“We only love the shirt,” read the banner displayed by the Stadio Olimpico’s Curva Sud on Saturday night. As fans booed Roma’s players during their pre-match warm-up and during the announcing of the teams and even at full-time, despite the team’s creditable 2-2 draw with Napoli, it is perhaps clearer than ever that the tide has turned against those looking to change the Giallorossi. Francesco Totti, who this week again stated his support for what the capital club are trying to do, had to go to the Curva Sud to apologise at the end of the Derby del Sole.
What seems to have swung the majority from patient faith in the project – funded by the American owners and led by director general Franco Baldini and Spanish Coach Luis Enrique – to restrained anger at it has been a gradual decline in both results and quality of play. Consecutive defeats to Juventus and Fiorentina in of itself is not entirely unexpected of this current transitional Roma – the Bianconeri were the fourth different side to have netted four against Enrique’s team this season and La Viola not the first lower-table team to have beaten them. Yet, from the overwhelmed nature of the loss in Turin to the collapse against Fiorentina after initially fighting their way back into contention, there is a growing exasperation with the project’s perceived lack of progress.
“This Roma is exactly the one we had seen on the first day of the season, and the second and so on,” wrote Radio Radio’s Roberto Renga after the Week 34 defeat at the Olimpico. “This is the Roma who lost to Genoa, to Cagliari at home, that was outplayed by Siena, was not present at Juve, lost the two derbies and was eliminated from Europe and the Coppa Italia. I could take pages I’ve already written and republish them.”
In short, the feeling is that the Roma fans are seeing today is the same as that seen in Week 2’s opening day defeat to Cagliari. The opening to both halves of football against Napoli was reflective of where this sense is coming from. From several misplaced passes from defence into midfield and midfield into attack, the Roma players’ positioning was slightly off kilter. Where this presented the appearance of a side full of nervous energy, not able to back up the desire to move things quickly with the technicality, there was also an edge that tactically things are still confused.
A good example came as early as the 16th minute, when Simon Kjaer moved forward with possession under instruction from Enrique who was a few yards away on the touchline. As Kjaer obliged, Enrique barked for others to come short for the Dane. Fabio Borini and Fernando Gago both did as instructed, just as the defender then lifted the ball above them to give away possession.
Such unfamiliarity with each others’ positioning was apparent for long spells of play on Saturday night and was to blame for a series of opportunities on the break afforded to Napoli and for the notable 20-minute spell in the second half that the visitors dominated and should have put the game to bed in. It is also the type of uncertainty that has been apparent in patches in recent weeks and, 10 months into drills and training with Enrique, is somewhat hard to explain. However, those looking for reasoning have focused on the Coach’s uncertainty, from his failure to settle on a preferred starting XI to even his admittance in midweek that he is still ‘thinking’ about what exactly has gone wrong.
Whilst examples of progress still remain – from a 10-minute period at end of the first half that included Francesco Totti and Aleandro Rosi’s link-up play to set up Marquinho for 1-0 to the 23 other chances the team created in the 90 minutes – a collective and growing negative attitude towards the team remains at the end of Week 35. The post-match conference saw Enrique almost sarcastically asked if he would be considering taking a sabbatical, just as Barcelona ally Pep Guardiola announced, but perhaps most tellingly though, the Giallorosso tactician played along to this suggestion.
“You never know in football, the future does not exist. The future is in Verona [Roma play away to Chievo on Tuesday]. At the end of the season I will talk with the club about the problems and the possible solutions and we will make a decision together.”
Baldini looked to draw the pressure on to himself instead, but it is Enrique who ominously offered: “I’m a different man, I think things differently and this is why, despite the confidence of the team and the club, I will wait to see what happens.”
Perhaps part of the frustration comes from how close and low-yielding the race above them for third place is. Four teams currently occupy the prized spot on 55 points, which is a tally that is four less than the Giallorossi had after 35 rounds played in 2010-11 and in fact would only have had Napoli, Lazio, Udinese and Inter sitting in equal eighth after last term’s Week 35. It looks likely to be one of the closest fights for Champions League qualification for some time and is set to continue on until the final, official, whistle from a referee, as Edy Reja’s side learned the hard way in Udine on Sunday.
Meanwhile, a goal, two assists and a nutmeg in Milan’s 4-1 win at Siena on Sunday were among the highlights to have Cesare Prandelli purring for Italy’s hopes going into Euro 2012, as Antonio Cassano all-but-confirmed that where his match fitness may not have returned, his fantasia certainly has. Significance in the Rossoneri’s win also came in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Antonio Nocerino’s goals. Where Ibra’s double took him to a career-best League tally this term of 26 League goals, Nocerino reached double figures to become the first footballer not based as a striker or trequartista to do so in Serie A since Eugenio Corini and Marco Materazzi both did in 2006-07.
At the same time, Juventus’ win over Novara had significance this weekend, as they broke the record for most consecutive League games unbeaten in a single season – Milan’s undefeated term of 1991-92 was 34 games long – and most games unbeaten in all competitions in a single season with the 4-0 win in Piedmont the Bianconeri’s 39th game without defeat this campaign in League and Cup. The team still has a way to go to beat the Rossoneri’s 58-League game streak achieved between 1991 and 1993, however.