Everyone knows the old guy in the cafe waxing on about the old days back when this was better and that was authentic and she was a real beauty and men were whatever and yeah, we gotcha, pops. Well right now, I'm that guy because damnit, I miss October. Remember those days? Ah, they were glorious. They were the Vonnegut days, when everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. Then something happened, His Tottiness grumble grumble, and here we are - what began as a sick curiosity of kissing one's sister led to feeling her up and now we're at a point of questioning why the hell that child has a third ear growing on his inner thigh.
Atalanta was more of the same. This club has very little quality of depth. The display played out accordingly. Assessment done. Brilliant first XI in most spots and as a collective, but the second shift? It's the guy with the Gucci belt and Prada shades rocking an Abercrombie t-shirt and knockoff jeans: all for show. Build a body and that's where true quality shines through. Of course Roma never claimed to be what they are - second place in December was surely well beyond the realm of fantastical dreams - but it was nevertheless thrust upon them, which means a shopping list the likes of which would have Santa Claus maniacly declare, "Fuck this, I quit." has been thrust upon Walter Sabatini. Who, now that I think about it, could probably play a pretty decent Bad Santa sequel: Bad Santa II: The Creepy Uncle Annals. (Nobody steal that - I might want to follow up when I get bored someday.)
So, if you watched the match it's rather simple: when Adem Ljajic and Miralem Pjanic entered the match, lasers and orchestral music and smoke happened and suddenly, it was an entirely new fixture. The same dominating Roma we saw often in the first months of the season eventually returned - sparked, of course, by that rather inspiring lass known as Fear - and with a bit of luck or some merely passable refereeing, they would've won. The question now lies with the first XI, determined largely by the personnel missing rather than those at hand. Was Rudi wrong? Or did he simply have no options? Ooh, I have an answer: Yes. How diplomatic of me, which is, well...screw diplomacy on a general basis.
There were few options, given the fact that Miralem took a hit on Friday in training and all of the midfielders worth a damn - DDR, Strootman, Mira, and Florrest - were sitting on yellows ahead of Fiorentina next weekend. For Rudi this meant Michael Bradley: Regista. Which no one wants to see. Take a kid into a bookstore, grab a medical encylopedia with high res photos and flip through it with them. Shove it in their face. Look at the expression. That's my face whenever I see a midfield in which Michael Bradley is in the creative role. Though to be fair, he actually had what was easily his best pass in Roma's colors in the first half. One which which was then gazumped by a 12 year old blonde kid named Ricci who walked onto the pitch looking as though he just finished his debut pop album with J. Lucca, Alessio Romagnoli, and Gianluca Caprari, the "edgy" one in the band. And that hair. Sorry, Sheehan.
From the outset there were other options. Possibly...probably...almost definitely...better options. None of them involved Marquinho, who channeled his inner non-Zeman Coco for the duration of his time on the pitch. None of them involved Gervinho: Prima Punta, either. There's strikerless and then there's insanity. Gervinho maintains possession beyond three yards one in every six dribbles - zip it, I counted - and he's your prime possession guy? No. The formation before the inclusion of Adem and Miralem belonged chained to a bed with no sharp objects in the general vicinity. Apparently Rudi likes a supersub in his pocket. Okay. And Destro's hurt. Okay. So too are Totti and Borriello. Okay. Well I'm not here, not at 10-4-0, to say that Rudi was wrong*, so it would appear, once again, Saba needs to get shopping, because with injuries at their current rate, Roma will struggle to make Europe, much less challenge their own early season form.
* - He was wrong.
There is no surprise here, and there is no lesson to be learned. Instead, this is a time for prayer and patience, with many vigils to be set ablaze for the health of one Francesco Totti and the rapid reintegration of one Mattia Destro. There are more concerns, too, with Rudi's rotation becoming readily evident: there's the first XI and then Bradley + Marquinho followed by Ljajic/Borriello/Gervinho/circumstance. Numbers twelve and thirteen? It's not good enough, especially when both Miralem and Francesco are eyeballing better lanes from the bench than anyone on the pitch could create with binoculars, a bulldozer, and time standing still. There is a dearth of technical quality without those two and, to a lesser degree, Ljajic (We've decided he's Allen Iverson: a dribble and drive point guard/playmaker who's better as a scorer and whose assists are secondary. So he's a playmaker, but not in the purest sense. So basically he needs an Eric Snow.), and the shift upon their inclusion is night and day.
The defense is okay. Yeah, Morgan made a boo boo, if only to remind us all he's still Morgan De Sanctis, but so long as they have the first team CBs and DDR (Michael's not poor as a vice-DDR), this club is fine on the back end. It's the attack which is becoming of great concern. The injuries are a degree of bad luck and a degree of reality. Walter has January to prepare for both.
Without Totti, Pjanic, and to a degree, Ljajic, they're simply a bunch of laborers without direction. The holes in the squad have been completely exposed.
On second thought, this is becoming an annual discussion, is it not?
His debut reminded of another: Marco D'Alessandro. It was during the 08/09 season in a match which was started by Filipe and included a goal by Simone Loria. Now give yourself a pat on the back for surviving that shitshow if you've been around since then. The match was against Juventus and the scoreline was, ahem, lightly unfavorable, but D'Alessandro was given a short cameo late and wowed with one touch in which he positively toasted Giorgio Chiellini. Suddenly, Roma had hope. The circumstances of the season were vastly different to these - the SS Spalletti was settling on the bottom of the ocean floor - but the circumstance of the two cameos are not so different. Federico Ricci's spectacular flick of, dare we say, Totti-esque quality was one fleeting moment to lift hope in an otherwise disappointing fixture. It was the panacea for the pain, but twice he displayed a level of technique and vision that Roma so desperately needs at the moment.
Hope springs cruellest of the Eternal City.