Raise your hand if you saw this one coming. Roma were positively embarrassed this afternoon in Sicily, suffering a 4-1 defeat at the hands of last place Catania. In one fell apathetic swoop this afternoon, Roma conceded 17% of their season's goals. Conversely, the four balls they breezed past Morgan De Sanctis constitute 13% of the Catania offensive output through 36 matches; that's how disparate these two clubs have been this season.
On paper, this should have been another barnstormer, with Roma sweeping through Sicily relatively unblemished; sure, maybe they'd cough up a late goal in a 3-1 affair, but did anyone really expect Roma to be outwitted and outworked to the tune of 4-1?
We mentioned it in passing during the preview, but beyond some sort of last minute miracle in a tight match or a wave of apathy, Roma's victory was assumed and understood. Well, guess which one happened.
Roma may have bested Catania in passing percentage and held a greater degree of possession, but Roma's movements were far from precise and anything but effective. However, before we assign this all to a lack of motivation, give Catania credit. Holding only 38% of possession, the Elephants still managed twelve shots, four of which were on target, and four of which found the back of the net.
Any matchup involving such a gulf in talent, as far as possession is concerned, is bound to favor the larger club, and that was certainly the case today, which makes Catania's performance all the more impressive. Thanks to goals from Mariano Izco, Gonazalo Bergessio and Pablo Barrientos, Catania managed an astounding 30% conversion rate, effectively rendering Roma's superior possession and passing useless.
So, what happened? Why was Roma so listless, why did we all endure flashbacks to last spring?
Well, perhaps we can attribute that to the power of words:
I honestly did not expect a performance like this. We got absolutely everything wrong today. The only thing I didn't get wrong was saying yesterday that the title race was over. I got that one right.
While my Italian is rusty and my French non-existent (beyond what I've learned from watching Audrey Tatou), I can assume the tail end of that statement was a bit tongue-in-cheek, as Rudi Garcia isn't the type to delight in defeat, but surely he should have known his words would resonate with his players? Almost to a man, though they admitted the climb would be difficult if not impossible, Roma's players held onto their mathematical title hopes, but when your manager concedes defeat, what motivation is left?
Reflecting on that lack of hustle, Garcia commented:
There was a big difference in motivation today and it was easy to see. We left our football in the locker room. I saw no running, no working, no easy passes, nothing. It's a shame, as I wanted to win this game and so did the players, but we need to do much, much more. I am stunned, because even knowing first place was beyond us, we should give everything each time we step on to the field. This defeat doesn't wipe out the great season we've had, but really do need to work hard this week and not make any more mistakes.
Lest we forget, this is not the last match of the season, so Garcia still has time to leave us all with a better taste in our mouth before we head our respective ways this summer. And, yes, it was a pitiful display and an embarrassing loss, but it was only the third defeat of the season. Despite this lapse in focus, Roma's stock is heading up and their pre-season aims have been achieved, but a performance like this has a way to open up the floodgates; complacency has no place in title chases.
However, at the end of the day, Roma has still exceeded all of our expectations in 2014. So, rather than dissecting the matter further, let's remember this match for what really mattered: Francesco Totti's 235th Serie A goal, which was a distinctly Roman affair
See? Even in the direst of circumstances, we can still find something to hang our hats on. This goal, Totti's 235th, was Roman from start to finish.
Starting from a few meters past the midfield, Daniele De Rossi chipped the ball over the Catania defense, which at that point was already parked nine-men deep, and found Alessandro Florenzi perfectly in stride. One of the more unheralded parts of Florenzi's game has to be his touch on the ball. In this instance, not only did he make the perfect break away from the defense, but watch how he tracks ball, turns his hips and opens up 180 degrees and, without missing a beat, puts the perfect amount of weight on his headed cross to Totti, who calmly lets it hop to his right foot to volley it past Alberto Frison.
Three touches, three Romans, one fantastic goal.
If this loss spared us anything, it was the horrible spectacle of Juventus celebrating their title at the Olimpico, so I suppose we can be thankful for that. However, seeing as how the Serie A standings are nearly set in stone, what can we expect next week against the Old Lady? What once looked like a titanic six pointer, is now a meaningless match on both sides, so if you think there was a lack of motivation today, what in the world will we see next week?
Well, thanks to his suspension, we won't see Miralem Pjanic next week, and, depending on one's sense of optimism, we may never see him in a Roma shirt again. But, there will surely be a week's worth of Manchester rumors to mull over, so we'll save that for later.
With two matches remaining, Roma still has the opportunity to eclipse the 90 point mark, but, following this display, I'm sure we'd all be happy simply ending the season on a high note versus Genoa.
As far as next week is concerned, your guess is as good as mine. Does Rudi roll out the kids? Will Roma's World Cup participants get a rest? Will anyone care?