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Stuart Harper On November - 23 - 2011

AS Roma Focus: Making Waves Crossing The Tiber

So Roma won one of those ‘should win’ games - hardly news to send ripples pulsating throughout Serie A. But slowly and surely, Luis Enrique’s new Roma are coalescing into a more fluid unit with the signs of promise emerging.

But while edging past Novara and Lecce is a positive, it remains a fundamental necessity and a journey to Udinese represents something far more meaningful - and although it is relatively early in this campaign, the Udinese game could represent a watershed moment for the Giallorosso.

Sunday evening’s clash with relegation dogged Lecce provided Romanisti with a little of each - good, bad and indifferent. For much of the game Roma looked to be in consummate control thanks to a midfield unit which applied constant pressure on Lecce, affording the visitors just 32% possession.

Surprisingly, the much maligned Rodrigo Taddei earned ‘Man of the Match‘ honours with an industrious display in which the Brazilian literally command Roma’s left flank. And when played through by Daniele De Rossi, Taddei fed Miralem Pjanic for the game’s opening goal, leaving even the most staunch critic, of which there are many, conceding that Taddei was an instrumental element on the night.

By contrast, Bojan Krcic had a game to forget, spurning a succession of chances including one gilt edged opportunity that was infinitely harder to miss. On another night, against stronger opposition, Roma could have been made to pay for such misses but thankfully this was no such occasion, and the forlorn Bojan was left to rue a poor performance from the substitute’s bench with Totti his replacement, returning after injury for the game’s final third.

The silver lining which accompanied Bojan’s cloud however, was his ability to fashion scoring positions. In time, a player of his quality will find goals so long as he can continue to find space and make educated runs. The key with the diminutive Spaniard is that he enjoys crowd support - young and new to Italy and the capital, it is imperative Roma’s tifosi voice encouragement rather than dissent if the best of Bojan is to be seen.

With two consecutive wins vaulting Roma into the top five, no sooner as the upper echelons have been reached, then a true test arises. Friday evening sees Enrique’s men head north to the scene of possibly last year’s most memorable moment. A last gasp Totti strike denied Udinese last season and it is up to the ‘new look’ Giallorossi to repeat what was a scintillating feat.

The Zebbrette boast a 100% home record this term, with just one goal conceded in five games - a handful of Friuli fixtures that have yielded a more than respectable ten goals in the ‘for’ column. Needless to say, Roma will have to guard against Antonio Di Natale who has typically snagged eight of Udinese’s thirteen goals thus far. This said, the key to success may well be found in midfield where another Roma stranglehold could leave Di Natale starved of supply.

Of course, the Roma rearguard will have to be well drilled and on point, but with the principle of prevention being better than a cure, dominating possession and closing down higher up the pitch may serve the Giallorosso well. While Di Natale is the archetypal predator, the Friuli legend is far from a speed merchant and Roma must avoid sitting deeper and allowing the hit man the opportunity to function in and around the penalty area.

Meanwhile, and in attack, Enrique must learn from Lecce and swap the playing positions of Bojan and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo. Studying ESPN’s Heat Map from Sunday’s game, Osvaldo’s ‘hot spots‘ make for worrying reading given that the Argentine is ostensibly a goal scorer. With Totti absent from Sunday’s starting XI it was hoped that this would allow Osvaldo an orthodox striking berth - instead, he again operated in a quasi-wide position, somewhat of a no-man’s land, with Bojan finding himself, to seemingly ill effect, in and around the six-yard box.

From watching Barcelona at length, Bojan is accustomed to space in which to run, or from a position in which he can look up to thread passes - not a particularly deep position per se, but certainly deeper and slightly wider than we saw against Lecce. Conversely, Osvaldo’s natural habitat is around the penalty spot where hunger and instinct carries him into goal scoring positions - often with devastating effect.

Whether Enrique will employ such a switch remains to be seen, but against Udinese, who will offer far more resistance than either Novara and Lecce, further attacking tweaks are most definitely required. And as the Spanish tactician learns more about his charges and begins to figure out his optimum formation, it would reassuring to see evidence of the learning curve being ascended in time for Roma’s sternest away day test so far.

The summer months gave rise to Roma’s revolution, now it is time for gentle evolution. A three-point raid on the Friuli will surely add legitimacy to the recent haul of points and will help affirm Roma’s status as challengers. On recent evidence, the potential is clear and with careful amendments, can be realized and maybe those ripples will grow stronger. Forza.

Stuart Harper

Freelance sports writer covering football, calcio & futbol. A Villa, Roma & Barca fan. Cycling too.

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