Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Andrew Murray On December - 21 - 2011

Team of the Week: Steady Improvement for Enrique’s Roma

Roma relieved all pressure on their previously under-fire boss Luis Enrique with a Sunday evening victory at Napoli’s San Paolo. Lining-up without regulars Miralem Pjanic, Fernando Gago and Simon Kjaer, the Giallorossi took the lead after just three minutes. Erik Lamela’s cross deflected off Salvatore Aronica and bounced over the line after striking ‘keeper Morgan De Sanctis’ arm: a freak goal, but one that gave Roma a dream start.

The first half progressed at a frenetic pace with both sides striking the woodwork and Marek Hamsik somehow putting a two-yard sitter over the bar. A disallowed Edinson Cavani goal opened the second period and Ezequiel Lavezzi spurned a sliding chance, but the Partenopei found themselves 2-0 just minutes later when Pablo Osvaldo tapped-in from six yards.

Roma were in-control of the scoreline but Napoli kept coming. Maarten Stekelenburg saved a Cavani header before the Uruguayan had a second goal disallowed for offside, and Hamsik eventually pulled one back on 82 minutes with a precise acute-angle shot. All was set for a big finish as Napoli poured forward but bad luck befell them again in the 91st minute. Fabio Simplicio’s strike took a huge deflection off Paolo Cannavaro, leaving De Sanctis powerless as the ball looped over his head.

3-1 is a tad harsh on Napoli who created the clearest goalscoring opportunities, but full credit to the Giallorossi for taking three points from one of Serie A’s trickiest away days. This win, coupled with last Monday’s 1-1 draw with Juventus, should give the former “crisis club” the momentum to kick-start their stuttering season.

The victory’s importance transcends its nature. Roma’s first was an own goal, their second should’ve been dealt with by Hugo Campagnaro and their third took a wicked deflection. Hamsik should’ve scored his first chance, and Cavani’s first disallowed goal was a poor refereeing decision. Yes Roma had luck on their side, but sometimes that’s what’s needed.

The Giallorossi’s performance exhibited everything they’ve been accused of lacking. They were tight and together in the aftermath of the Osvaldo/Lamela bust-up and uncertainty over Francesco Totti’s future. The captain himself was controlled and elegant throughout, providing Osvaldo’s assist and easing his way back to top form. What’s most significant, however, is that Roma won without dominating possession.

A popular criticism of the Giallorossi is that they lack penetration in the final third. Roma have struggled to turn possession into goals all season, and had only scored 16 goals before Sunday despite often limiting their opponents to 40% of the ball. They drew 1-1 with table-topping Juve with 46% possession, and beat Napoli with 49%.

Roma are getting ruthless: they’re winning points without controlling possession. Doing this against two of the league’s stronger teams shows progress in Roma’s adaptation to their manager’s philosophies. If the Giallorossi are learning to get results without the majority of the ball then, theoretically, they should start putting lesser teams to the sword more often.

The Luis Enrique experiment is a project that Roma are slowly adapting too. Ball-retention hasn’t been a problem, the penetration is finally coming along and their pressing is improving (though it still needs work against the bigger clubs). At times their attack looks a tad one-dimensional, but the added creativity gained from Lamela’s growth and Totti’s return should sort that out.

Pjanic has been one of Roma’s stars this season. He has six assists and a goal to his name this season and already looks like one of Serie A’s most dangerous creative players. Roma and Pjanic could both benefit from the Bosnian adding some vertical directness to his game but Daniele De Rossi’s midfield deployment and goalward runs will definitely aid his game.

De Rossi has been another success story. The imperious Roman has overcome waves of summer transfer speculation to become the Giallorossi’s most consistent performer this season. This season has seen him play as a defender, shuttling midfielder and Sergio Busquets-esque holder who drops into the back four, and De Rossi has performed well in every role. Roma’s midfield has looked strongest with De Rossi running, Gago holding and Pjanic creating, but the Giallorossi’s wobbly defence may necessitate him playing deeper more often.

“Square pegs in round holes,” has been another popular Roma criticism, and it holds some weight. Rodrigo Taddei, a winger, played at full-back on Sunday, a role that’s also been occupied by midfielder Simone Perrotta this season. Osvaldo has performed well and scored goals, but his skill set looks better suited to playing centrally than out wide. Lamela, likewise, looks better in the middle, and Bojan hasn’t adapted to Serie A yet.

Taddei and Perrotta give Enrique his desired penetration in wide positions, but neither are natural defenders and their deployment should be a last resort only. Osvaldo and Lamela are both young enough (25 and 19) to grow into their roles, but we won’t see their full effectiveness until they’re allowed to play in their best positions. This probably won’t happen until Roma’s strength in depth improves, however.

The Giallorossi, simply put, are getting there. They’re working to eliminate their still-apparent flaws, although it’ll probably take a January signing or two to sort their defence out. Some of De Rossi’s best attributes are neutralised at CB, Nicolas Burdisso is injured and Simon Kjaer is equally capable of brilliance and buffoonery. This leaves Juan and Gabriel Heinze, neither of whom are flawless players.

Roma’s results last week should quell the knee-jerk criticisms that they’ve been subjected to. This was always going to be a long-term project and it’ll take time for Enrique’s vision to come to fruition. The Spaniard was rightly criticised for trying to do too much too quickly but his ambition should be praised, not chastised. Roma’s puzzle is still missing a few pieces but their progress looks encouraging.

Napoli-Roma Game Highlights


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Andrew Murray

Scottish football writer with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for all things calcio. Visit for more from Andrew.

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