A league campaign is considered marathon rather than the sprint which the cup entails – in any country, at any level. As soon as October passes by fans all over the world have made their minds up. A poor start and you’ll be lucky to make the top 4, annihilate the weaker opposition and you’re guaranteed to walk the title at a canter leaving you to play the youth team for the last 2 months of the season.
This season was initially billed as being Roma’s year, it was to be season in which they were to have their best opportunity of prising the Scudetto from Inter’s excitedly clammy grasp. Roma flattered to deceive initially, possibly psychologically distraught after pushing Inter so close last season. A draw against newly promoted Cesena on the opening weekend was followed by demolition away to Pier Paolo Bisoli’s Cagliari – one of their 3 wins so far. Everything was going wrong for the club from the capital, and at the same time their bitter rivals Lazio were rising to the top of the table following an annus horribilis.
Roma’s descent into chaos was composed of ill discipline, embarrassingly poor passing performances (particularly in Europe) and dressing room problems that made their way out into the media spotlight. After a demoralising 2-0 defeat in the Champions League to last years finalists Bayern Munich Francesco Totti made his feelings clear to the press about what he thought of the side’s style of play, denouncing it saying “you can’t win with this form of catenaccio”
On top of all this, Ranieri has had to deflect constant speculation about his job security. Numerous names have been linked with the Roma job in the past 3 months – from Marcello Lippi to Carlo Ancelotti. Ancelotti in particular has made it clear in the past that he would love the chance to coach Roma, this name provoked a comical reaction from Ranieri when asked what he thought of the rumours. Ranieri offered to “collect him from the airport myself, I’d be delighted”. Ranieri has been able to keep his job thus far, perhaps in part to a strangely patient season in Serie A where few sackings have occurred in comparison to years gone by. He will also owe his job to the imminent sale of the club by current owners Unicredit, no manager should be looking to take a job where there is instability over the ownership.
Many thought that the narrow win in late September against Inter would signal a watershed moment for Roma. Sadly it only led to an indifferent October where they notched up just 1 win in 4 matches – including defeat in Napoli for the first time in 13 years and home defeat to Basel. The second perceived turning of the corner came in the Rome derby. They undeniably battered Lazio for 90 minutes and fully deserved the victory, despite some dubious decisions by the officials.
However the force that Roma are now exhibiting had been in full flow for 2 games before the derby. They went into the encounter with back to back wins in the league and Europe. They lie 3rd in the form table behind Milan (league leaders) and Juventus (on an 11 match unbeaten run) with a tremendous 10-3 goal record. This is in stark comparison to the first 5 games of the season where their record was 5 goals scored and 10 conceded, just in Serie A. At the end of September they were perilously close to the foot of the table!
The rebuilding of the side has seen the centre back pairings regain the solidity that took them so close in last years chase. Whichever of the two of Burdisso, Juan and Mexes have been playing they have been particularly impenetrable. Ranieri has had a particularly dynamic midfield, able to use Pizarro as a deep lying playmaker together with the more energetic De Rossi and Brighi. Fabio Simplicio, who arrived from Palermo in the summer, has been particularly influential in the resurgence; providing energy and driving runs from midfield and has bagged a goal to boot. The real star in midfield has been Jeremy Menez, the young French man has linked midfield and attack with youthful exuberance, he has been good enough this season to have his name uttered in the same breath as Palermo starlet Javier Pastore.
Up front Ranieri has been operating a rotation policy and has finally found a way to get the best out of Vucinic and loan signing Marco Borrielo. Francesco Totti has shown his class all seasons but still needs to answer questions over the real value he brings to the side, the talismanic Roman has been accused of slowing down what had been a slick passing game. The joker in the pack is the Emperor, Adriano has yet to be deployed properly by Ranieri. Earlier in the season he was seen becoming visibly exhausted while warming up along the sideline. He was given 20 minutes on Saturday against Udinese and hopes his fitness will allow him to take part on Tuesday night.
Things can only improve for Ranieri now, they sit just 7 points off of the top but will be getting the majority of their squad back from injury in 2 weeks, in time for a crunch match with high flying Milan just before the Christmas break. The rebuilding work that was so badly needed after defeat to Bayern in September could reach its conclusion tomorrow night against Bayern Munich at home. It has taken a while, but its true what they say – Roma wasn’t built in a day.