Udinese represented a challenge that, as Serie A Weekly suggested last week, would prove pivotal for new Roma – and so it came to pass in an evening from which few positives could be taken.
The ‘Zebrette’, in many ways, are Roma’s antithesis. Franceso Guidolin started his managerial career in 1988, the same year in which Luis Enrique made his senior playing debut in La Liga. Udinese’s wily campaigner presides of a modestly constructed side, a team renown for carefully developing and then selling their talent, rather than piecing together an expensively assembled lineup at breakneck speed – as per Roma’s modus operandi.
On Friday evening, for the first half at least, Luis Enrique paid maybe too much respect to his elder, with Roma adopting a decidedly defensive formation which left Pablo Osvaldo ploughing a lone furrow, while Daniele De Rossi assumed a quasi-centre-half position, dropping progressively deeper throughout the first period. Clearly, Enrique’s emphasis was on nullifying Udinese’s formidable forward capabilities.
Maybe Enrique had underestimated the extent to which this ‘anti-Toto’ tactic would diminish Roma’s ability to attack, but the early second-half exchanges presented a stark contrast to the first forty-five minutes, with Roma displaying a superficially more positive swagger.
Clearly the half-time team talk revolved around a need to pose a tangible threat to Udinese, but while the intent was admirable, the execution was too enthusiastic with Roma losing their defensive shape. As Roma began to press Udinese in numbers, the door was left open for a counter-attack, and a striker of Antonio Di Natale’s repute rarely refuses such an invite, picking off Roma with a familiar flourish with the first of Udinese’s two, unanswered goals.
So, Luis Enrique was taught a tactical lesson by his esteemed counterpart and amidst the Friuli fallout, Roma’s fledgling tactician was left wondering how to replace the injured Simon Kjaer (hamstring), and more bizarrely, the now suspended Pablo Osvaldo. The Giallorosso forward effectively assaulted Erik Lamela in a pique of post-game frustration, and is now subject to an internal suspension which sees the Argentine miss a chance to haunt former employers, Fiorentina, this weekend.
Perceptions of the locker-room confrontation are varied. Some adopt a positive perspective in saying that Osvaldo’s actions while regrettable, suggest the presence of passion, the much vaunted sporting trait. Conversely, some observers suggest that this episode is representative of a deep seated, and larger disquiet within Roma’s ranks with certain media outlets expanding upon this with unsettling fervor.
As far as Serie A Weekly is concerned, for some weeks this column has championed Osvaldo’s cause, and the need for his striking potential to be properly exploited. Thus, what ultimately transpired at Stadio Friuli was the manifestation of a frustration built up over several matches in which the Argentine has been played out of position. While the physical demonstration of Osvaldo’s frustration is of course inexcusable, it is wholly understandable as to why the forward would feel increasingly aggrieved.
The problem now of course is restoring a productive sense of harmony within Trigoria and coalescing the team, tifosi and media into a positive mindset once more. Already, the validity of Thomas Di Benedetto’s ‘project‘ is being called into question and while we suggested the Udinese game could have been a watershed tie, it was difficult to envisage it being such an explosive road trip – all of which adds gravitas to the forthcoming Fiorentina game.
On their travels, the Viola have mustered just two points this term, but are a much stronger proposition at home, and after a cataclysmic seven days, seemingly, the fixture-list continues to ask serious questions of Roma. So with a myriad of suspensions and injuries Luis Enrique has to juggle a threadbare collection of players and Sunday’s starting XI is likely to find Daniele De Rossi’s quasi-defensive role morph into full-blown centre-half duties.
In more positive news, Francesco Totti is set to return and can hopefully recapture the form which saw him bag a brace against Fiorentina in last season’s corresponding fixture. Totti’s return will see De Rossi surrender the captain’s armband but herein lies a dilemma – maybe Roma would benefit from ‘capitano futuro‘ now being made Roma’s permanent leader. Unlike Totti, Daniele is a guaranteed starter and possesses a vociferously vocal nature and a fierce, unbridled determination, qualities sorely needed in what is a somewhat dysfunctional unit – qualities absent from Totti who is more ceremonious talisman than natural leader.
Frankly, such a dilemma is all part of a scenario where there are more questions than answers and making coherent sense of such a state of flux is an unenviable task. Quite possibly, a task beyond a coach void of meaningful experience. But nonetheless, Franco Baldini will need to support Enrique and together they must fashion a degree of functionality from the players at their disposal – and when the chips are down, this is where the trait of good old fashioned ‘grinta‘ grows in significance.
Grinta on the field, grinta on the terraces – time to forsake the promise of flair and exuberance and channel the ‘passion‘ displayed by Osvaldo into something more constructive. Is Enrique tactically adept? Can the new recruits find in themselves the heart to embody the passion displayed by Roma’s tifosi? Does Roma mean as much to the new, disparate recruits as it does us? Personally, I have reservations, but for now it is clear that there remains more questions than answers. Forza.