3 defeats in the last 4: Where is it going wrong for Roma?

Corriere dello Sport (Roberto Maida) Don’t be too hasty in starting to make judgements. Roma aren’t the accused, they aren’t even on the list of suspects yet. Otherwise how would it be possible to explain the marvellous victory in San Siro, which came just 7 days ago? After the midweek derby and the defeat to Napoli, however, there are the first signs of discontent, the first uncertainties in a season that has been exciting in places but is now in danger of slipping away. In just 66 hours – coming between one game and the other – enthusiasm has been replaced by dejection and fear. What’s going on, Mr Spalletti?

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The physical condition of some of the players, a moment of general physical involution, a restrictive squad that only allows for limited rotation (even though yesterday there were 5 changes to the side that started against Lazio), the lack of personality when it’s really needed: all of this has contributed to the team’s current poor form, a minestrone in which it’s hard to identify the individual flavours. What’s certain is that 3 defeats at the Olimpico in 10 days, and 3 defeats in the last 4, necessitate analysis and reflection before it’s too late. Ricky Massara, sporting director and the person chosen to be the club’s spokesman after Roma-Napoli, assured that “our objectives haven’t changed, we want to win at least 1 trophy.” Yes, but which one? On Thursday they are back in Europa League action, against an awkward opposition in Lyon, in the Round of 16. It’s far too early to start thinking about booking flights to Stockholm for the final. Winning the Coppa Italia is now very difficult after the 0-2 on Wednesday, even though Spalletti has given Roma a 30% chance of knocking Lazio out. The other option is the scudetto, and since Juve can go to +10 today frankly even optimists no longer believe in this – just the deluded. In short, Roma need a certain amount of introspection to avoid falling at any further hurdles, particularly in Europe. Now in his 6th year as an owner, James Pallotta is expecting to finally achieve some sort of glory other than simply making profits on players.

Physical condition

Massara has suggested that tiredness has had a bit of an effect, but Spalletti pointed out that the last few minutes are evidence to the contrary. Each opinion is valid but the way the game developed shouldn’t be ignored. In addition, Napoli – in between fixtures against Juventus and Real Madrid – could also have seen their level drop when they went 2-0 up to allow Roma back into the match. Roma’s general physical condition and fitness levels certainly aren’t the best: some players practically always play, from Dzeko to Nainggolan, from Strootman to Fazio, and because they are used so often they go onto the pitch still feeling the effects from the previous game: games are coming so quickly one after the other that they have to have an impact. Yesterday, for example, Fazio played with a muscle problem, which maybe explains why he made so many errors, a rare occurrence for him in a heretofore perfect season. Nainggolan also often carries minor problems which don’t allow him to play to his usual standard. De Rossi, because of his age and the stresses and strains that this brings, can no longer play more than twice a week and, with such an intense series of games, ends up paying the price. And Salah, weary after the African Cup of Nations, hasn’t had the time to undergo enough training sessions to get back into shape.

Mentality

The Olimpico fortress has been breached. After 16 consecutive wins in the league, Roma have lost at home and, in doing so, brought a number of unpleasant memories back to mind. Since Spalletti came back, the team have frequently suffered defeats in crucial games in front of their (few) home fans, who yesterday went in their thousands to Trigoria to spur their players on: 0-2 against Real Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16 in 2015/16, 0-3 against Porto in the Playoff Round in August, 0-2 in the derby semi-final, 1-2 in the head to head that could have effectively ended the race for second place. Clearly Roma are progressing on their path towards maturity but they haven’t yet got the personality required for these sort of games. Their own coach has said as much, when he denounced a lack of courage in his players’ decision-making on the pitch. This attitude, when things aren’t going well, is visible: looking for a square ball that keeps possession but also allows the opposition to get back into position, the hopeful long ball up to Dzeko, the lack of concentration in defence. In addition to all this are Spalletti’s tactics and substitutions, which failed to work against both Lazio and Napoli. It happens.

The squad

This was predictable. Actually, Roma did predict it. With their incomplete – or limited – squad – a quickfire sequence of games would always be fatal, and the situation got even worse when Florenzi suffered another injury after the transfer window had closed. The gap between the starters and the reserves, at least in Spalletti’s mind, is too big. Yesterday Nainggolan passed the 3,000 minute mark for the season, meanwhile Gerson – the midfielder who the club paid €19 million for, and who hasn’t played for 2 and a half months – has been stuck on 491 minutes since before Christmas. Vermaelen and Mario Rui, who have suffered from various injuries, showed against Villarreal that they’re currently not at the level the club needs: they have played 596 and 321 minutes respectively. In the most intense period of the season, Spalletti has realised he can get a certain level of performance from the 15-16 players who have played a certain amount of minutes, but his reserves are neither currently capable of that level nor are they able to play regularly enough to reach it as the necessity for instant results doesn’t allow them to. This is particularly evident in the club’s only January reinforcement, the Frenchman Grenier, who is ineligible in the Europa League and who has only played for a few seconds in the league against Fiorentina in the last month and a half. If Spalletti asked the management for a player he could use immediately, why did they buy him?

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