There may have been times when you've thought to yourself, "Hey, self, how are you? Bummer about your car's transmission, you know what you should do to take your mind off your troubles? Collect and organize a series of thoughts on Roma, publish them, and then continue to do that for the foreseeable future. People may enjoy it, and hell, you're already thinking those thoughts, might as well share them."
If that is indeed the case, today's match probably muted your unbridled enthusiasm. Coming up with a thoughtful, moving, or even a cogent analysis of what we just witnessed is a fool's errand. Roma was gifted a golden chance. Not only was this their fourth home match in three weeks, they were on a roll, winning four of their past five league matches, scoring seven goals along the way. It wasn't quite as beautiful as last season, but Rudi Garcia and Co. seemed to be righting the ship and had a chance to close the Scudetto gap to one point before the winter break.
The only thing standing in the way of a happy holiday was a visiting AC Milan side, one that had only tasted victory three times in their past ten matches. Things seldom set themselves up this perfectly, so what, exactly, went wrong?
This graphic really tells the story of the day. Sure, Roma peppered Diego Lopez with 16 shots, but when we take a second look, it's clear as day, very few of them posed an actual threat. Indeed, only 31% of Roma's 16 shots were considered on target and were handled rather easily by Lopez. Furthermore, half of those 16 shots came from outside of the area, six of which were blocked by Milan defenders. Further furthermore (See, I've had to stoop to creating new adverbs to describe the depths of this match), only two of Roma's ten chances created came inside the penalty area.
Point being, Roma simply couldn't create any effective scoring chances, instead settling for shots anywhere and everywhere they could find them, which is a movie we've all seen before, right?
Indeed, when we look at the general flow of the match, Roma's lack of quality chances starts to make sense. Without Miralem Pjanic in tow, Roma settled for life on the flanks, spending much of the match working the touchlines, particularly on the right hand side. Rather than working through the middle, Roma relied on creating chances from wider reaches, which, as we all know, isn't their strong suit. To wit, Roma completed only five of 33 crosses this afternoon, with Jose Cholebas going an excruciating 0-9. Thank god he won that appeal, eh?
However, it's a bit glib to simply pin all of this on the absence of Pjanic, Roma simply couldn't capitalize, plain and simple.
What Could They Have Done Differently?
After surviving an early onslaught from Milan, Rudi Garcia's true plan was unveiled; get out and run. Taking advantage of Milan's high-pressing line, Roma looked to counter, quickly outletting the ball to Gervinho and Alessandro Florenzi, with the former looking particularly swift and dangerous. However, as we just discussed, this was ultimately a fruitless endeavor. Gervinho, as he does, ran and ran and ran, but more often than not, was left on an island; there was simply no one making the necessary corresponding moves to threaten Lopez's goal.
But without Pjanic, and with Salih Uçan firmly entrenched on the bench, there was no Option B. Garcia's lineup choices and, indeed, his tactical preferences all pointed towards a match on the wings. However, Roma weren't done any favors by the officials.
AS Roma (@OfficialASRoma) December 20, 2014
That was Garcia's bitter retort when questioned about Nigel De Jong's phantom handball in the first half. Sure, Gervinho probably should have headed that home, but it was certainly one of the more egregious no-calls we've seen this season, and it wasn't even against Juventus! Go figure.
However, following a makeup call in the 70th minute, Roma was gifted a precious one-man advantage, one which they summarily squandered. While I won't quibble with the insertion of Mattia Destro, given Roma's poor service from the flanks, Destro was always behind the eight ball, a matter made worse when we consider that Maicon, Roma's most viable service provider, was taken off ten minutes prior.
With Milan a man down, why not throw Juan Iturbe into the mix? Surely, his speed and agility could have broken down the Rossoneri's depleted defense.
This wasn't Roma's, nor Garcia's, worst performance of the season, but it was there for the taking, and neither the squad nor the manager did themselves any favors.
Heading Into the Holidays
With results like these, the cries of Garcia's ineptitude in big matches will only grow stronger, which is certainly not what Roma needs to endure over the winter break, when the 24 hour news cycle will truly run rampant with non-sense.
Once Roma returns to action in 2015, they face a brutal stretch of matches to start the New Year. Away to Udinese, the season's first Derby della Capitale, away to Palermo, home versus Empoli in the Coppa Italia, away to Fiorentina and back home for a league fixture against Empoli. For those keeping score at home, that's six matches in 25 days; a tough stretch regardless of the quality of the opponents.
With such a congested fixture list, Roma can't afford any off-the-pitch melodrama, so we better hope Garcia finds his magic once more. While Roma could've and should've closed the gap on Juventus, the Old Lady isn't as infallible as they were last season, so the title may be ripe for the taking, provided Roma can buff out the rust that's suddenly marred their once peerless chassis.