There's one way in Roma is completely predictable: in their unpredictability. Fire your coach? Sure. In complete crisis? Yup. Completely out of the race for Europe but for the Coppa Italia scraps? Appeared so. Beat the league leaders anyway? Why not. So what happened?
Roma happened, and every so often, that's actually a good thing.
Having missed the Sampdoria match and these my first minutes under Aurelio, I have to say this: beyond impressed. Perhaps part of that is a result of initial expectations, but long have we been waiting to find a coach who appears to have a finger on the emotional and psychological pulse of Roma, and that second half surge by the entire team was tantalizing. There wasn't one individual player to single out, but rather a collective improvement on both physical and mental planes. For so many years we've bemoaned Roma's superhuman capacity to capitulate in the first fifteen after the half, as though the coaches all, no matter their tactical genius, went into the locker room and individually kicked the puppy of each and every player. Beyond that, his interviews indicate a desire to rewire the minds and hearts of Roma to use belief and heart as the prime driving mechanism. One supposes then, that maybe Aurelio would've chosen Ranieri too...
Sometimes it's nice to be on the other side.
At no point did Aurelio appear to be anything more than a stand-in until the summer as Roma punted yet another season with the hopes of Europe falling entirely in the Coppa basket, but he may hold the one thing nobody could see until he was finally given a chance - the capacity to manage rather than coach.* And maybe that is precisely what this club has needed all along. Not a system or a philosophy, but a gent with a heart the size of Rome to will the players into the belief that this, that they, are something more than they really are. He appears to be, more than anything, a player's coach, and perhaps that's all they need - not a name, but a figure.
There were a number of little things which were impressive; though it may seem nothing, the hug with Totti was the hug of a man whose heart is roaring with the blood of Roma. The embrace of a man whose heart is on one sleeve and the desire for victory on the other. On a more tactical level, his substitutions were quietly excellent too.The ideal situation for this club? Michael Bradley coming in as a substitute to close out the match after working Miralem Pjanicinto the formation, a la Matteo Brighi as The Closer all those years back. It's basic, but it works. The others? Flawless. These are the types of moves one needs to make over the course of ninety minutes. This is, of course, a different demand when chasing the lead rather than protecting one, but early indications are he knows what the hell he's doing.
* - If he does turn out to be The Answer, a good deal of credit will be given to the men upstairs, but let's not forget he was option #73 or so and they made every attempt to get anyone but him (Blanc, Pellegrini, etc). This would be good fortune if so.
For so many years Roma has been like a woman: defined by her shape, right or wrong. Either the 4-2-3-1 (she was a vivacious, curvy one) or Enrique's 4-3-3/3-7-0 (little bit too much meat in the middle, Chubster) or Zeman's own interpretation of the 4-3-3 (she was a bit, errrr, "top heavy" and had crippling problems in the back, constantly falling over) came to exist not as the means to a result, but as its very identity. This time it wasn't the coach's philosophy which was brought to the table, but the molding of a system around the parts at hand. Against Juventus, it was a 3-4-1-2.
Despite Juve's rather flat performance in some respects, this formation gave all indications it would work against the majority of teams in Serie A. It provides a decent balance, shifting easily to a 5-3-2 when needed - Piris got pulled a bit wide too often, though - and still offering enough in the form of Totti, Osvaldo and Lamela to create goals on its own, but adding that needed dimension of width with the rumbling on the flanks to shift the squad into an offensive mode rather quickly and effectively. Throwing Ivan Piris into central defense should be considered an emergency-only situation, but there's no reason to see this change next weekend but for the personnel limitations due to suspension/injuries during the week. Early days, I'm a fan.
- The championing of Maarten's performance in some of the press is maybe an indication of how poor the Roma keeping has been recently than anything else. He was indeed good, but he did nothing special - the Pirlo save was very good but nothing spectacular and one most goalkeepers would've made (people forget he is so damn slow and that makes some of his saves look far more difficult than they are), while Matri fired the ball right at him. Otherwise, he simply had to play to basic expectation, which in Rome of late, makes one seem like Lev Yashin reincarnated.
- Marquinho seemed to be the only player to play himself into having someone else considered for his spot next weekend. He wasn't poor by any stretch, but he doesn't seem to be the ideal piece for this formation - he's not quick, nor really technical, nor holding this immense battery nor...etc. (He's not the ideal piece for anything - he exists in a tactical No Man's Land. And yet he offers something. He makes no sense. None.)
Luckily, a better piece is already in-house and only on the bench due to injury, one would assume. Perhaps Aurelio will turn out to be the Balza whisperer.
- Were it not for suspensions, we could say that the formation, outside of that one selection, shouldn't change. against Atalanta, but alas, both Totti and De Rossi are out. One would think this means De Rossi slotting in for Bradley and perhaps Florenzi for Totti, with Miralem pushing up to assume a more advanced role and Alessandro dropping back into midfield. Early guess, anyway.
- Vasilis Torosidis has some engine on him - he should be called, "And Where The Hell Did You Come From?" - but I was probably least impressed of anyone. The simple fact that he was an unknown in an unknown formation without that top (or even second-level) ability leads me to believe he's going to be easily snuffed out tactically in the coming weeks once he and Roma can be planned for, which is no small thing for Torosids or anyone else. (And when Asamoah isn't fumbling around like a socially awkward twelve-year old at a school dance.) The countermeasures once Roma has an identity - Conte mentioned the difficulty he had preparing for this Roma - will have Piris on the pitch and Torosidis on the bench, because coaches are going to attack his side ruthlessly (just watch). "Initial performances" often look misleading over time because opposing coaches know what they hell they're doing against known quantities. A nice arrow for the quiver, however, and certainly more suited to the wings of the 3-4-whatever than anything else, it would seem. (He really does seem like he will, over time, come to be seen as far better suited to a Premiership club.)
This is my guess on the max number of minutes Panagiotis Tachtsidis will see between now and the end of the season. It also might be the amount of lira Roma offers to buy out his other half.
Watching this match highlighted the need for synergy between those who conduct the team and those who construct it. The pieces Zeman were handed were not of suitable quality to run a suitable Zemanlandia, which just confirms everything we already knew.
- This performance also asks a question about the long-term future of Roma:
When you chase wins, you do so at the expense of everything, including player development. You choose the best pieces on that day, regardless of how it might impact matters two years down the road. The future always seemed to be, in part, the goal with Zeman.
And I think this formation has potential, that it should not be changed, the personnel tweaked perhaps once bodies return (removing Piris from CB, swapping Balza for Marquinho, etc), but largely it has some potential. But where does that leave Alessandro Florenzi, who's an Italian international at such a young age and seemed to be the one piece who could become Zeman's legacy this time 'round? Because while he may have the higher ceiling, he is not the best selection in a two-man central midfield at current, which then curtails his development. And does it remove Tachtsidis from the club's (immediate) plans? And will Osvaldo always get the nod in lieu of Mattia Destro, if the two are much closer in quality despite Mattia's age difference?
Just a general curiosity about the direction of the club and their decision to go after a band-aid solution in Aurelio, if it may turn out to be more, rather than see out a rough year of player development under Zeman. The two appear to have vastly different philosophical approaches, with one more prone to choosing youth.
- 1:40 - that ball was, at the very least, going on net.
- Not to be a Debbie Downer, but talk to me about Daniele De Rossi's tears in July. Those could so easily have been the tears of a man who knows this was his last great victory in Rome, too. That's not cynicism but realism - this is not a perennial Champions League club anytime soon, and this could be the one chance for an elite athlete to play at the level he deserves.
- When was the last time you saw Francesco Totti actually run to celebrate a goal?
That, for me, was easily the best part of the evening.