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Serie A 2011-12: Preview

Serie A was due to kick off two weeks ago, but because those poor, disenfranchised players couldn’t agree a deal for a standard contract with those mean, horrid, nasty chairmen there was a strike and they will now be kicking balls into goals starting from this Friday. The only positive to have emerged from this scenario is that it has given us time to collate our thoughts for a Serie A preview which will be judged upon when the season ends, making us look like ridiculous court jesters.

On the panel will be: -

Rocco Cammisola (@rcammisola) – Editor and writer for this fair site, you’ll also find him tweeting about Serie A-D. Searching out obscure stories from deep in the Italian leagues, trying too hard to be a hipster.

Matthew Campbell (@mattc236) – Writes for The Football Express, focusing mainly on English football – the Championship to be a little more precise.
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Tuesday tit-bits: French Fancy

A decidedly French feel to this week’s links, at least to begin with. Most of this has been influenced by the recent goings on at PSG where their new shareholder appears to have given them license to print money, bringing in a number of new players. One such star has been Javier Pastore, whom I wrote an ode to at the weekend (go and read it if you haven’t already). James Horncastle has written a comprehensive profile of El Flaco’s career complete with a number of very interesting quotes from former coaches Angel Cappa, Walter Zenga and Delio Rossi. You can read it here.

Continuing our promenade, Ben Lyttleton sums up the ten storylines worth keeping track of in French football this season for Sports Illustrated. Storylines such as ‘Are Paris Saint-Germain the new Manchester City?’ and ‘Is this Yoann Gourcuff’s last chance?’

Sports Illustrated – Ten storylines to follow entering the French Ligue 1 season

Whilst there has been a huge exodus of talent from Serie A this transfer window, there have also been a couple of names arriving. Michael Cox (of Zonal Marking fame) profile one such arrival in the form of Bojan Krkic, who has moved from Barcelona to Roma.

ESPN – Bad blood as Bojan leaves Barca

Football stickers are great. Three Match Ban have produced a player quiz based on football stickers that is quite fun. See how well you get on with their latest offering on Copa America stars (old and new).

Three Match Ban – Guess the Copa America star from their classic sticker

Over at the Oval Log, @FilippoInzaghi (not THE Filippo Inzaghi) takes a look at the shambles going on in Argentina with the league restructuring which initially appears to be happening entirely in order to save River Plate.

The Oval Log – The new look Argentinian Premier League and the hope to avoid it

It wouldn’t be right for an Italian summer to pass without some reason for football fans to be cynical and concerned. The latest betting scandal could see Atalanta captain and club legend, Cristiano Doni banned for three years – effectively ending his career now that he is thirty eight years old. James Horncastle (again) explains how he got himself into this mess and why he’s regarded so highly by the locals of Bergamo.

Four Four Two – Atalanta fans in denial as hero Doni accused of match-fixing

Finally, a video of Javier Pastore put together by @AlexSLDN. Enjoy.

Relative radio silence

Apologies for the lack of posts in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been a bit busy and concentrating on a few other things. There will hopefully be a few posts in the next week or two. In the mean time I’d like to invite you to read a couple of pieces I’ve written for Football Italia.

My  debut for the wonderful Italian football site is The two tides that could, where I compare Napoli and Lazio to the little engine that could in Watty Piper’s children’s story.

A second offering for your eyes to consider is a resumé of Adriano’s stuttering time at Roma and his impending demise. It looks like Rome may be without an emperor once more. You can read the piece titled The Emperor’s demise here.

I hope you enjoy those.

Ranieri’s Valentines passion turns to insipid chaos

In the 83rd minute against Roma, Napoli’s Paolo Cannavaro remained high up the pitch following a set piece which had broken down prematurely. The ball came to him in an unfamiliar role, approaching the opposite byline in the attacking third is alien territory to a stopper centre half.

He delivered a cross into, what is commonly known in the cliché filled footballing world as, the corridor of uncertainty. A narrow channel between the goalkeeper and his defenders, a no man’s land where hesitation is to be found in vast quantities and where a ravenous target man will feed on his staple source of sustenance.

Arriving from deep, bounding like an excited 8-year old, was Edinson Cavani. A goal! 2-0, a match winning strike and a manager’s contract totters towards a possible termination. That manager was none other than Claudio Ranieri.
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‘Er Pupone’ shows his childish side

When you think of Roma you won’t go far along your stream of consciousness before you think of Francesco Totti. The man who has been the captain of the club from the capital for the best part of 16 years eats, sleeps and breathes the red and yellow of Roma. Totti, despite his inspirational past as Roma’s talisman, is now finding it difficult to come to terms with life outside the spotlight at Trigoria. Francesco has seen himself thrust back into the public eye recently amid wild speculation over his future at the club he holds so dear.

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Chievo 2-2 Roma: lack of concentration allows Chievo to claw back a point

Two sides who had had completely opposite starts to the season marked the beginning of the Saturday schedule Serie A. After topping the table Chievo now lie 10th and Roma have long since overtaken them into 7th place and are looking to push on and trouble the sides at the top. The pitch at Bentegodi was in an awful condition, a huge bare strip down the centre left it looking somewhat reminiscent of the DW stadium in Wigan – the DW would’ve been embarrassed of this pitch though. The conditions meant that we were to see more than a few stray challenges flying in throughout the course of the game.

Chievo-Roma Formations

Roma play usual 4-3-1-2 and Chievo try to clog midfield with 4-5-1

We saw a rare start for Brazilian Adriano alongside Vucinic, and Roma decided to play their usual narrow 4-3-1-2 with Simplicio behind the two strikers. Chievo 4-3-3/4-5-1 asking the wide players to do lots of tracking back and very often leaving Sergio Pellissier all alone up front to try and get the better of Mexes and Burdisso. Long hopeful balls were a big feature in Chievo’s early play, sadly so was the offside flag with Pellissier often finding himself in an offside position.

Roma’s first goal came from a set piece, with a high ball delivered into the box and none of the Chievo players willing to put their head on it. Fabio Simplicio gambled at the back post, a bit of gangly juggling to get the ball under some control before lifting it over onrushing Sorrentino in the Chievo goal. Simplicio got a second goal by prodding at a ball across the face of the goal, it ballooned up of his foot and went into the net off the far post – Roma were leading 2-0 at the break.

Pioli made a positive change for Chievo on the hour mark bringing on forward Granoche for Marcolini in midfield and pushed 3 men up front, but they were allowed back into the game by way of a goalkeeping blunder. Moscardelli aimed a weak shot at Julio Sergio in goal and the keeper went down far too early, allowing the ball to bounce over his hands and into the net – at this point it seemed as though Chievo were going to have a go and were having a short spell in the ascendency. At least Pellissier had some company up front now though.

Lack of width

Paolo Castellini was in for the injured John Arne Riise and provided some attacking width from left back, this proved to be very important with the absence of any real threat on the wings from any of the attacking players. This meant Chievo had little work to do in order to defend their goal, they were able to stay within the lines of the 18 yard box and clear up any flicks that may have evaded the first man. When Roma did go wide they struck their second goal after movement on the right hand flank, but they failed to learn any lessons from this. As well as stretching the defence it was a matter of practicality, the pitch was bare and appeared water logged in the centre and playing the ball on the flanks would have been much easier for the players.

The width that Castellini provided was not reciprocated on the opposite flank, Cassetti is very reluctant to go forward and prefers to tuck in and help his centre backs instead. This gives the side a very lopsided formation and we see much of the attack going through the centre and left – accentuated when Vucinic plays because the Montenegrin perennially enjoys drifting  into the inside left channel and causes lots of problems from this position.

Ranieri’s first change was to remove Leandro Greco for right winger Rodrigo Taddei, the formation did not change though and Taddei simply played out on the left and came inside. There were few wide options open to Ranieri, his squad is very much set up to play 4-3-1-2 and not a lot else which does raise worries about their adaptability to situations.

Lacking concentration

Roma spent most of the 90 minutes dominating territory and possession, they failed to make many real guilt edged chances though. The goals they conceded were born of very poor lapses of concentration, a real shame to see after going in 2-0 up at half time. As the game wore on they stopped trying to play the sort of football that had given them the lead and kept looking for the long ball option. As the game progressed the Roma back line became deeper and deeper and left the Roma looking particularly disjointed.

The Roma back line had looked very organised for the majority of the game, but when Chievo pumped a ball forward once more looking for the flick on Burdisso tried to step up but 3 other players played Granoche onside. Granoche was clear through on goal and on the edge of the 18 yard box, he didn’t have far to go before sliding the ball underneath Julio Sergio. It has to be handed to Stefano Pioli for throwing men forward, but Roma should not have conceded this goal and indeed they probably would not have if complacency hadn’t crept in.

It might be that they were told not to have the ball on the ground because of the conditions but that would be contradicted by the introduction of Jeremy Menez for Simplicio. Menez is known for his great dribbling rather than his passing and thus not the ideal solution, perhaps the introduction of David Pizarro would have made more sense. Pizarro may have been able to spray some passes to the Roma forwards to collect from a deeper position.

In the end it wasn’t any sort of tactical master stroke that proved the deciding factor. Chievo continued to play long balls up to Pellissier, something that they had been doing for the duration of the game. The Roma back line allowed this to prove successful by withdrawing from their original high line and losing concentration as well as organisation. By the time Roma had resorted to this tactic themselves in a state of panic, Adriano had left the field – he had previously been their best player in the air. A win would have taken the side from the capital into 3rd position and put pressure on Juventus and Napoli to match their accomplishment – the recovery will have to wait a little while longer.

Ranieri returns Roma to past spealdour

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.

You can't win with this catenaccio

Attack, attack, attack attack attack!!

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.

Tinkerman rebuilds from the ruins

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.

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