The Curse of Toscana
If this game were taken out of the context of the current season and looked at independently, I think we'd all say a 1-0 loss and two red cards which will see Burt & Ernie starting at CB against Inter are the evolution of this inexplicable curse. (Do you think if Prandelli were coaching trips to the San Siro would look like an homage to Vlad The Impaler and Atalanta would be running out consistent 12-0 victors?) They put away the bipolarity of Bordeaux and maintained a constant level of not-so-badness pretty much up until the moment Philou was sent off.* Unfortunately, as is always the case these days in Tuscany, it wasn't enough.
* - I'm not quite sure for which offense Philou was sent off (the foul or the Olympic volleyball spike - all that was missing was the 27 foot vertical beforehand - on the poor Nike T90), but he should've kept a much cooler head under the circumstances. A point where his unbridled passion can be as cumbersome as uplifting.
I've still go severe reservations as to whether Panucci's second yellow was justifiable. Was it supposed to be a last man offense? Because it looked like the zebra ran into Panucci's foot before Christian could get to the ball. Considering the ramifications, both are worth appeals hoping for a miracle, even if nothing will happen. If this were Inter, on the other hand...
And I honestly don't remember much of the specifics. Adding to the joy of my viewing experience was a pulsating migraine, so in between the throbbing and trying to avoid getting sick on my keyboard - from the game, not the migraine - it was an occasion I'd love to soon forget. (At this very moment my mp3 on shuffle just put forth Grazie Roma. How goddamn cruel.)
Now in the context of the entire season, it was simply more of the same. Another loss to an inferior opponent. Another wasted opportunity. Another disappointing outlook for the next fixture. On and on and on and on.
But there were some positives which can help lift our spirits:
• The next game in Tuscany is on Giornata 33, April 26th, against Fiorentina. If things haven't been fixed by then, we'll all have drunk ourselves into a permanent stupor and will be none the wiser.
• They never quit. Even with 9 men, there was still hope and a palpable sense of belief. The final whistle was a harsh blow for me not because of the loss, but because it genuinely seemed they could muster a point. Though things may not be optimal right now, far from it, they played 90 minutes, something which hasn't always been the case.
• Taddei is looking closer to form. Honestly, that's enormous. Now if everyone else could fall in line...
Unfortunately, that was about it. They didn't look horribly, but they certainly didn't look like the same team which had left France.
Now that the break is upon us, let's discuss why God hates Roma:
Mercato.: Seems to be getting some blame, which is mildly perplexing. There's a reason why you don't hear about sporting directors being canned soon into a new campaign, and it's because summer wheelings and dealings take time, a great deal of it, to asses. If you're looking for major contributions from new immigrants in the first month of a season, there's just one more reason why you aren't sitting in a director's office.
Now, if you want to blame the injuries which have necessarily thrust the new signings into important situations, then we can start to talk. But this has zero to do with anything mercato related. The one position where they could maybe use a bit more depth - right wing - put in one of Roma's best performance on Sunday and has oozed hope from the grotesquely-coifed kid who cameos at the end of games.
And if we did want to break down the new guys:
Riise: How many times have we seen Riise get into the final third in the last few games? Twice? Twice and a half? There's a reason, and it's because Menez isn't capable of being the final line of defense against counters on the wing while he's being forced into the lineup. Same would be the case with Max right now. But Riise was brought in as a platoon mate at best, and the fact that Max can't play right now shows how much role players in general mean in the grand scheme of team sports. Riise hasn't found his niche, nor has he figured out Serie A tactics, and it's being magnified by everything else.
Menez: Shows the technique in abundance, but in this system there is so much tactical responsibility and nuance required no one would learn it all in six months, much less a kid in one.
Baptista: Bordeaux wasn't luck, but I'm getting the feeling there was an awful lot of adrenaline responsible for his performance (Champions League, necessity, birthday, actually playing in a game, etc.). TGIP mentioned before Siena he's still not 100% and, unfortunately, may not be for Inter what with being invited to Brazil's qualifiers and all (and may I offer up a big fuck you to Dunga).
Loria: He is what he is, a fourth CB who was brought in as an injection of physicality and slight insanity, and I don't think anyone, including Conti, Prade & Spalletti, could've imagined he'd be needed this much this earlier.
Tactics.: Seriously, what's with the long balls? GOMR was guilty of them quite a bit last season, but now they seem like the first option in attack and the system built on pace, positioning and overlapping runs has been revoked in an ode to the Premiership. And to be honest, I was quite bullshit Simone had the opportunity to miss only one sitter yesterday. There was little intricate passing up near the box - something which screams of a certain Totti fellow we all miss so dearly - but even still, Simone should've put at least three over the bar.
• The timing of runs is either off or Pippo Inzaghi came in for a summer tutorial on playing the trap, because they might have been offside more in the month of September than all of last season (and Mirko never seems to drop back anymore - perhaps related to his multiple injuries). Something which, of course, we can partially attribute to a lack of cohesion and thus injuries.
• The only person consistently overlapping is Cicinho and he has failed to realize in eight games that #$%&ing no one is finding the end of his crosses, so maybe he should rethink matters a tad.
• Aquilani is not Pizarro and he shouldn't be asked to fill those shoes; if anyone it should be DDR, but he's clearly not his usual superstar self at the moment. And yes, they miss David - along with everyone else. (That's not to say I wouldn't have committed harikari watching David deal with the counters.)
• There is little variety. If long balls from the back don't work, slowly work it up to the final third and either cross from the right or have Menez/Vuci attempt to dart through the defense from the left. A deaf-mute could gameplan against this team right now.
• Did anyone attempt a shot from outside of 18 yards against Siena? At least skin one off the top of their heads, even if it has no chance, once in a while to have the opposition thinking the next time down the pitch.
I can't say if they changed something before the year or this is a result of all the injuries, but it's clear the old Roma is missing. They hardly play the ball quickly on the floor anymore, even between those who have been here and doing it for some time, they don't hit back with speed (something many people have noticed), and the game as a whole is missing polish (once again, cohesion). Much of their chances are via individual talent rather than team play and movement, which has worked so successfully. Julio's second goal says it all for me: How fantastic was Taddei's one-timed cross? Remember when play like that wasn't the exception, but the norm?
Can only say right now the shift in some tactics is the injuries, either by design or inadvertently, because they have simply just ravaged this team and forced a random smattering of individual talents into a desperate attempt to gel on the fly; and, as any coach will tell you, constant tinkering is the least preferred method of running a consistent system.
Spalletti.: The boys were afforded very fortunate bounces against Atalanta. Adrenaline ruled the day in France.
I still believe the most telling minutes of the last two weeks were the first of the second half against Bordeaux when they came out as flat as flat can be. Almost resigned to their fate, before Baptista & Mirko saved the day. Hardly inspired coming out of the locker room. Hard to think anything but Spalletti failed to adequately motivate.
Mentally, he is still, and may always be, lacking. A team's mentality reflects on the coach, and when we see TGIP react on the sideline, we subsequently see it mirrored in the players. As has been the case tactically, we can only hope he figures out a way to mask the weaknesses and accentuate the strengths. Unfortunately, I'm not sure anything in that department will completely turn around until a fresh face comes in - hopefully still a bit down the road. If anyone deserves to see this team reach its potential, it's him.
Injuries.: Reason numbers 1,2,3,4...∞. But more than just missing superstars, integral assets and role players are the peripheral effects of the injuries.
• More than a game missed here or there from Mirko or Simone is the inability to form some sense of continuity - as a group of individuals playing to the strengths and weaknesses of others and tactically. Take, for instance, what playing Mirko at LW does for Riise's licenses and responsibilities as opposed to a still-getting-his-feet-wet Menez. Or what having different roles and responsibilities in every single game he's played has meant for Aquilani's play, as someone who has never really had a concrete established role in the team. Feel free to tilt this lens to look at each and every member of the team.
• And this also reflects on Spalletti's ability to fill out a lineup card. When looking for some semblance of team balance and even a past moment of chemistry between the squad, it's difficult to put into place the nuances. The need to insert healthy bodies of some quality has superseded the luxury of injecting that which has made Roma so good over these past years. An entire eleven working off one another, creating and filling gaps over and over and over, not stepping on the toes of teammates and generally playing like a team who'd met each other once or twice; rather than a bunch of people who work on different floors of a building that just happened to meet once at a kegger masquerading as an office Xmas party, which is exactly what they look like these days.
• Then there's the sense of continuity does for a team's confidence and mental preparedness. This team has never shown the mental fortitude of a juggernaut, their glaring Achilles heel, and this aura of confusion really does nothing to helps matters, only makes them worse. They can't be soothed with a specific role when players are dropping left and right with no stoppage in sight. They can't be confident in their own gameplay because most have no idea what exactly will be required of them until the medical team makes its rounds the morning of the game. Switching back and forth between new positions with new, untested faces filling in around them. It's just impossible to be confident in the unknown.
• And now we realize how good those players who made this team "overperform" (uh huh) for two years really are (and consequently why the size of one's wallet or, in Roma's case, pocketbook, is largely irrelevant) and how much more important the quality of the team is than the quality of the names on the team sheet. Max Tonetto and Marco Cassetti mean far more than most realize to this squad; as much as it can pain us to say it, so does David Pizarro; Juan is a leading centerback who reads and reacts extraordinarily well, one who compliments Philou better than GOMR or Loria. And I think Brighi, someone very happy to be a role player, showing his immense worth during a number of games really accentuates this fact. It's not about the best players, it's about the best team, and for that you need people to fill a niche. As unheralded as they may be - can you imagine the mass lynchings at Trigoria with a mercato of Cassetti, Tonetto, Pizarro & Juan? - they're what make an assembly of players into a team.
• That is, of course, not to forget two of the largest individual talents on this team: Mirko & Francesco. There are many reasons Mancini was deemed surplus to requirements and much of that had to do with Vucinic, whose physical health is now only second to Amantino's psyche in terms of instability. He's too often a gametime decision (going the wrong way eventually) and is constantly switching between two vastly different positions. You have to wonder if he's played even a single game this year at 100% both physically and mentally.
And Francesco needs no explanation, as the mere presence of a player of his caliber is enough of a soothing influence in itself.
The Outlook.: A vast spectrum of possibilities, I guess. It all rides on how many bodies are able to walk out off the trainer's table and what type of chemistry is able to be formulated by Luciano during the international break (pray nightly for everyone out on duty); though I'd happily return a healthy Francesco and nothing else.
In the end, all we can do is pray the crippled heal, the run of injuries halts and the Roma we know returns. As Bruno Conti has said, the dust needs to settle. But with the next stretch being the most difficult of the year, it may not be soon enough.