When Roma ripped off ten straight victories to begin the season, eyes began gravitating toward the table and since, they have remained there with various references to the number of points they remain in relation to Juventus, Napoli, and anyone else you may fancy. Well it's the wrong website, the wrong reference - everyone should be looking at the calendar, eagerly awaiting one date: January 1st.
This club has a hole in it. It's a rather massive hole, possibly a remnant from that day Adriano decided to do a belly flop at the Trigoria pool. Fortunately for Roma, it lurks in the background most weeks, unseen, hence the rather lovely undefeated opening record, but it still exists.
That hole is in the space behind Miralem Pjanic, a divot currently occupied by a bald-headed American wholly unsuited to the role into which he's thrust. And in the moments he "needs" to be employed, it's absolutely killing this club. It's not necessarily Michael Bradley's fault, as it's akin to asking a table to be a chair - don't complain when you attempt to sit atop it and it's not quite as comfy as you desired - but it's a hole nonetheless. The system suffers immensely when Michael is handed anything but a a deep-seated defensive midfield role with strict instructions not to stray too far.
The question we're left with, of course, is why Michael Bradley is tasked with this at all. It's like pulling up to the start line of the Monaco Grand Prix in a bulldozer. So where's Florenzi? He's hardly a like-for-like with the silky Bosnian, but he's Zidane 2.0 compared to Bradley. Now that Destro has returned, if Mattia's only working himself back into match fitness (2 for 2 is a half-decent recovery process, mind), Alessandro is no longer a necessity at the top of the formation, having played himself onto the bench over the last two months or so. (Over two seasons a pattern is developing which indicates he might simply be Totti's straight man.) Well, he's a far superior option for that space than Michael, but Alessandro was left on the bench. Why? What were Rudi's thoughts? Who knows, but the simple fact Florenzi hasn't played midfield this year could mean Rudi doesn't rate him there.
Against Milan, they suffered again. The pace on the wings is absolute lightning, with Gervais, Ljajic, Dodo, and Maicon all able to burst ahead, but with nothing coming centrally, Milan was simply able to push play out wide and render Roma more bark than bite. It's not a singular analysis of a match; it's a theme, a pattern. Other clubs are doing the same. So if it's not Florenzi or someone else in-house, it's a problem which needs to be fixed in the transfer window with someone slightly more silky than Mikey.
Of course if Roma had kept to their maximum of one goal conceded, this wouldn't even be a discussion and they'd have gotten away with one. But the concerns over their steady regression on the back end is far less easy to pinpoint (somewhat) and of greater concern when Miralem has played 82% of Roma's minutes thus far this season. From one goal conceded in ten, an aberration, surely, but now one clean sheet in their last six, and the first match with two goals conceded.
This is the concern. These draws are yes, fine, considering the whole, but the devil's in the details and the ability for other clubs to manipulate Roma's play with increasing frequency is more than a slight cause for concern. So we're left with a question, perhaps rhetorical: is everyone finally figuring out how to contain Rudi's Roma?
You don't want that answered.
- Torosidis has been the best fullback on this club for a few months, which says quite a bit. Maicon's moments are nice but he's far closer to his City self than 2009, while the left side looks like a post-apocalyptic war zone. Vice-Miralem is the first priority in January, but beginning to rework the defensive flanks isn't far behind. Dodo needs to be on loan somewhere so that he can teeth on a club no fighting for Champions League spaces or higher, and the only answer for Dougie & Federico seems to be a time machine. Someone get on that.
- Benatia's made roughly two-point-five mistakes in 1333 minutes thus far this season. Thinking your best defender should be on Cristian Zapata in the box is an easy oversight. He's allowed this one.
- I'm all for forgiving emotion in the moment, but something went missed during the match which was only spotted when watching the match again. After Matri won a free kick in the 84th and there was a pow wow between both sides over the spot of the foul, Daniele Bonera punched Kevin Strootman in the back, presumably in retaliation for his earlier foul on Kaka. It was far from a death blow and Kevin didn't even turn around, but he still punched another man in the back. That it could've been - perhaps should've been - a red card falls a distant second to its cowardice.
- Kevin was man of the match, and by some distance for these eyes, but both he and Daniele were yellow carded and will thus miss the Catania match. On one hand, it's good they'll sit out Catania at home rather than risk missing Juventus in Torino, what may prove to be a six-pointer. But on the other, neither Daniele nor Kevin will see match minutes again until they take on Juve January 6th. Both are of the class where you're not terribly concerned, but it's indeed far from ideal. Elite players rust too.
- And yes, even despite 16 matches undefeated, you're allowed to be a touch concerned regarding Rudi's rigidity. It's one of the few bags of luggage he supposedly brought from the north of France.