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Francesco Totti Still Shines in Reduced Role

Life is changing for Roma and for Francesco Totti, but this past season proved one thing; even in a reduced role, he's unparalleled.

Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

Beyond how Walter Sabatini rounds out the fringes of the squad, Roma's other great concern next season is how the soon to be 39-year-old Francesco Totti will be utilized; where will he play, how much will he play and how will Rudi Garcia manage Totti's domestic and continental division of labor. One thing is for certain, Totti's days as a 90 minute player are dead and buried, but, as you're about to see, that's not necessarily a bad thing for him or the club.

Last season, Totti made 36 appearances across four different competitions, going the full 90 on only six occasions. All told, Totti logged 2,407 minutes on the pitch in European and domestic play, good for roughly 66 minutes per match. Although this was Francesco Totti we were talking about, at 38-years-old we were bound to see some decline in his performance, leaving us to wonder just how effective could he be in this new, reduced role?

Well, the results are in and that question has been answered. He was remarkable.

Totti is a man of many nicknames, but for the remainder of his career we might as well call him The Sixty Minute Magician. In 27 league appearances, only four of which in he played 90 minutes, Totti managed to bang home eight goals and contribute six assists, first and second on the club, respectively, while his 1.7 key passes and 0.8 crosses per match were also second on the club. The gross statistics here are quite impressive, especially when you consider that, in some instances, he played nearly 800 minutes less than the club leaders in those categories.

Since we're talking about Totti in a reduced role, let's take a gander at how he fared on a per 90 minute basis. While Totti's goal scoring numbers have been up and down the past few seasons, as the derby showed, he still remains a potent threat in front of goal. Totti's eight goals in league play amounted to 0.42 goals per 90 minutes, tied for 19th in the league. In other words, at damn near 40, Totti was still one of the 20 most efficient goal scorers in Italy, where scoring was up across the board, I might add.

Despite his hundreds of goals, Totti's claim to fame has always been his playmaking, an area in which he is still top of the mark, reduced role or not. Totti's 2.13 key passes per 90 minutes was good enough for 13th in the league, while his 0.36 assists per 90 minutes was tied for third in Italy.

Cast that net a bit wider, into Europe's top five leagues, and both those figures still fall within the top 100.  Furthermore, if we limit the population strictly to forwards in the top five European leagues (that's what Totti is, after all), Totti's numbers place him among the 20 most creative forwards. So let's give Garcia some credit; his management of Francesco Totti this past season was superb, enabling him to remain nearly as efficient and as effective as he ever was.

Okay, so those are the stats, but how exactly did he achieve them? Has anything about his approach changed in this the twilight of his career?

In short, not really, which is a good thing.

Take, for example, his vintage performance in January's derby against Lazio.

Totti HM vs Lazio

Notice how Totti had virtual free range on the pitch, dropping deep in midfield to pick up the ball, teaming up with Maicon and Miralem Pjanic, working the triangles and pinging the ball back and forth between the center of the park and the right flank, subtly moving Roma's attack forward by drawing defenders in before spreading the ball out wide. This heatmap could have just as easily been pulled from his heyday under Luciano Spalletti; Totti was given freedom to roam and was the fulcrum of Roma's attack, dictating the pace and position of Roma's ball movement.

Indeed, when we look at his other high water marks from the past season, the 3-0 victories over Chievo and Torino, we see the same things; a concentration of touches right in the center of the field, balanced out by heavy work on the flanks, working one-twos with Pjanic and Roma's fullbacks to create and exploit gaps in opposing defenses. The only real difference between this Totti and that Totti is the amount of shots he takes, which have decreased in each of the past three seasons, though as we just saw, because of his accuracy and efficiency, he's still capable of grabbing 8-10 goals in a season at this point in his career.

So, as we've just seen, Totti can still, for the most part, fill his traditional role as a facilitator and finisher, while still remaining one of the game's most efficient creators, especially among forwards. The only question we're left to ask is how, then, will Garcia mete out these minutes going forward? That is to say, where will he utilize Totti to the fullest extent?

The easiest assumption is sometimes the correct one; in 2014-2015, Totti's best performances were against Roma's toughest opponents, at home and abroad.

Totti's best match of the season, the aforementioned derby where he single handedly pulled Roma's ass from the fire, was a full 90 minute affair. He was also utilized heavily against the remaining domestic heavyweights, going the full 90 against AC Milan in December and logging at least 70 minutes in all four fixtures against Juventus and Fiorentina, respectively.

Garcia opted to lean on Totti to an even greater extent in Roma's brief run through the Champions League. In five appearances, Totti averaged 73 minutes per match, numbers that rise to 80 minutes per match if we remove the 7-1 debacle against Bayern Munich where he was removed at half time. Not coincidentally, many of Totti's best rated matches came in Europe, particularly against Manchester City, where his 23rd minute equalizer made him the competitions oldest ever goal scorer.

So, what have learned?

Simple, when it comes to the utilization of a 39-year-old Francesco Totti, treat him like the most bespoke bottle of Olive Oil the world has ever seen, the near $200 per liter stuff you don't break out for anything short of an engagement party of Nonna's surprise 90th birthday party. One doesn't waste Francesco Totti on Bologna or Atalanta, he's best reserved for the Milan's and the Munich's of the world.

Ignore it at your own peril, but obey this wisdom, and you'll get the best of him for years to come. After all, olive oil is the ingredient that ties it all together.

graphic via