Let's dispense with formalities - read: I'm tired and I need to get down to business so I can nap or drink coffee or shower myself in energy drinks and something I'll imagine is the tears of Care Bears but is really dog slobber - and get right to the bad news: Roma played poorly. But wait, here's the good news: Roma played poorly. Cupcakes and unicorns and Nutella, oh my.
There's an analogy for what's happening with Roma right now. It feels a bit like Cinderella at the ball, so at any moment they're going to lose that glass slipper, or step on it, shatter the glass, and watch it slice through some tendons, as would be the case if this was the Roma I've always known, but does it feel like a fairy tale? Not really. These aren't good teams they're beating. I'm very hesitant to judge a book by its cover, but with Sampdoria, you go ahead and slander that cover. It's a big ol' nasty jacket with the author name roughly 42x the size of the actual title, the typography weighted like Adriano, the type higher than Everest, a glossy photo of a dude with a peachy beachy sunset, and some sort of incessant quest for validation via four quotenuggets of praise from random media outlets. Which then sold eight hundred million copies because people be stupid and they're the reason Hemingway killed himself. That's Sampdoria. Sampdoria looks poor on paper and lo, they're poor on the field. You suck, Sampdoria. (Seriously, though. That is not a good football club. Serie B awaits.)
The fortunate part is this is what we've wanted. They played poorly yet still found a way to beat an inferior team without a midmatch trip to the psychiatrist to talk about their feelings, confidence removing the possibility of a result, even if it meant that giant glass of French-Moroccan aqua slaloming through the heart of their team like Mirko Vucinic channeling Alberto Tomba channeling some other dude that skied once and was pretty good. They won. By hook or by crook, maybe both, depending on how you'd like to define Medhi Benatia's goal.
The problem lies in something Rudi said after the derby victory: they haven't played any good teams yet. Yes, the table looks lovely, but he's right - no matter what one thinks of Lazio, no derby is a true measure of quality, Rome or otherwise. This hasn't changed with Sampdoria. It likely won't change with Bologna. (Though maybe it should be pointed out Livorno is seventh. What?) The first true test is Inter in ten days or so. Is this a good thing? Maybe. Roma was always crippled by, and someone feel free to dig up that Totti quote from 2007, dropping points against the small teams. In effect, they play to the level of their opponent, which just isn't the case anymore. Yes, they were poor, but it occasionally feels as though they're poor by design, in a very Ranieri-esque, don't-concede-in-the-first-half-bring-the-cavalry-late sort of way. They don't need a goal because they'll get one. Somehow, someway, the confidence is there. They have a yeah, a confidence, but perhaps even a dollop of arrogance. A swagger. The air of, well, a very good football club. We'll leave it there.
Top clubs don't need to be good to be good. You just sort of...win. Yeah. Just win. See? It's not so hard, is it.
- Walter Sabatini is looking like a guy who dropped his controlling, narcissistic wife, lost some weight, learned to dress, found some self-confidence and thus finally begun to thrive. (The discarded bitch would be Baldini in this case.) Or maybe it's a function of Roma's capitulation over the previous 24 months and a fear of failure shuttled him to the other side of the risk spectrum and went smart, not risk-reward. Whatever he did, it's working, though we finally got a glimpse at this squad's thinness. There is depth, it's just not much good. Maicon's injury is the first real test considering how crucial he's been so far. You don't want Ale Diamanti dribbling at Dodo or Balza on the right, but that's looking to be the case. So far, this is a side which has won five against subpar competition without any real injury concerns of note. Calm seas are easy. Now Rudi earns his paycheck.
And this is where we champion the player who slots just behind Francesco as Roma's player of the year currently: Mehdi. We were talking about him the other day an the only way I could find to describe him is, "He's so good people don't understand how good he is." It's not that he makes it look easy, it's that he doesn't even force you to look at all. You take him for granted because he's going to, with that long stride, gobble up the ball before the threat is even present, or erase an attack with his mythical third leg, or just be effective. One goal conceded says so little about what's actually happened. How many times do we have to say Morgan's name? How many times do we even have to care? You could put a cardboard cutout of Pietro Pipolo in net and I'm cool.
Castan's been good, and yeah, it helps to have BADDeR in front of him (Born Again Daniele De Rossi...please don't make that stick, it's a function of fatigue), but he's so dominant one barely notices he's putting in a shift of such immense quality. In 2011-12, he was the best defender in Serie A; in 2012-13, he was injured yet still excellent, and statistically phenomenal. Is it a stretch to call him the single best defender in Serie A? Why not. This is the internet. We get to spew bullshit with no accountability.
- Speaking of the quietly effective, Daniele had another excellent game. He is, for lack of a better term, a wall, but doing so in a space he can call his own. Something special is forming in that triangle just beyond Morgan, and it, more than anything else, is the reason for Rudi's Roman renaissance.
- I don't know what happened to Miralem Pjanic's defensive game this summer, but if he's going to get drug tested, someone please pass him that fake man-member flitting around Italian sport these days, because so far, he's been a complete central midfielder; far from the limited virtuoso of the ball of yore. Now that Francesco is done, I'd sacrifice a summer 2014 mercato simply to lock him up through 2018 or so.
- Gervinho had his best game for Roma easily and you have to wonder how much of that is the result of having no Totti on the pitch, which has nothing to do with him and everything to do with Francesco's larger than life aura. It's not that players feel the need to dump him the ball, else they wake up face down in a pool of the blood of their family members, but for fuck's sake, he's Totti. He's better than everyone. He's Roma's best chance. So with no Totti, Gervinho was more able to put his head down and not worry about finding Roma's great genius. A little more playing, a little less thinking.
And then when Francesco did enter to feed Yao his goal, he did so at the expense of a much easier pass and shot for Pjanic on the right. With anyone else on the squad, you think he'd played the ball to the closer teammate. No. Not Francesco. If the guy with the best chance on net was sitting on Saturn's rings, he'd find a way to get him the ball (a recreation of any of Marquinho's or Strootman's shots from the first half would've sufficed). Totti knew what he was doing.
- I'm pretty okay with The Marquinho Experience ending permanently in January. Thanks.
- Those gold training vests are, well, gold. Largely because I can't look at one without saying aloud, "Opulence. I has it."
Closing on a pygmy giraffe. Miss you, Ludovic.