the Roman defense, due to the focus on attack, isn't back on their heels defending a barrage of shots, nor are they constantly chasing opponents, rather, thanks in large part to the central pairing, they have been doing an excellent job of disrupting attacks before they begin.
Given the tactical philosophy of Zeman's football, particularly the high lines all across the pitch, there is no escaping the fact that you're going to bleed goals, but given the constant forward motion, if you have defenders capable of deciphering an attack and diffusing it before it unfolds, you'll spend less time defending shots and man marking.
Looking at the fine print you can see Roma's defense, particularly Marquinhos and Leandro Castan, are quite adept at disrupting attacks. In the micro sense, the Roman defense is actually quite capable and excels in the areas in which it must, cutting off runs and intercepting passes, given the tactical nature of the team as a whole, which offers a lot of scoring opportunities to its opponents.
Looking at the broader statistics, we see what many of us expected and lamented; Roma, based on pure talent, are a top four club whose Achilles heel is consistency.
If you've followed the team the past 4 and a half months, you know who the stars have been, so I'll spare you the dramatics.
But let's take a quick look at Roma's top 10 rated players, provided, as always, by whoscored.
1. Erik Lamela (7.77)
2. Francesco Totti (7.74)
3. Marquinhos (7.3)
4. Pablo Osvaldo (7.28)
5. Miralem Pjanic (7.27)
6. Leandro Castan (7.21)
7. Ivan Piris (7.18)
8. Alessandro Florenzi (6.82)
9. Federico Balzaretti (6.79)
10. Daniele De Rossi (6.78)
11. Michael Bradley (6.78)
Again, for reference, here's the top five in Serie A
2. Andrea Ranocchia-Inter (7.97)
3. Edinson Cavani-Napoli (7.94)
4. Giorgio Chiellini-Juventus (7.83)
5. Hernanes-Lazio (7.79)
So looking at Roma, the top 10, though in a slightly different order, remains unchanged, except for the absence of Maarten Stekelenburg. You should also note that the team's ratings as whole have increased, as the 10th spot during our quarterly analysis was occupied by Stek and his 6.6 rating. Lamela still leads the way, trailed closely by Totti and PDO. The surprise, of course, is how far DDR has fallen, not from his 7th place ranking in the quarterly analysis, just his performance in general. To say DDR appears out of sorts would be an understatement.
League wide, Edinson Cavani (surprise) has burst his way into the top five, while Lamela was narrowly edged out by Hernanes. Lamela, as you may remember, missed several weeks due to an ankle injury, but still ranks fourth in the league in goals (10).
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at Lamela and a few of the other first half standouts.
Again, his 10 goals and 7.77 rating both place him in the league's top 10, fourth and sixth, respectively. While these same metrics rank 16th and 17th in all of Europe, respectively. So Lamela's numbers tell us what we pretty much already suspected, The Apple is one of the games burgeoning offensive talents, with a virtually limitless ceiling. We talk about Lamela so often, its easy to forget he's only 20 years old...like I said, limitless.
Second on the team in both rating and goals, 8th highest rated player in Serie A, 18th rated in all of Europe, 2nd in Italy and 7th in Europe in key passes per game, 3rd in Italy and 16th in Europe in assists, with six goals and six assists to boot...all at the age of 36.
I really can't say anything about his performance this season that hasn't already been said, but for a man whose legacy is already secure, he is continually rewriting the book.
Pjanic was the subject of much debate earlier in the year: Why isn't he playing? Where does he play? Does he have enough stamina? Can he play outwide/deep/uptop?
With such ambiguity about his role, you could forgive Miralem if his performance suffered, but that's simply not been the case. Pjanic has been Roma's 5th highest rated player, tallying two goals and three assists, as well as 2.6 key passes per game, good for 2nd on the squad, 3rd in the league and 20th in all of Europe. Similarly, Miralem ranks top five on the club in both shots and dribbles per game.
Pjanic has featured in three different roles across his 13 appearances; a deeper central midfielder, a right sided forward, and a slightly more advanced attacking midfielder. Again, as he only made 13 appearances, the sample size is small, but Pjanic's best ratings have come in the more advanced roles, though the differences are slight.
Point being, Miralem's role has been subject of much debate this year and, if we're being honest, he's performed up to par no matter where he's featured. Although, he may, and we may, have a preferred spot in mind for him, Pjanic has the dribbling and passing ability to play all over the midfield. For a player deemed by none other than Totti as the club's most talented player, the debate on his proper role will rage on, regardless of the manager, but the numbers show he has held his own no matter what role he assumes.
Another player subject to much scrutiny early in the season, Piris has rebounded and quickly established himself as one of the best fullbacks in the league. You can read more about him here.
Let's put it this way, he's been so good, he may soon be the only Marquinho(s) on the team. You can read more about him here.
By most available metrics, Bradley ranks as Roma's 11th best player, which, given Roma's resources, is about where you would expect him to rank. Bradley is by no means a star on this team or in this league, but he's been the subject of much scorn as of late, so what do the numbers say?
The Bald Beauty is averaging 1.4 shots per game (6th on the club), completing 87% of his passes (6th on the club) and managing 1.5 tackles per game (tied for 6th, 3rd among midfielders). As you would expect, his finer passing numbers, key passes, through balls, long balls etc. fall just outside the club's top ten.
Bradley obviously has his faults as a player, his passing in the final third being foremost among them, but he is as advertised; jack of all trades, master of none. Bradley covers a lot of ground and does a lot of little things well; he'll seldom be the hero or the goat. This is what a successful club should want from its 11th man, solid if not spectacular.
But, a little softer touch in the final third would be appreciated, Michael.
Taking the grander view, the club has improved from the quarter pole to the half-way point, unfortunately, that success has not been without lingering inconsistencies, leaving the club in the exact same spot they were 10 matches ago, just adrift of European qualification.
Heres how we wrapped up the quarterly analysis:
The numbers through the first 10 games show a team capable of outscoring anyone. Continued improvement from the clubs younger players, the return to form of a few key veterans, and a more intuitive feel for the system should provide a level of consistency commensurate with the clubs offensive prowess.
It would be fair to say the club has hit on two of those three points, the youngest of the young (Marquinhos, Piris, Lamela and Pjanic) have all improved or held steady since early November, while Balzaretti, a veteran, has shown flashes of his former self following the first ten matches. Given the general increase in the quality of play, one can safely assume Zeman's system has been internalized to a greater degree over the past nine matches.
It's that last point, consistency, in which they still lack. Inconsistency in goal, inconsistency in parts of the midfield, inconsistency in the center of attack and simple half-to-half inconsistencies have plagued Roma since November.
Realistically, we can simply repeat that refrain. Roma still need continued growth from the youth, though in this case, that would mainly be Mauro Goicoechea, combined with improved play from some key veterans, namely Daniele De Rossi, who needs to figure out exactly how and where he fits in this midfield; is he the dynamo we saw against Milan or the dud we saw against Lazio?
So there you have it, that's the somewhat objective analysis of Roma's first 19 matches of the 2012-2013 season. Roma are a mere five points away from Champions League qualification and despite their intermittent inconsistencies, they have won four of their past six matches.
Based on the statistics, the youth and the simple amount of talent, you could easily argue that Roma are Serie A's most dangerous side...to opponents and themselves.