Roma boss Luis Enrique must be tempted to use Daniele De Rossi in that role again. He has to be after that performance. With just one centre-back at his disposal, the Spaniard was left with little option but to ask the central midfielder to drop into the back four with Juventus arriving at the Stadio Olimpico. What followed was a display that any true stopper would aspire to.
It would be premature to claim that Italian football has found, by chance no less, its next great central defender, but what if De Rossi’s performance on Monday night wasn’t a one off? It could have ramifications for his future at not just club level – whether he stays in Rome or not – but on the international stage too.
It’s no secret that the Olimpico outfit have had problems in that position this season. Gabriel Heinze has been adequate, but Simon Kjaer has been poor when fit and Juan looks nothing like the player which made him the club’s most reliable centre-back over recent years. Add to that the fact that Nicolas Burdisso is out for the season, while Marco Cassetti is really a full-back and Enrique has at last a justifiable tactical reason to use a midfielder in defence.
De Rossi, on all levels, looked like an accomplished defender in Rome during the 1-1 draw in which he actually gave his side the lead. He read the game as if he had studied it the night before, he tackled with his normal aggression and started offensive manoeuvres thanks to his qualities as a passer of the ball. If anything, playing deeper gave him more time to pick the right pass.
More importantly, though, was the admission that he enjoyed playing in the position which leaves the door open for his possible transformation from a midfielder into a defender at some stage in the future.
“I’ve never admitted it before, but I would like to play in the heart of the defence,” he told Roma Channel. “It’s a role which increases the responsibility on you because you can’t make any kind of mistake. I could become a centre-back and I’m always at the disposal of the Coach. I thought I did well and, to be honest, I really enjoyed it.”
Taking De Rossi out of the Roma midfield would clearly be a decision that would need pondering at great length, especially after his return to form this term in a new role created for him by the former Barcelona B boss. Yet Enrique tellingly has Fernando Gago in the squad, a player who could thrive in the place of De Rossi given the previously aired fears that the former Real Madrid man can’t co-exist in the same midfield as the Italian.
Of course, there are still massive question marks over whether De Rossi is really best suited to step back into defence. He was up against a Juventus front three on Monday that hardly inspired. They were so disappointing that Alessandro Matri, Marcelo Estigarribia and Simone Pepe were all replaced by boss Antonio Conte after the break.
One should also remember the cautionary tale of Alessio Tacchinardi, the Juve midfielder who was used as a centre-back by Marcello Lippi. His initial performances were so good that then Italy boss Arrigo Sacchi gave him his Azzurri debut in a back-four sandwiched in between right-back Ciro Ferrara and Milan stopper Alessandro Costacurta. With time, Tacchinardi was pushed back into his natural role.
Present Italy maestro Cesare Prandelli will undoubtedly have watched De Rossi’s performance against the Bianconeri with some interest. At a time when his best centre-back options are restricted to Juventus left-back Giorgio Chiellini, the recently recalled Andrea Barzagli, plus the inconsistent Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Ranocchia, the Roman could – theoretically at least – give him an unexpected option ahead of Euro 2012.
It’s an intriguing prospect, but one that is left very much in the ability of De Rossi and the tactical plans of under-pressure Roma Coach Enrique. It’ll ultimately be his decision whether he keeps faith with the old De Rossi or introduces us to a new version of the 28-year-old.