Roma looks to shirk off their horrendous form when they travel north to Verona to take on Luca Toni and his Hellas mates. At the risk of jinxing them, the odds should be in Roma's favor when they enter the Bentegodi Sunday, as they swept Verona last season, including a 3-1 tromping at the Bentegodi last January. All told, Roma has outscored Verona 8-1 since the Mastiffs returned to the top flight last fall. Then again, nothing is assured with this club, especially not this season.
However, history, no matter how recent, means little when your present is so decidedly drab, and with one win in their past six matches, and only three in all of 2015, that is exactly what Roma is; drab, dull, and uninspiring. They are the beige colored walls of European football at the moment.
With that in mind, let's enjoy a time when Roma found the back of the net...get this...twice! I shit you not, Roma actually scored more than one goal in a match.
September 27, 2014: Roma 2, Hellas Verona 0
Great choice of music there by Ermes, because Roma really came out with a rebel yell, punishing Verona to the tune of 23 shots, more than double the Mastiffs output that evening. Despite that early onslaught, it would take Roma 75 minutes to swing the gate open on this match. Coming on as a substitute for Francesco Totti, Alessandro Florenzi gave Roma the late lead when he pounced on a loose ball from roughly 20 yards out, beating the keeper on the far post. Mattia Destro did him one better in the 86th minute when he chipped one over the keeper from, oh, 45-50 yards out; that was definitely not a poacher's goal and will probably go down as his best in a Roma shirt.
But what about this match, what hope does Roma have of escaping the Alps with three points?
Look Out For Luca
As much as we correctly marvel at Totti's sustained brilliance, let's shine a light on Luca Toni's lovely face. Through 23 appearances this term, Toni's nine goals leads Verona by a wide margin. In fact, his next closest competitor is another former Roma forward, Nico Lopez, who has four goals in 17 appearances, but back to Toni for a moment.
Throw in his two Coppa Italia goals over the past two seasons, and Lucky Luca has 31 goals in 60 appearances since making the switch from Fiorentina in the summer of 2013. Set aside the goals for a second, the mere fact that he's made 60 appearances at age 37, when everyone and their mother knows the Verona offense flows through him, is testament to his preparation and durability. But, yeah, 31 goals in 60 matches is pretty impressive...for anyone. And while Toni has only victimized Roma three times in 17 matches during his career, if Mario Gomez proved anything, it's that Garcia's backline has trouble handling huge and handsome forwards.
Making matters worse, Toni is scorching hot at the moment, bagging three goals in his last two matches and six in his last ten. Each and every one of his nine league goals has come directly in front of the goal, dead-center, right between the sticks, putting the onus squarely on whatever combination of Kostas Manolas, Davide Astori and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa Garcia sees fit. As if that weren't enough, he's averaging nearly one key pass per match this season, so he's as effective as ever as holding up play and creating with his back to the goal.
Why did we ever let him go?
Roma: Searching For Results
At this point, there isn't much I or anyone can really add to the discussion; something is wrong with Roma. Be it between the lines or between their ears, this club simply doesn't have the verve it once did. As recently as late November, Roma looked like the overlapping, synchronous beauty we came to love last year; Rudi could do no wrong and Juve was ours for the taking. However, fast forward a few months and Garcia's once dynamic offense is suddenly pissing in the wind.
Using their 2-1 victory over Atalanta on November 22, 2014 as the halfway point (thus far), we can begin to see the cavities. Through their first 12 matches, Roma outscored their opponents (on average) 1.75 to 0.58, averaged 10 chances created per match, completed 88% of their passes, 62% of which were forward in nature, and put 47% of their shots on target, while converting at a 19% clip.
Since then, Garcia's crew has outscored their opponents (on average) 1.36 to 0.91, averaged 12 chances per match, completed 85% of their passes, 63% of which were forward in nature, and put 43% of their shots on target, while converting at a 12% clip.
Perform a quick dissection of those numbers and the problem becomes a bit more lucid. As you can see, Roma hasn't (again, on average) created fewer chances or passed the ball inordinately more backwards than they did through their first 12 matches, nor have they taken less shots, nor have those created chances come further away from goal, they're simply not shooting accurately or efficiently enough, as the dip in shot accuracy and conversion rate indicates.
Now, the knee jerk reaction here is ‘well, that's why it was stupid to get rid of Destro', and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with you, but he wasn't playing anyway and there may be a greater culprit at large here; Roma's always uncertain front line. Clearly, something is amiss in the midfield, which makes the constant flux in Roma's frontline all the more frustrating. Totti can only do so much, and his influence in attacking areas of the pitch is negated the deeper he has to drop into the midfield to facilitate the offense, while Gervinho's absence, Alessandro Florenzi's lack of a role and the poor timing of Seydou Doumbia's transfer only exacerbates an already tenuous situation. The key to Roma's offense last season (up front, that is) was the interplay between Totti, Gervinho, Destro and Florenzi; a chemistry that was fueled by consistent lineup selections and tactics.
And while Radja Nainggolan leading the club in shots per match is another story in and of itself, the truth of the matter is simply this; Roma (statistically speaking) haven't really been that bad, the frustration stems from the lack of a sore thumb. Outside of the drop in conversion rate, there is no glaring deficiency between Roma in the fall and Roma in the spring, so what is really causing the issue here, the head or the heart? Is it a tactical let down or a simple lack of execution?
It's a riddle that has been plaguing Roma for nearly four months, and its one which might cost Rudi Garcia his job and Roma her guaranteed place in the Champions League next year.