Roma 2 - Napoli 0: In Honor Of May 26th

Paolo Bruno

Lazio, Inter, Napoli. They're for real.

At some point, you just stop looking for a reason. You accept what is, enjoy it, and move on. The closest answer to what is currently transpiring in the city of Rome can most accurately linked to some sort of black magic, or maybe the soul of a demigod has been cast into servitude under the fires of eternal damnation, or perhaps someone did indeed wish upon a star last winter during their vacation jaunt to the Magic Kingdom. No one knows. But we do know those we have to thank: Lazio.

Filtering through the press the last few weeks have been confessions from those at the center of the summer heat. Walter Sabatini was candid when he said that without the loss to Lazio, he would have continued on with a similar purchasing structure to the one which had failed Roma the previous two seasons in all ways but financially. Maicon wouldn't be here. No, it would be another kid who could generate a profit down the line; someone skilled, but not quite ready to win now. Perhaps Skorupski would be the number one instead of Morgan's contract. Maybe Kevin would be...shudder the thought. The thing is things had to change. The blow was too harsh. They could no longer afford to place one eye to the future and another to the here and now. Everything in the present.

And then there's Daniele. Daniele, Daniele, Daniele. The chosen one's non-biological son, the heir to all things Roma, and as much family to you and I as our own flesh and blood. He's deserved better all these years, not unlike Papa Totti, but Francesco's getting on in age and Roma is his one and only. Daniele? He had a chance. One last opportunity to seek out glory at the highest level for any club in the world. A poor year behind him and a Roma future on the downslope, no one would have blamed him. Ownership would need be under police protection, of course, but no one would dare fault Daniele for taking one last chance whilst departing a sinking ship. Two birds, one transfer fee.

But he didn't. He stayed. And he too said he stayed because of May 26th. Because he couldn't go out like that. He couldn't leave Roma on the worst night of his professional career. And so he stayed. And he's risen from the dead to embody and personify everything Roma in the first eight weeks. After hitting rock bottom, he's back, and so too is Roma. In the wake of Thor's hammer to the gut, the entire philosophy of all things Roma shifted amid the panic to ensure that May 26th never happens again. This club's growth is a direct result of the immense pain suffered that evening.

It's not supposed to be like this. They're not supposed to be this good. And without Lazio, they wouldn't be.

Enjoy your trophy, fellas. I'll take this.

As for the match itself, Miralem Pjanic will take the plaudits, and not incorrectly, but there's something else of far greater worth here. The following is from the BBC's live text of the match.

HITS THE WOODWORK - Roma 1-0 Napoli

Napoli are totally dominating this Serie A clash now. Slovakian midfielder Marek Hamsik clips the top of the Roma stanchion with an effort which is sharper than his eye-catching mohican haircut. Surely only a matter of time before they grab an equaliser...

It's not wrong, the bit about Roma being dominated. In fact it's spot on. Despite a lack of Higuain, Napoli is an incredibly good side. The swap from Mazzarri + Cavani to Rafa + Pricey Pupu Platter was a good one and they've hardly skipped a beat. I dare say they're a superior side to the one Walter left behind, though Wally's clubs do have a solidity to them where one things that the ship will never sink in the long-term, whereas Rafa's, well...to be determined. But Roma was better. Despite the swarming killer bees of Napoli's midfield, pinning Roma back in their own final third until the match was finally out of hand and Roma had a man up, Roma continued to dominate the final movement. That's it. They formed a wall just inside their own box and the defensive sinkhole that is Benatia, Castan, and DDR swallowed every movement whole, or pushed their attacker to Plan B. Despite Napoli having possession, Roma had control.

Rudi's clubs may be known for their fluid attacking and ability to score goals, but the number in the goals against category on the Serie A table is no fluke: One. Just one. Eight matches, seven clean sheets. They are a defensive juggernaut by both means and end, with nary a murmur to be heard otherwise. The triangle sitting just ahead of Morgan is superior to anything one will find in Serie A at the moment, and there's not a club outside of Bavaria or Catalonia I'd think could break through with much ease. That's where this club is at. They're that good, and that good by design. This is no accident. Though we may not be able to pinpoint just how or why, we simply cannot dismiss its existence.

And when the dust had settled from Napoli's dominance, something had happened: Roma happened. Same words, new meaning. They'd scored, not Napoli. The inevitable goal was on the side of the Romans, a pattern now too commonplace to dismiss.

With each match we drift closer to reality, yet further from it.

Stuffs

  • The undisputed hero of the side thus far is, as ever, Francesco Totti. Turns out his replacements are up to the task, a far cry from recent years. Sure, Miralem stepped up (literally - and twice), but Marco Borriello put in a shift and a half playing his typically anachronistic forward role - Daniele even spent his postgame lavishing him with praise. No, he's not a modern footballer, not even close, and this means he'll not always gel fluidly, but that which he does offer can be invaluable. It's the little things, like his workrate, defensive help, ability to knock down passes and draw defenders which serve to shift the glory to those around him rather than himself. He has proven to be, after a summer - or series of them - in which he was shown to be so unloved, the consummate professional. He is the anti-Osvaldo, and Roma is so much better for it.

    It's more of the same: Rudi has constructed a team where the whole is far more than the sum of its parts. This is how one wins football matches; not with transfer fees.
  • Miralem's goals were phenomenal. He's a phenomenon who deserves a phenomenon's contract. Give him what he wants. A lifetime deal will do just fine by me.

    But I want to know how he learned to defend like a world class midfielder over the course of one summer. Honestly. Someone put that system on DVD and make millions.
  • Would Higuain have made a difference? Maybe, but likely not enough. The ease with which they locked down Insigne was proof positive this wasn't about matchup but rather quality, and Roma has it. A good defense almost always beats a good attack, and Roma has a great one.
  • Arguably the highlight of the match was Rudi dismissing Gervinho's pleas to come off. What's French for, "Put your fucking tutu on and get back out there?" But Adem Ljajic could use a start one of these days, just to keep him fresh. Rotation becomes important the longer summer gets in the rearview, and particularly with this annoying spate of three international breaks in three months. 
  • If there is one club in Serie A which could capitalize on Brazilian Fullbacks, one would imagine it would be Napoli. And yet with Dodo and Maicon playing higher than your grandfather's pants, they still couldn't break free. In fact the one clear one v one came right through the spine of the defense - if that wasn't entirely improbable. So while a side like this won't always be perfect, it's not the players but the system - and Daniele especially - which is so successful.
  • Marquinho plays a lot more than one would expect. A lot.
  • Go ahead. Gush about Rudi. There are no longer opponents but rather stops upon the way which need be schemed against differently. Sure, for them it's always been that way, but for outsiders looking in, it's different. It's no longer, "Well, we'll see about the derby..." or "Wait til they play Inter and Napoli." No, they've proven to be a side of supreme quality independent of opponent which will see each ninety minutes as independent tasks which need be completed and then discarded. The season is no longer overwhelming as one singular achievement of European qualification but thirty steps of equal importance. Win one, lose one, whatever. Move on to the next. There are goals to be achieved of which this club is eminently capable, because this is no longer the Roma you know. 

    And who the hell cares how he did it. He's just the Magica Man.

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