At least when Roma loses, they do it in style. There's no better way to lose than a 3-0 thumping to one of your rivals, right? It was Roma's second loss in all competitions this season, with the only other defeat coming last month away to Juventus. This time, it came in the Coppa Italia and effectively ended the club's hopes in the competition at the hands of Napoli, losing 5-3 on aggregate.
Unlike the loss in Turin, Roma's performance matched the score line. Rather than conceding untimely goals all through unfortunate deadball situations, there were clear errors made for which Napoli were glad to punish. It started off well for Roma; with a lot more energy shown than what seemed to have been missing during last weekend's derby. Adem Ljajić was able to send a dangerous cross in for Mattia Destro early on, but Pepe Reina smothered the ball. Whether Maggio got to the ball before Destro or Destro squared it directly to Reina, Mattia did well to get into the right position but really should have found a way to finish that chance. This was a recurrent theme today.
While showing some promising signs in tracking back and being involved in play, Destro was able to get into dangerous situations and even create some on his own. The thing was that whenever he did; he scuffed the opportunity. Gervinho was much the same. He put Napoli on the backheel whenever he had the ball, but his end product was the same, if not, worse than Destro's. There is a trend here. Sure, Mattia was injured for half of a year and hasn't been given consistent minutes while Gervinho has a unique and unpredictable set of skills. But there comes a point where Destro's inability to score when we need him to most and Gervinho's football IQ (that happens to mirror the temperature during a polar vortex perfectly, by the way) become genuine concerns. Perhaps not as much when Roma can create a goal out of nothing, a deadball, or in the event these inconsistent forwards happen to hit it right. We could have used a goal today; we could have used a goal on the weekend. Like I said, there's a trend.
Meanwhile, Roma's defending has been a far cry from the side that conceded only one goal in the first ten matches of the season. Napoli have put five goals past Roma across both legs, and there were moments of danger even against a non-attacking Lazio side. An increasing number of mental lapses coupled with the Roma backline not getting away with these lapses as often has led to a defence not appearing to be as impenetrable as before. Of course, it helps if you have fullbacks helping out.
Douglas Maicon was seemingly deemed unfit to play so Michel Bastos was given his debut start while Vasilis Torosidis took over at rightback. It was a risky move by Rudi Garcia, but if Maicon couldn't play there wasn't another option for Garcia to choose. However, Maicon came into the match immediately following Napoli's second goal (a lot like when Torosidis came on for Dodo after Dodo had erred on marking Bonucci when Juve made it 2-0), so it was an eyebrow raiser of a decision not to start him if he could play a half. All goals conceded today can be led back to either or both of our fullbacks. Bastos was beat on the first, while Torosidis was unable to track José Callejón when the Spaniard headed in the opening goal. Gonzalo Higuaín completely dismantled Vasilis when he headed in the corner shortly after the half time break. At 2-0, the tie was over. On the final goal, it was Michel Bastos who failed to keep the offside trap in line, playing Jorginho onside leading to a very easy goal being conceded. It's true that he's still settling into the squad, tactics and league, etc., but truth be told, he did very little defensive work today and made Dodo look like a suitable leftback.
When your attack suffers as much as it did today and your defending suffers just the same, you're in trouble. It may just be a minor blip in form, an anomaly, a series of unfortunate coincidences or it may be nothing. It may be me. It may just be Napoli, who have arguably been the better side in all three fixtures this season. In actuality, the tie was put in danger in the first leg when Napoli managed to score two crucial away goals. Stadio San Paolo is a very difficult atmosphere to play in and when you don't have Paolo Cannavaro to give you a hand, you'll need to be more than on top of your game to come out on the right side.
The best Roma players were probably Morgan De Sanctis, Mehdi Benatia and to a lesser extent, Miralem Pjanic & Leandro Castán by default. Morgan just because he can't be blamed for any of the goals. Ditto for Mehdi. Miralem & Leandro didn't mess up much as the rest. I don't think that's reason enough to sing praise.
Instead, this match raised a few questions. Some that have been asked in the past, but perhaps will be asked more now. A loss can do that; it can get you to reflect when winning can get you to look past certain things.
1) Why didn't Radja Nainggolan play in this weekend's derby? Everyone knew that he was going to miss the second leg of the semifinals, so it would make logical sense to use him over the weekend during such a busy schedule. There's no mention of there being any fitness issues. I'm not saying had he played in the derby, we would be in the Coppa Italia final, but Pjanic didn't perform well in the derby which showed he wasn't ready to come back. He did better today but today our other midfielders struggled. It's hard to argue how much of a difference it could have made, but there is some logic missing here.
2) What's wrong with Daniele De Rossi? It'll take something extra for someone who has worn his hairy face as their account's personification on CdT/RO for years to say this, but he hasn't been playing as well as he did in the beginning of the season. Perhaps I hold him to higher standards. His defensive work is still vital, although he was not able to best Marek Hamsik today, but his attacking play has been a letdown. He had more than a few turnovers in very dangerous positions today. Simple, possession recycling or counter starting passes that went straight to Napoli. Is he still hurt or is he playing too much? Or is it something else?
3) What's going on with Rudi's team selection? Maybe nothing, you can get it wrong sometimes. This one is related to the first question but on a broader level. Why didn't Maicon start? It was clear he could play more than a half since he was thrown on to replace a struggling Torosidis immediately following a goal. What does that mean? Did Rudi really think Michel Bastos could handle a flank of Christian Maggio & Callejón after being in Rome for a few weeks and playing less than a full match? Especially knowing that Napoli were going to attack? Dodo had a tough time doing that in the first meeting this year. If Maicon was fit, then is it cockiness? I love Rudi and the work he has done in such short time here in Rome. I also admire how he remains classy and always says the right things. I get the league is the priority, but Rudi has said that we want to win everything. Surely, if you were going to use some back-up players, you would use them against Sampdoria this weekend, right? Without getting repetitive, the same can be applied to how Totti has being utilised in the past week. And what about Gervinho? I understand he has now put up numbers to back up his selection status in the starting eleven, but when the opposition works to nullify him, and it's easy when he's so one dimensional, he becomes irrelevant. He's still playing 90 minutes in and out, regardless of his performance or how whether or not he's being contained. Would he not be much more valuable when the opposition is chasing a lead or looking for a goal than when they are sitting back?
The Coppa Italia is over. I personally don't value it as much as some Romanisti. Sure, a silver star would be nice and I really like silver as a colour or precious metal used in jewellery, but when it comes to sports, silver always has meant one thing. Second place, second best, second hand. Perhaps if it were another symbol than a star and still gold, I'd care more for it. Regardless, I believe that today's match could help outline some of Roma's weaknesses in a way where it doesn't damage the club in the league table. I hope that today's lesson will help fine tune and fix things for the matches that really matter.