Until a few days ago, unbeknownst to even yours truly, there was a song lyric populating the front page of this very site. It has since been replaced by a far more universal truism, so for anyone paying attention, it was a lyric from a relatively obscure seven-foot tall white rapper from Baltimore, Maryland, the only claim to fame of which is The Wire and, ummm, The Wire. The lyric was a censored version - See? We do behave sometimes. - of "Fuck Plan B, we've got a Plan A." Which was more a claim for the season than the church itself. Because we have neither a Plan A nor a Plan B, which is why one of us is already in his third trimester. Entering into the season, it was the one knock on Rudi Garcia. Sure, he has the touch of an alchemist, but he can be very stubborn in his ways and very reluctant to enact a Plan B. Anyone who lived, loved, and died through the Luciano Spalletti era is silently nodding whilst pouring out a little of their favorite spirit on the living room rug as their significant other grabs the kids, some luggage, and the number of a divorce attorney, you immature lunatic.
Rudi's been accused of not formulating a Plan B, and if the first few matches are any indication, it's not wrong. Only Rudi hasn't quite had a Plan A, either. No, he's had a Plan Totti.
Groan. Murmur. "Oh god. No Totti, No Party again." No, this isn't about Francesco Totti, but it is. Rudi doesn't need Totti; he needs a Totti. Someone of brilliant creativity who can feed the runners into the box, creating diagonals, finding the spaces in the channels, and generally create. He needs a playmaker. A true playmaker. And what Totti brings is an unmatchable level of genius, sure, something Roma will never find again, but he also brings something we often take for granted: consistency. How often does he have off days? Rarely, if ever. Rudi gets a guaranteed playmaker in the front three to feed the forwards and play with Pjanic while Kevin makes his runs and Daniele hangs out with the beef in the back. These aren't flashes of brilliance; this is who he is. The scale of his inhuman attributes pales to their omnipresence. There is Ljajic, of course, but he's proven to be more dribble & dump as a playmaker than Francesco and all of his immense technique and ability to hold onto the ball for eons whilst opponents foolishly dance in his shadow. And that's before considering Adem Ljajic is not Francesco Totti, either in quality or consistency. He's not quite a ten, nor a real false nine. Perhaps a nine and three-quarters? I don't know. Plus he's all of twenty-two. But it has me begging the question: what did Lille look like without Hazard?
So if you'd like a word to describe the attack since Francesco went down, go grab a Roget's; I'll wait. Start with anemic or tergid and then get back to me. This isn't a snap reaction to one single goal-less affair against Cagliari at home, but a considered look at the body of Roma's offerings since Francesco went down against Napoli. Maybe there are stats to back this up, a bevy of arbitrarily determined categories, the end to justify the means, but for me, it's as simple as watching them play.
The goals as collected since Francesco went down: Pjanic free kick, Pjanic penalty, The Michael Bradley Goal, Marco Borriello's header, Kevin Strootman's tuck away, and Sassuolo's own goal. Six matches, six goals, four of which involved Miralem Pjanic. He is the only passer to even dare dream of being discussed in the same pantheon as a homeless Francesco. The crosses are often poor - Maicon is more of a rumbler than precision passer and Balza...well, the less said the better - and there's no real pure passing to be had. Strootman's good for what he is but Xavi he is not. Florenzi's not it. Gervinho's not it. Borriello's not it. Destro's not it. Bradley's not it, despite protests from the United States of Burger King. In truth, it makes one wonder if this club has grossly overlooked a technical need. Perhaps a bit of explanation due the Pastore and Paredes rumors, then - true, pure playmakers. Perhaps the key component beyond a solidified defense for Rudi Garcia - his Plan A, if you will - is that true playmaker in the front tridente.
This isn't to say this is a poor side without Totti. Quite the opposite. It's actually an excellent defensive side without him, and that's crucially important. In truth, the matches since Totti went down looks a bit like what a Luis Enrique side would've looked with a good defense. (Which is a bit like saying, "That person would be handsome if she had a cock.") This leaves defending Roma rather easy: swarm on Totti and Pjanic, which is awfully good news, because they're of the quality that neither can be completely closed out. So that's something. But they need more. One more. The type of vision that was so often underappreciated in someone like Mirko Vucinic, able to create chances more than others might've realized at the time. (The Balkan Maradona indeed.) Perhaps Destro will surprise us, as that's one thing he never lacked, but he's the ultimate wild card at this stage.
There have always been questions of depth, and this club is hardly built for a scudetto run without reserves in January, as was the case in minute 89 of their tenth straight win, but this is more. And it's silly to think No Totti, No Party is some big surprise, but that's more too. It's that little blip in the system where the importance of the role supersedes even the personnel.
It was always bound to happen eventually. Over time, they'd begin to figure out Rudi and November was on a lot of lists - it only takes a few months for most rather basic tactical setups. This is one. Tomorrow, there might be another. And the day after that. And the day after that. Suddenly, it's chess again, and Rudi will need to adapt or Walter will have to spend until it can evolve into an impenetrable system. There needs to be a Plan B.
This has nothing to do with Francesco Totti, but rather everything to do with Plan A. They're chipping away. Today it's this. Tomorrow...