Horror... Horror has a face... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies! - Colonel Kurtz
Add Hellas Verona to that list dear friends. The ever growing list of horror performances from our men clad in the giallo e rosso. The yips are a yipping alright and this is the yippiest Roma we’ve had to watch for quite a while. I’m not too sure when winning games of football became such an unattainably complex challenge for a side so expensively constructed but it seems currently the most fearsome opposition Roma must conquer is the man in the mirror.
This is no longer a ‘Roma Happened’ situation. There are no unlucky bounces into the corners of our net nor are opposition goalkeepers channelling their inner Gigi Buffon to rob us of three points. What instead remains is a dull and oddly out of sorts product that puzzles us so, not because of the ugliness of its features, but rather the fact it bears such a shockingly unrecognisable façade of what we grew to adore and (dare I say it) expect.
The mechanics of how this trend was rehashed on the field today are less relevant that the higher level of muck that has enveloped the spirit of this team. However, lets just run through things anyway for the sake of tradition.
Roma Away to Hellas Verona
A mid-to-bottom team currently a game and a half outside the relegation spots. They had lost 6 of their last 7 and boast a rather leaky defence that had conceded 42 goals this season, whilst in attack are overly reliant solely on the aging yet oh so very handsome forehead of Luca Toni.
Quirky points of reference?
Hellas means Greek, right? And Roma have a few Greek guys in the squad. Oh and AS Roma alumni Luca Toni, Taxi Tachtsidis, Leandro Greco and Nico Lopez all feature regularly for the Mastiffs. Does anyone else feel that Juliet from the House Capulet, was kind of easy? Finally, there is a place in New Jersey called Verona. I’m pretty sure they filmed some of the Sopranos there. That was a cool show. Just saying.
Rudi trotted out ye old 4-3-3 with Cole getting a start on the left, Florenzi pretending to be a RB and Manolas and Astori in the middle. The midfield had Keita, Pjanic and Ninja while De Rossi got up close and personal with the pine. Read into that what you will, I’m leaning toward niggling injuries rather than conspiracies. And Totti started in the false 9 with Gervinho and Ljajic either side of him.
In the opening moments Luca Toni tracked back and stole the ball from Mira Pjanic. Yes. Read that again. Luca Toni tracked back and stole the ball from Pjanic. Nothing quite represents a complete and utter destruction of an individual and a team’s psyche than a lumbering veteran striker sneaking under the guard of the ball playing midfielder.
Ninja set about demonstrating his hard work on the training paddock by putting a few shots on goal from his normal range while Ljajic got into his now familiar groove of shooting wide or straight to the keeper with tough but not insurmountable chances.
Possession was never going to be in short supply against this Verona team and sure enough Roma knocked the ball from side to side with a bit of enthusiasm early on. This was probably due to the disappearance of the jarringly ugly Chinese characters previously splayed upon their chests. Happy Year of the Goat, friends from the Far East!
Both Florenzi and Cole were making efforts to cut into the opposition penalty area rather than languishing at the corner flags but the overall play still lacked a varnish of polish to trouble the defence. Meanwhile Verona were happy enough to sit back with occasional flashes up the field of Luca Toni’s gorgeous mane of hair which kept the nervous Manolas and Astori on their toes.
And then something beautiful happened.
In the 25th minute, like a phoenix exploding out of the ashes of misery the King of Rome sent a shockwave of authority through the Bentegodi stadium. Some rather innocuous passing from Cole, Ljajic and Pjanic ended up with Totti receiving the ball well outside the area. The Verona defence sensed he would attempt to put through a winger streaming into the area so kept their distance in anticipation. Silly defenders! This modicum of space was ample for Francesco to take a touch and let fly with a brute of a shot from 25 yards out off just two steps. The ball swerved past the terrified defender Moras, no doubt protecting his bald spot, and continued its dipping trajectory toward the Verona goal. The keeper was positioned well enough but the ball seemed to increase its spin downwards and landed right into that – "ahhhh fuck" – zone in front of the goalkeeper where sure enough it bounced off the finger tips of his despairingly outstretched hands and exploded into the bottom right corner of the net.
Vintage Totti. Due Cento Quaranta! 240 goals.
The 38 year old remains the dominant figure on the pitch. He remains a class above his peers and those that have entered the role before him. His goal threat remains as deadly as ever. Was it worth the torment of watching the rest of the wretched game to enjoy that moment of brilliance? You bet your bottom dollar it was!
But behind the individual brilliance here, the greater strategic picture told a worrying tale. Better closing down by Taxi and the Verona boys and this opportunity wouldn’t have existed. The lateral passing debacle and speculative long range shot game is not paying dividends right now. Alas, it is far too Roma of me to focus on such a negativity after witnessing yet another Totti special.
The goal actually seemed to spook Roma and they poured forward with renewed effort for about five minutes. Ljajic had another wonderful chance to capitalise on this but spooned his volley over the bar in the 31st minute.
This toehold was all Verona needed to get back into the match. It is certainly fitting that Hallfreddson, the spitting bloody image of Michael ‘Mr Romanistasses’ Bradley would play a key role in dishing out the torment. First with an ugly studs up assault on the exposed ankle of Alessandro Florenzi which resulted in no sanction from the referee. The second was the delivery of a corner kick that found its way to Jankovic who was able to completely, totally and somewhat sensationally able to expose Florenzi’s inability to compete in the air on a set piece. The Serbian’s header flew into Astori and then Keita before heading passed a befuddled De Sanctis and into the net.
Really Roma? A goal from a set piece minutes after we took the lead?
Florenzi was quickly substituted for Torosidis, unable to recover from his mugging at the studs of the Bradley doppelganger.
The rest of the half did its best to serve as an example of uninspired and threatless football. The Verona defence was more or less untested once they set their two defensive banks on the 18 yard area and watched the Roma midfield pass from side to side.
The final moment of the half was a Roma free kick in a decent position after a dodgy and might I add, yellow cardless Verona handball. Ljajic swerved in a thunderbolt that cannoned off the upright. That thing was travelling like a rocket but proved too elusive even for the beckoning goal, just to ensure everyone went into the half time break with a suitable sense of despair.
Since when did one goal leads become liabilities?
The second half brought more of the same. Torosidis did his best to avenge Florenzi with a wonderful goal-line double block on Bradley’s doppelganger from point blank range in the 51st minute to keep Roma on track for destination draw.
In the 51st minute Totti was subbed off for Doumbia. Never in my life did I think I would have to write that in an actual sentence. I suppose it is appropriate that I confess my complete lack of faith in Roma’s newest striker. There is nothing about this guy that suggests to me Roma is the appropriate team for him to thrive amongst. He displayed the enthusiasm of an Orca in a tank at SeaWorld as he meandered amongst the Verona defenders. Perhaps he did a few 400m sprints prior to entering the field of play, so was a little jaded. Or maybe he has just caught a case of the Roma?
Ashley Cole’s defining contribution of the match came in the 67th minute when he kicked that Juanito douche bag in the leg after he kept dribbling after the whistle. The malaise of Ashley Cole is something I have taken a special interest in this season. I was by no means excited by his signing but am puzzled that he hasn’t been able to boss his way as the number one left back. It is not a technical problem but more one of integration. He just doesn’t seem on the same page of any of his teammates during forward runs. The triangles and give and go’s just aren’t there. There is no question Cole is still capable of contributing offensively but it doesn’t appear that his teammates hold the same level of faith. Rudi certainly doesn’t appear as enamoured as the English language media are toward the "former Chelsea player."
Verde got some belated game time in the 83rd minute at the expense of the once again woeful Miralem Pjanic. He proceeded to run around like the duracell bunny. Such spark was surely necessary earlier in the match. The final chance for Roma fell to the hard working Ninja, who was only able to scuff a tired side footed effort straight to the keeper when he was almost through on goal in the 88th minute.
Whistle. 1-1 Draw. 1 Point gained, two points lost.
Crisis of Confidence
The lack of confidence in this team is more contagious than a slumber party at an anti-vaxers house.
When a cross field long ball to a static (and man marked) Ashley Cole on the side of the penalty area becomes a route of attack… well shit, words are pointless.
There is a complete lack of happiness permeating through this organisation right now. Questions are rightfully being asked of Mister Rudi and his methods. The most glaring point of contention I can identify is the utter disappearance of Roma’s counterattack or play in transition. Very rarely are we winning the ball back and then attacking vertically or into space. Too often opposition defences are being allowed time to set up and then watch our front three stand completely still amongst them.
The loss of both Strootman, Maicon, Iturbe et al. is certainly a factor but it doesn’t address the root cause that has ushered in an era of fear and riskless backwards and sideways passing.
What remains pertinent and of course as obvious as the Scudetto non-race is that this cancer must be promptly located and exorcised should Roma get any semblance of groove back.
I don’t suppose anyone remembers what happened when we played Juventus at home last time we were going through a mid-season crisis? If this management remains keen on Disney, now would be a good time to hire that script writer.
Roma isn't yet burning, but the fickle mob is growing restless.