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Are Seydou Keita and Miralem Pjanic Slowing Down Roma's Midfield?

Last season, Roma's attack was fluid and decisive. This season, not so much, but might the source of the problem rest in the midfield?

Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

Roma's recent run of mediocrity, as one would expect, has been subject to a great deal of scrutiny, with everyone from Rudi Garcia, the players themselves and even the training staff enduring the slings and arrows hurled by the media and the fan base. Assessing a team's conditioning staff isn't exactly an easy undertaking, so we'll turn our attention to the heart of the matter, Roma's midfield; more specifically, to the heart of the heart, Miralem Pjanic and Seydou Keita.

In yesterday's 1-1 draw with Hellas Verona, Pjanic and Keita accounted for 280 touches and 244 passes, miles ahead of anyone else in Garcia's XI, and given Roma's absurd rate of possession, orders of magnitude above any Verona player. But, if you know anything about the game or this team, that's really not a surprise; by its very design, a possession-oriented approach is dictated and dominated by the ball-playing midfielders. However, as many of you astutely noted, a large portion of the passes played by these two men have been static; floating aimlessly towards the sideline, or worse, backwards into oblivion.

Now, this might sound strange, but bear with me. When I watch a match, I don't pay attention to such things, I'm more engrossed in the drama, the end-to-end action, and the broader narrative of a match. Yes, I go back and give it a second look and read the stat sheets, but in the heat of the moment, I'm as devoid of reason as any among us. However, this exact criticism--that Roma's midfield, particularly Keita, are simply too passive, too backwards and too slow in build up play--creeps up every week, so I decided to take a look and see if the facts and figures lend any credence to this notion, at least in terms of the 1-1 draw with Verona over the weekend--though I suspect it is representative of the last four months.

First, let's take a look at how ludicrously busy Keita was Sunday.

Keita Pass

I don't think we've officially ordained Keita with a CdT nickname, but allow me to bestow one upon him; Sideways Seyou. Seriously, look at that; if I had a compass (the math kind, not the camping kind) I could probably figure out the exact angles of those passes, but out of his 129 passes attempted, how many of them were at or near a perfectly flat 180 degrees? It certainly looks like nearly half, doesn't it? Perhaps because of the play-it-safe nature of those passes, Keita completed an astounding 92% of those 129 passes, even hitting on 10 of 13 long balls. Don't get it twisted, no one is saying he's a poor player, he might not just be the best fit for this particular squad, at least at his current level of involvement.

Now let's take a look at Pjanic's

Pjanic Passes

Holy mother of god, talk about lacking direction; Pjanic's passes were positively passive. Again, its hard to quantify exactly what percent of his passes, you know, actually accomplished something, but you don't have to be an expert in geometry to understand what was going on there; Pjanic's passes were far from productive. Though, to his credit, and largely due to his excellent service from out wide, he did create five scoring chances yesterday. Once again, this isn't a diatribe against the man's value as a footballer, but at the moment, his play hasn't exactly been decisive.

Apropos of nothing, I decided to take a look at how Pjanic and Keita interacted with one another in yesterday's stilted draw. The results were about what one would expect, given how passive Roma's midfield has been the past, oh, sixteen weeks. Rather than attacking up field, more often than not, Roma's midfield simply went sideways, ostensibly hoping to lull the defense into making an error rather than forcing them to react to Roma's movements; passive vs aggressive, its as simple as that, really.

Pjanic to Keita: 32 Passes completed

Pj To Keita

Keita to Pjanic: 30 Passes completed

Keita to PJ

Once again, we can see how lateral the passes were between these two yesterday, which, again, was a problem due to the sheer volume of passes they executed. Pjanic and Keita linked up 62 times yesterday; a significant portion of which were lateral or slightly upfield, but very few, if any, led to anything significant; not in terms of direct play and certainly not in the throes of a counter attack.

One point of interest: take a look at the distances of these respective passing combos; Keita was trailing in Pjanic's wake the entire match, just look at how tightly compacted the Keita-to-Pjanic passes were compared to the Pjanic-to-Keita variety. Given how much of the ball these two men see, the fact that they're so incredibly close on the pitch makes Roma's lack of attacking aggression a little easier to understand. Here we have two players, gifted passers, sure, but slow as molasses and generally occupying the same space on the pitch, working a two man lateral passing game, rather than moving the ball up the pitch, forming triangles with the wingers or overlapping full backs.

It's hard for the frontline to cause chaos and confusion among opposing defenses when the play from midfield is so slow and indecisive. The interplay between Francesco Totti, Adem Ljajic and Gervinho--their own overlapping, give and goes and swapping of positions--becomes exceedingly difficult when the midfield moves so slowly, thereby allowing opposing defenses to set up their shell, dictating when and where Roma can move rather than vice versa.

As with all of these analyses, we have to ask, what's the cause here? Is this by design or by circumstance? Are Pjanic and Keita simply being too timid, or is Garcia telling these two to stay compact, to slow things down, to poke and prod?

We can't rightly say, but whatever the case is, it ain't working and it needs to be remedied, pronto. Rudi Garcia has said it repeatedly over the past several weeks; Roma simply aren't taking enough chances with the ball at their feet.

So how do they correct this matter? While a change of formations and new lineups may help, this team was very much built in the 4-3-3 mold, so Garcia can only do so much tinkering with the charges at his disposal.

So what do we think? Does Leandro Paredes get a crack over one of these guys? Is the over reliance on Keita simply a product of Daniele De Rossi's up and down season?

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