Looking at the defense

In this post I want to examine more closely what I deem to be the single most damaging part of the team this season, the defense. It's a stretch to say it was iron clad in previous seasons, but it was solid. Even during the transition of Chivu to Juan, it only got stronger, while Mexès kept on being a rock. Not so this year, when whatever iron there might have been once has now rusted completely.

Roma ranks 16th of 20 this season for goals allowed, only being made to look good(?) by the courtesy of perennial forces like Reggina, Torino (and even lazio, ain't they nice?). A total of 42 goals allowed is responsible for that, frankly, outrageous ranking: compare that to the league average which sits at a, for Roma, distant 36,7 goals allowed.

The reasons for this are complex, numerous, and no matter how much time we laymen spend with it, we're bound to miss things that can have great effects on the team's defensive performance, especially as so much of defensive work is intangible and unquantifiable. With that said, here are some factors I believe have played a role in the current situation.

The failure to land an acceptable back-up keeper. Loaning Curci wasn't the wrong decision (more on him later on), but settling for Artur as Doni's back-up has backfired badly on the team. Doni has played the past two months with some injury or other, and it's only natural that it has hampered his performances. If we had a genuine player on the bench, Doni could sit for two weeks and heal up properly, instead of having to clinch his teeth every game and get through it, worsening his own health status with every instance of doing so. During the summer names like Fontana (ex Palermo) were mentioned, and would have fit like a glove. A definite do-over in the summer.

The third starting centre back. The previous two seasons, Roma had a three man rotation going in the centre of defense, consisting of Mexès, Ferrari and Chivu/Juan. The idea being that when one of the two were out, the third would come in with no real drop in quality. Perfect idea, and it worked great, Ferrari (who was considered the third man) actually playing more games than the other two eventually, due to injuried and suspensions. This season Ferrari wanted more money to sign a new contract, and the club let him go to Genoa when his deal expired. Nothing to complain about here, he wasn't worth what he thought he was entitled to, but as with the back-up keeper above, the failure was in not adressing the issue. Roma took in Loria, a never-has-been from Siena, who'd played in serie A for about two years. The difference has been stark, and depressing, eventually forcing Spalletti to simply pull Loria from the rotation unless if absolutely necessary. I have no statistics on it, but it doesn't feel at all unrealistic or over the top to take a guess at Loria being the cause of around 40-45% of the goals allowed in the games he's played this year. I'm not saying that is the case, or the real number, but finding out it was would be about as little of a surprise to me as finding out DDR has a new tacky tattoo (god bless him though). Fixing this issue for next season is, I would say, of utmost importance. We need to find a new third, and be able to trust him blindly.

Lack of midfield filtration. Even after changing the old trusted 4-2-3-1 into a rhomb with three central midfielders meant to cover the defense, Roma's leaking badly through that area. DDR is only one man, and can only do so much. What's surprising is that even despite Brighi being a mini-revelation this season and generally, and recurrently being one of the team's best performers, the midfield continues to be so hallow. The team used to offer more cover playing DDR beside Pizarro, who's of absolutely no relevance defensively, and for that to happen, something has to be completely amiss. Like...

Form. Gone. Out of here. It may be a matter the chicken or the egg coming first, but even once trustworthy defenders like Mexès has committed many mistakes this season. And it's hard to put that down to individual mistakes or the structure of the defense letting him down, but that's how it is irregardless. Generally considered the best defender on the team, he has only the third best average in Roma's defense, via la Gazzetta: 5,93. That's only insignificantly less than Juan's 5,94 and Tonetto's 5,95, but all three are in truth abhorrent figures for Champions League pretenders.

Curci? I've already made it clear that loaning him to Siena was the right move to make, and according to himself he's learnt during his year in Tuscany, and developed his game in a way sitting on the bench behind Doni naturally couldn't. And while looking at Siena right now isn't instantly convincing he's one to hold on to, it should be noted that before the Milan game two weeks ago, when Siena's levees broke and they let in five, Siena had the third best defense leaguewide. Third. With a bunch of no-names in defense in front of him. That's impressive, no matter what anyone says. I'm unsure whether or not bringing him back is the right strategy, because if he does come back, it'll probably with the intention to start games. Like a seal having acquired the taste of mammal blood, it's doubtful he'd be willing to take a step back in his career again. So is he a better goalkeeper than Doni? To hell with populism, I can't see it myself. If Man City's insane offer of fourteen million for Doni has some truth in it, Roma would be better off looking at Marchetti or old romanista Amelia instead. Sorry, Curci.