Roma 1 - Chievo 0
Fairy tales are not written against the likes of house cats, sheepish sheep or flying donkeys. They're written against the likes of lions and tiger and bears (oh my). At least that's supposed to be the way of the universe when spinning right 'round. Yesterday it was anything but, as Roma put in what is easily their greatest performance of the season, one of the best in recent times, and perhaps, if such heights could be achieved against modest Chievo, one which could be dubbed heroic. One to ele...err, ten...they were wonderful and deserve the monsoon of lauditory cliches pelting Rome right now. 78 minutes of unflappable heart, character and will.
Daniele maintained the best player on the pitch was the oafy Olimpico debutant, which is fair but I'd have no qualms were Juan to walk away with that mantelpiece. However, neither were the Man of the Match in the grand scheme that is AS Roma. Those two may have dominated the pitch, but neither were "most valuable". That award goes to a certain Doni, without the slightest hint of sarcasm. (With a slight tip of the hat to Nicolas & Juanus for that clean slicing down the middle.)
Rarely, if ever, in life do people get the opportunity to do something great. Not to be great or achieve greatness, but in one isolated moment rise above reasonable expectation and do that which so few could. This was that moment. This was without a shadow of a doubt the performance of the season, the most important ninety minutes we have seen Roma play since the Champions League swansong of last February.
And when all is said and done, we may look back at two moments:
i. Cagliari, Sardinia, 90th minute, scoreboard reading 2-0.
ii. Abbruscato streaking in, Doni streaking out.
On the back of crushing disappointment they were given the opportunity to be great, and they passed with a flying color. This team has been cliché fodder for years, but they're always perfectly apt: only falling enabled them to stand so tall.
- There cannot be enough praise heaped upon Luca Toni for that performance. No, Chievo is not quite Chelsea or Barcelona, and their backline has never been confused with an early 90's Milan, but they're a solid top-flight team with good, experienced defenders. And Luca gave 'em a fury of hell all day long. Winning nearly everything, owning real estate, holding up play and showing a deftness of touch we'd forgotten he had - and this leaving the penalty won unmentioned. How many fouls did he win? How many important fouls? Midfielders thinking twice about moving forward as he was taking on and defeating two, three and four defenders. Fouls sending attackers back into the Chievo half and giving the Roman defense much needed breaks.
It was unexpectedly brilliant. A virtual manual on how to play the position, on how to dominate a game as a prima punta without scoring a goal and an exercise in how to waste precious seconds when down to ten men for well over an hour. It was everything Roma needed on the day and an example of why he can still be one of the best strikers in the world, Louis Van Gaal be damned.
- That said, only Serie A could make Luca Toni look anything less than glacial.
- We've been privy to some wonderful debuts this year: Toni, Burdisso, Sergio, Guberti and Scardina were all good to great. In fact the former three were in all in some way stellar. Better buys/better players? Not by a great stretch, so that's not quite it. Three of those debuts came under Spalletti, so it's not the Mister. Simple: Burdisso, Toni and Guberti all had Serie A experience. Perhaps it's time to bring the scouts home.
(Adrian Pit? Not so much.)
- The game was refereed well, but the offside call on Luca Toni which then led to the quick Chievo break and subsequent Doni red was 50/50 at best. In fact it wasn't much of an offside at all, as his arm, which is legal, was the only thing beyond the defender's out-stretched foot.
So an immeasurable amount of gratitude to the linesman for allowing Roma this chance at the 78 minutes of character buildings from which championship sides are born.
- Julio Baptista may have found a niche in not-quite-super sub status. His best play this year has come off the bench, and by some margin. Part of this is because he's usually coming on with Roma having the lead and the opposition chasing, which opens up a bit of space for him to work. So at the moment, there's no real need to get rid of him just to get rid of him. If a team offers a nice sum of cash, sure, but one needn't be long in the tooth to recall times where Roma was desperately in need of bodies, heartbeat optional.
This theory stands until the next time he shits the bed and that was his last chance in red & yellow.
- No player frightens me more when fatigued than Rodrigo Taddei. It's not his legs or technique, but rather his brain which takes a sudden nose dive - we've seen this once or twice before. He wasn't sitting on a yellow, but towards the end, sucking on fumes, his first instinct was to grab a shoulder or flick an errant limb with little regard for women, children or my cardiological health. This is fine when it's outside the box and not as the last man, but it's not fine inside the box, which he did on one occasion yet fortunately didn't get enough shoulder to make it worthwhile. Legs go, that's fine - but the brain? That's where trouble starts brewing.
Not to throw an entire crew under the bus, but between Doni's idiocy, Taddei's brain farts, Cicinho's inability to think about one team at a time and Julio Baptista's massive mood swings, perhaps a FocusFactor regiment is in order.
Or just stop shopping in the Brazilian aisle at the grocer. (This also goes for that pacy fullback who couldn't defend Totti's grandmother's grandmother; or: Gilberto Martinez/Rodrigo Defendi 2.0.)
- Lobont is a really, really good third goalie - he could even press for starter on most Serie A teams - but occasionally, he'll make your heart do the Donieber flutter.
- For all the good they did, this game so easily could've and should've been 3-0 by the time Alex disappeared off into Doniland. Then again, it's tough to blame either Luca or Rodrigo: the former has no game fitness to speak of and needs a couple runs before he can be expected to bury his chances and the latter has the finishing qualities of a double amputee.
In a week or two we can gripe, but now now.
- Most were well into "exhausted" by the time the game ended. The midfield looked as though it'd just trudged Everest carrying the Japanese sumo team on their backs. There's also something in here about hoisting up the "weight of Roma".
You know what this calls for? A midweek cup game against the fifth-bottom team in Serie B. Forza Coppa Italia schedule makers.