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The Third Tenant

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Milan 0 - Roma 1

Definitively, we have an answer – or several: This was Bari Roma. And it was Big Game Roma. It was also San Siro Roma. But most importantly, this was Ranieri Roma.

For the second straight week, the defense was rigid, unrelenting, and dominant. Whether Bari’s lineup was in tatters never mattered; the same goes for Milan. And for the second straight week, they displayed progression through the game, into the second half.

This year has been very difficult to peg on its inconsistencies and inability to state not just an intention, but an identity. The last two weeks have been the closest to finding last year that I can recall. The Bari game probably didn’t thrill most, but how many people care about the performance and how they won against Siena last year? Or Atalanta? The result above all else, and that’s what they did: watertight in the back, solid in the midfield and believe that at least one moment of individual brilliance from the front can turn in the three points. It was Ranieri’s credo when he rode back home, and it was the system, if you will, which brought so much success last year. This was much of the same, with better execution, better overall play and on a much grander stage.

That individual moment was not from Borriello, but from the man who’s quickly becoming the Milan killer in-residence: Menez. The burst on the right is the type of split-second momentum shifting play which allows a back footed clearance to be hoofed into the path of an on-rushing attacker. A little less space, and the ball’s cleared before Abate gets a whiff. The acres between he and Antonioni was the first and, obviously, most important domino, as it allowed the ball to sneak into gap, and ultimately wind up in the net. The boy’s talents are just so, so special, and finally, so decisive.

But he’s not what allowed them to win that game. When ownership is turned over in February or so, two checks need to be written: one to the order of Unicredit, another to Philippe Mexes. One should read €150m or thereabouts, the other blank, with a polite request for a reasonable cap. I’m not entirely sure which check should go to whom.

Something happened last year, and Roma was very fortunate to reap the benefits of convenient timing: Philou crashed and burned, while Nico waltzed through a career year. This year, the universe has run a self-correction – Crockett & Tubbs, business as usual.

Not champagne football, but winning football – Ranieri football. The only gripe I have is that this game falls before the longest break of the year - they could really do with this three weeks in a row.

Notes

  • Having given this far too much thought, the best I can do for the defense on the day is the AS Roma Trap-ez Artists. Even that’s difficult to type.

    The backline should’ve commemorated this game by planting the linesman’s flag at the center circle like Iwo Jima.

  • This was truly a mad genius game from Claudio, simply for the fact that Adriano has not started against decent opposition on a decent pitch yet this year. What’s there to judge? But it worked – though if it was Totti or Vucinic, he’d be pilloried. The passing was woeful and he simply cannot move, but he’s extraordinarily skilled and fortunately, that’ll be enough most days.

    But just imagine what he’d be like 10 kilos less. Turning to create space is great, but boy did those athletic whippersnappers close it down again quickly.

  • Nicolas Burdisso at rightback going forward is best described as ‘something formerly lunch’, but going the other way, it was masterful against opposition like Milan: with a forward line which can drift and interchange across the line, the rightcenterback is going to be pulled occasionally, which we saw a number of times with Philou. Shift Burdisso – usually rumbling back – into his slot while Mexes is wide and you’ve lost very little from your defense, if anything. These are the type of things which win big games, which see teams go on lengthy undefeated streaks, which turn a once-porous defense into a vault, and which make lovers of great defense happy in the pants.
  • Doni had astonishingly little to do, and I’m convinced the stop of Zlatan was equal parts terrible shot and excellent save, but he was still better than expected. Panathinaikos lingers, but so too do Giovinco and Diamanti.
  • Two things from the cosmos which affected this game:

    Pirlo’s injury, although Milan still finished out the second half as the better team.

    The rain/ice, whatever it was. Lots of slippages on both sides, and I half-expected them to slap some orange cones and yellow tape around the ice rink down on the left-hand side of the south penalty box.

  • Rodrigo Taddei, if you ignore the sample size, may be having the best year of anyone on the squad. He’s played about two and a half games, but they’ve all been just brilliant.
  • Of course on the whole, there’s little question who’s been the player of the first half: Marco Borriello.

    Thanks again.