With three losses in their last six matches, Roma has looked ragged, worn out and generally disjointed in all phases of the game. Not only that, the verve with which Roma ran over opponents last season has been lacking; the football hasn't been as fantastic and the results haven't been as resounding. Whether this is due to injuries or the physical and mental fatigue associated with playing in multiple competitions, this much is clear: for the first time in his year and a half at the helm, Rudi Garcia is finally facing some adversity. What worked so well in 2013 has suddenly stagnated, resulting in ineffectual and aimless performances like the one we just witnessed; one which, depending on where you live, you actually woke up early on a weekend to watch.
So what, pray tell, went wrong? Why was Roma so poor? Why did they, particularly in the first half, seem so lazy?
For the answer to those questions, let's turn to our friends at WhoScored, who, ever so subtly and succinctly, summed up Roma's performance this evening:
"Team showed no significant strengths"
That about sums it up, right? While Roma held 59% possession and completed 88% of their passes, Garcia's attack was completely punchless, mustering only eight shots on goal, only two of which were considered on target. They simply did not create any genuine scoring chances this afternoon, a point made clearer when we compare the teams shot charts
As you can see, Napoli unleashed their full wrath right in Morgan De Sanctis' eye line, peppering their former teammate with 15 shots, 10 of which came within the penalty area, including two shots that hit the woodwork, sparing Roma further embarrassment.
Despite their languid performance on offense, luck played a bit of a role in this decision. Take a look at Higuain's third minute goal.
While Higuain receives full marks for his part of the play--he did a sensational job contorting his body and picking the ball out of the air to beat MDS--there's simply no telling what would've happened had Lorenzo Insigne's lob not been deflected. Watch it again and you can see how Kostas Manolas hesitated momentarily. Might Insigne's pass have still found its intended target? Yes, I'm grasping at straws on this one, but in another dimension, Roma may have secured a draw when all common sense and reason suggested a loss.
Luck also played a bit of a role in Roma's side of the equation, particularly in terms of whatever deity hexed Alessandro Florenzi's shooting boots this afternoon. Ale had three shots this afternoon, one saved, one blocked and one he completely flubbed, one which would've levelled the match in the 53rd minute. Again, had the bounces gone another way, Roma may have escaped with a point, but such is life.
It's somewhat fitting that we discussed the Miralem Pjanic and Francesco Totti partnership earlier this week because we saw precisely what happens when the keys to Roma's offense go missing. It almost appears as though Napoli took a page out of the Juve book, keeping Totti and Pjanic confined to the same areas of the pitch, shrinking any effective or creative space the duo had, limiting them to only five passing combinations. Though, from a purely statistical standpoint, had Florenzi scored in the 53rd minute, both Totti and Pjanic's performances would've looked a bit rosier, as they started the play that Ale ultimately squandered.
Beyond ham fisting Totti and Pjanic, Napoli did a remarkable job keeping Gervinho out of any effective attacking areas, as he was forced to skirt around the perimeter for much of match, unable to make any darting runs towards the goal. In fact, Gervinho didn't have a single shot on goal today. Say what you will about him, his effectiveness is as important to Roma's success as any player on the club.
And that's really the story of this match, Napoli put the clamps down on Roma's three most important offensive players, Totti, Pjanic and Gervinho. Totti and Pjanic simply couldn't find any effective space on the pitch to create any genuine scoring chances, while Gervinho was forced to dance on the periphery.
As far as Napoli is concerned, their star players rose to the occasion. Gonzalo Higuain, Lorenzo Insigne, Marek Hamsik and Jose Callejon were all on point tonight. We mentioned it in the preview, and it certainly proved true; the interplay between these four stretched Roma's defense wide and thin, leaving enormous gaps in the defense for one and all to make runs at MDS' goal.
This was obviously a putrid performance, one that came at the end of a relatively tough month, but it doesn't mean it's time to jump ship, nor does it mean that the rest of the league has figured out Garcia's tactics. Roma are simply learning on the fly how to balance their domestic and continental aims, a task made incredibly harder with the amount of injuries Roma has had to deal with through the fall, but somehow Rudi Garcia must find a way to keep his players and his tactics fresh; something must be done up front, Mattia Destro is simply too talented to was as a 25 minute per match player, and, well, some fullbacks would be nice, right?
Unless Empoli pulls off the unthinkable this evening, Roma will wake up no worse than second place tomorrow, so let's not go overboard in our reactions here, but this much is clear; Rudi Garcia must step up to the plate and prove he can make the necessary adjustments to keep this team in the title hunt, while also chasing the knockout stages in the Champions League.
As always, don't dwell, Roma's much anticipated trip to the Allianz Arena in Munich is only four days away.