By Scot Munroe
After finishing second behind a rampant Juventus in the 2013-14 season, most Roma fans were thinking that the squad would kick on and give Juventus a better title challenge for the 2014-15 season. But since October Roma form in three competitions have stagnated and the team has become to play against. This has caused frustration between fans who thought this was the season that they could win the Scudetto after waiting a long time, the last time Roma won the Scudetto was on a warm Sunday after in June against Parma in 2001 under Fabio Capello. But with over two months of the season left to go, Roma sit behind nine points behind Juventus who get better and better each week. With chasing Juventus and dropping points left right and centre, Roma have become catchable in second place as Napoli have clawed points back and now sit four point behind.
The start of Roma problems came in the summer as star defender Mehdi Benatia got a little discontent in the capital and one year into a five year deal wanted to prove his worth on a world stage. Then came months of speculations as where would the Moroccan defender go, he finally settle to go to Munich and play in the Bundesliga for Pep Guardiola Bayern Munich side. Roma then had to find adequate replacements for the loss off Benatia. In came three defenders to do the work of one defender, Kostas Manolas came on a permanent deal from Greek side Olympiakos, Davide Astori and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa came in on loan deals for the season from Cagliari and Newcastle respectively.
Then two games into the new season at a game away at Empoli, Roma loss the cornerstone to their central defence in Leandro Castan who came off at half time during that game because of dizziness and then test came through that Castan would have to have brain surgery and would miss the rest of the season. This was a massive blow as Coach Rudi Garcia plan to have Manolas play alongside Castan for the majority of the season was thrown out of the window just 135 minutes into the season.
Both Roma and Juventus had won their first five matches of the season and they played each other in the first weekend of October at the Juventus stadium. Juventus won the game 3-2 amid a lot of controversy, Juventus were awarded two debatable penalties and the winner late on from defender Leonardo Bonucci was also dressed in controversy as his volleyed nestled into the bottom corner, Roma goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski view was blocked off by Arturo Vidal who was standing in an offside position in front of the Polish goalkeeper. Make things worse Rudi Garcia was sent off into the stands for making a violin gesture after the first penalty was awarded to Juventus.
Just two weeks later, Roma took on Bayern Munich in Rome at the Stadio Olimpico and was given a footballing lesson. Roma tried to match Bayern Munich at their own game playing an open expansive counter attacking game but failed miserably as Bayern picked them off and won the game 7-1. The 4-3-3 counter attacking game didn’t work with a 38 year old Francesco Totti coming deep to play through balls to the wide areas. Pep Guardiola tactically outclassed Rudi Garcia that night playing a version of a 3-4-1-2 – 3-3-3-1 formation with Arjen Robben playing as a right wing back and given Ashley Cole a horrible game.
Ever since that Bayern Munich game, the confidence in the Roma side has been shot and Rudi Garcia has been stubborn and picking the same formation and being over reliant on players who have been out of form this season. The 4-3-3 formation worked wonders last season as Garcia plan was to play Gervinho high up on the wing and when Totti found him with his through ball coming from deep caused problems. But this season, in all competitions teams have combatted that problem by defending deep and then high up on the pitch in numbers squeezing the pressure and Roma would go nowhere. Maybe there is a time to switch to a plan B changing formation from a 4-3-3 to a more suitable 4-2-3-1 which can help out a stuttering defence. Both Davide Astori and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa have both struggled at centre back and have been prone to errors. Switching from one holder in front of the back four which has been Daniele De Rossi/Seydou Keita to two in front of the back four would be a lot easier and give the defence and the midfield a lot of solidity. But time will tell.
This has shown in the league form in 2015 has Roma have shown to be draw specialists drawing their last six home games and only winning two in the league since January away at Udinese and Cagliari. Draws at home against Sassuolo, AC Milan, Lazio, Empoli, Parma and Juventus on Monday night. Fans are starting to lose patience as after the Coppa Italia defeat against Fiorentina the fans asked the players under the Curva Sud. Roma haven’t won a league game at home spanning to November the 30th against Inter on which they won 4-2 thanks to a double from Miralem Pjanic.
It’s been frustrating watching Roma in the last couple of months and it doesn’t really help with a poor January transfer window. The sale of second striker Mattia Destro to AC Milan on loan till the end of the season wasn’t what the club needed. This showed an over reliant on Francesco Totti who is 38 and this season is showing his age has his performances on the pitch haven’t shown at all. Only in flashes he has shown his brilliance. Destro was calling out for more game time but Rudi Garcia was stubborn and started Totti more and more even though his form didn’t deserve it.
Walter Sabatini then tried to panic buy, signing two players who were lacking fitness and one of them injured. Victor Ibarbo signed on loan from Cagliari was injured when he signed and then came off the bench against Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia and then got injured in training a day later and would miss five to six weeks with a muscle injury. The second signing was Seydou Doumbia who is a proven striker in Europe for CSKA Moscow and internationally for Ivory Coast was signed permanently. He arrived just two days before the Parma game after winning the African Cup of Nations and then starting with hardly any training and then has struggled to make any impact. The Third purchase was a panic buy but wouldn’t really cost Roma any money and it was the loan signing of Nicola Spolli was brought on deadline day on loan from Catania after media reports that he was third choice after failing to agree deals for Vlad Chiriches and Younes Kaboul. It was a low risk signing but it caught a low of people of guard.
But recently in the last two games Roma have showed a bit of character especially against Feyenoord in the Europa league in Rotterdam. Drawing the first leg 1-1, Roma went to the cauldron of the De Kuip and managed to pick up an away win and showed the passion and desire this side has been clearly lacking for the past five months. Against Juventus, Roma struggled for 70 minutes to break down the Old lady who came to Rome with a game plan to frustrate the hosts. But Garcia took off De Rossi and Totti and changed the shape and Roma took the game to Juventus and had the Juventus back line on the ropes thanks to Seydou Keita equaliser.
I wonder in time if you will see Rudi Garcia fade out the two stalwarts of Roma in Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi who are failing to prove their worth in the starting XI. Just look what Antonio Conte did with Alessandro Del Piero in his first season as Coach at the club and look at where Juventus are now.