On the face of it, Roma’s 4-0 victory against Crotone appears to be the perfect antidote to last weekend’s late defeat against Fiorentina. Edin Dzeko scored twice, Stephan El Shaarawy notched his first of the season, Wojciech Szczesny saved a penalty, Francesco Totti played 90 minutes for the first time in 479 days and marked it with another sublime assist – all that was missing was for il Capitano to score his 250th league goal for the club.
In an article published on asroma.co.uk yesterday, Roberto Maida of Il Corriere dello Sport argued that Roma’s problem doesn’t lie in defence but in an underperforming front line that lack the spark they had in the second half of last season. Luciano Spalletti sought to remedy that last night by playing Totti from the start, acting as the pivot for the rest of the attack from the number 10 position. His presence not only kept the crowd on side (in the main – more on that later), but of course gave Roma that creativity that has so often been missing in the final third. The captain played his trademark first-time, sweeping passes across the pitch or downfield on numerous occasions, including the one that set up one of Dzeko’s goals, creating chances or allowing a team-mate to break forward. While this tactic worked well against Crotone though, it is an unsustainable one. Totti, who will turn 40 on Tuesday, is still a brilliant player to be able to bring off the bench or to play in lower tempo games such as yesterday, but he simply cannot play every game for 90 minutes.
The midfield controlled the game perfectly: Kevin Strootman made 98/102 passes and Leo Paredes completed 100/107. While Crotone’s pressing wasn’t nearly as intense as Fiorentina’s, it is proof of a very solid performance from the duo and was just what Paredes in particular needed. The Argentine has struggled to replicate his form at Empoli last year, but he touched the ball 121 times last night (the most of any Roma player at all so far this season) and created 5 chances – more than anyone else. His performance is sure to give Spalletti a headache when selecting his midfield for the next game, as the experiment to turn Radja Nainggolan into the new Simone Perrotta (by playing him in a more advanced role) has not exactly been an outstanding success thus far and he may be tempted to return the Belgian to his deeper role. Might the solution be to play Paredes in the number 10 role instead when Totti isn’t playing? When breaking out with Boca Juniors, Paredes often played in the role of enganche and idolised Juan Roman Riquelme, one of the great exponents of that role. Taking on that role would of course put more pressure on Paredes to perform and create opportunities, but it is an option worth considering.
Unsurprisingly, Roma’s defence still looked shaky even against Crotone. Particularly late on, the Calabrian minnows had a number of half chances including a powerful effort from Raffaele Palladino that came off the post, and in the first half Palladino really should have scored after right back Alessandro Florenzi was caught under the ball when trying to clear a cross. Bruno Peres, for all his qualities, is not a left back, and when two full backs are consistently being exposed and caught out of position, it results in the centre backs and midfielders then also being pulled out of their natural positions to cover. The sooner Mario Rui returns the better, given the team currently has no other left backs: Moustapha Seck is too green to be risked at this stage, Thomas Vermaelen (to the surprise of absolutely no one) is injured, and Juan Jesus has got a lot of work on to win back the faith of Roma supporters after some awful early performances. That said, the whistling and jeering of him when he was brought on for Manolas last night was disgraceful – the whistles were soon replaced by applause as other fans showed the Brazilian their support, but catcalling and jeering a new player who is lacking in confidence and at a time when the entire defence is already fragile enough is nothing short of idiocy.