Roma head into the Derby Della Capitale in a state of flux. Last week’s limp 4-1 defeat to Atalanta has seen coach Luis Enrique’s authority over the club once more coming into question. His position has not been aided by a poor away form and constant off-field concerns surrounding his vice-captain, Daniele De Rossi.
Despite the issues there is optimism for the future and belief that Enrique is still the right man to lead Roma.
Roma’s home form has been relatively stable this season; they’ve amassed 24 points from an available 36. The improved results are a consequence of Enrique getting his tactics right when playing at the Olimpico. Its wide pitch is vital to the way Roma spread the play and the fullbacks burst up and down the flanks with aplomb. De Rossi has adapted to play as a libero in front of the defence, starting the attacking moves.
Interestingly, Enrique has adopted a system similar to that heralded by Luciano Spalletti during his time in charge of the Giallorossi where he played with no recognised strikers. Enrique practises this method by ensuring the likes of Totti, Bojan, Osvaldo or Borini all rotate at the head of the attack, thus drawing their markers to them and leaving space for the midfield to exploit.
Their inconsistent away form is a problem though. Seven defeats on the road has hindered their quest for a European berth. Enrique has been overly stubborn in his tactics here, insisting that their counter-attacking style will come to be effective. However, as Atalanta showed last week, Roma aren’t disciplined enough to sit back and counter.
Last summer several additions were made to the squad which have reinforced the strong spine which Roma now possess. Martin Stekelenberg is arguably amongst the finest of goalkeepers, his shot stopping abilities have been vital to Roma winning several games. In defence Simon Kjaer has improved from an indifferent start and the club are looking to make his loan spell permanent. Miralem Pjanic is finally proving that size does not matter and is a creative hub leading the midfield. Despite only netting 4 goals thus far in 21 appearances, Bojan has shown signs that he may finally be getting to grips with Serie A. If Enrique can get his compatriot firing then he may have one of the league’s most feared forwards.
It’s possible to argue that Erik Lamela and Fabio Borini were Roma’s most significant signings last summer. The Argentinean playmaker has the ability to lift the fans from their seats and inspire those around him. Despite being nineteen years old, he can cope with the physical challenges the opposition pose and his self-confidence has drawn comparisons with Christiano Ronaldo.
Borini has been so impressive that Roma have signed him up for another 12 months. On loan from Parma, the Italian has netted 7 league goals already and even forced his way into the national side. Walter Sabatini said: “he’s made his mark that’s for sure. He does so all day and every day at Trigoria and on Sundays for Roma.” Sabatini went on to credit Luis Enrique with Borini’s development: “Luis Enrique has done a great job, he has turned him from a possibility into a certainty.”
Enrique has developed a strong bond with his squad also. Earlier tensions displayed by a punch-up between Lamela and Osvaldo have eased; gatherings at pizzerias will have helped this. But more significant is the role played by captain Francesco Totti.
Earlier this season, Rome was the scene of regular disputes between Enrique and Totti. If the Captain was left out of the side, the media would demand answers for his exclusion; ignoring that Totti needs to be rested and rotated. Enrique had insisted Totti featured in his plans and was rewarded with 4 goals and 5 assists in 17 appearances from his skipper. It is often said that Totti holds the key to Roma’s heart. And having secured Totti, Enrique earned a reprieve from local media and the fans.
Enrique’s relationship with vice-captain, Daniele De Rossi, is problematic however. De Rossi has been impressive on the pitch this season. Over the past two seasons his form had dipped and his reputation suffered as a consequence. People began to question his commitment to the game and whether he could achieve what was expected of him. This season though, he has proved critics wrong and established himself once more amongst Serie A’s best players.
Off the pitch though, he spent half this season engaged in a stand-off with Roma over his contract talks. Manchester City have been repeatedly linked to his signature and he appeared to call into question the direction the club were headed. That dispute was settled when he extended his contract last month. Finally the fans thought the saga was over.
Then last weekend Enrique left De Rossi out of the line up; he watched the game from the stands. De Rossi had turned up late to training last week, breaking club rules. Enrique was incensed by this blatant breach and felt the player needed to be disciplined. De Rossi served his punishment and is now looking forward to competing against Lazio in the derby coming up.
Luis Enrique’s first season in charge has certainly been riveting. The fluctuating form shown has seen the side labelled unpredictable and rightly so. But there are reasons to believe his project will succeed. The bonds developing amongst the players will enhance the strong spine they possess. And with Lazio next in the firing line, it would be no surprise to see the Giallorossi avenge their earlier defeat and restore bragging rights to Rome’s biggest club.