Of Banality and Red Herrings

During the training camp, Spalletti has rolled out a new formation: the 4-2-4. At first I thought it was due to personnel shortage, and that as more players returned from their vacations, this would be subject to change. Status quo. But Mister seems pretty adamant that's what Roma will be using this year. So what is it, and what would it mean for Roma?

First of all, let's start off by making one thing damn clear: it's not a 4-2-4. Really. The last team that played that formation successfully had Garrincha on the right wing half a century ago, and they were of course Brazil. Roma's not quite there, and the only thing Taddei has in common with Garrincha is his nationality. I can't fathom any circumstances under which it won't really be a 4-4-2 - the problem is, that formation sounds very banal, and very pedestrian, hence the more exciting sounding, the more daring 4-2-4.

Spalletti's idea is to have the same core in central midfield; DDR and probably Pizarro. Or Aquilani, if he's fit and even a Roma player come September. They're accompanied by two wings who will service, both by means of crosses and cut ins, a real striker who's good aerially next to Totti. Said striker should 'put the ball into the net', says Spalletti, and play with his back to the goal most of the time.

Defensively, I unfortunately see only minor changes so far. You'd think letting in 61 goals last year should warrant more drastic measures, but this is what's been detectable so far: the defensive line plays slightly higher up, in order to minimize the spaces for the opposition in midfield and attack. The downside to that is no one is truly fast back there for Roma, so it could be a problem on break aways. On the other hand, the wing backs appear slightly less prone to attacking, as that's mainly left to the two proper wings in midfield now. But one of the biggest problems last year was a lack of midfield filtration protecting the defense, and having Guberti and Taddei on the wings of midfield is hardly any different than when Roma played 4-2-3-1 last year. It's just one less body to pressure high, nothing else really changes. I think that could become an issue.

Offensively I think Roma is moving in the wrong direction. It's fair to try to find a method and style of play that makes the team less Totti dependant, but this 4-2-4/4-4-2 with crosses to a big man in the box would appear to cut Totti out completely from the process. It virtually excludes all the things which he does great; the passes behind the defense, the one time touches that opens up new ways forward, turning towards the goal with the ball and shooting. He'll probably find a way to make himself useful, but generally you want the ball to go through Totti. Or if not, at least let him direct by other means what's happening as much as possible for him to be at his best. Anything less is a waste.

The fit. If you're going to choose a formation which is based around wing play, you need good wings to play there. Taddei has been a shadow of himself for a year, maybe up to a year and a half, and Guberti looks like he's settling in nicely, and there's no mistaking his stay in Austria has made him Spalletti's latest object of affection. Presuming those two are the starters, there's a famine behind them.

I'm a big fan of Ménez, and I believe his upside is tremendous, but I don't see Spalletti trusting him to hold down a wing. It's not his best position, but there's no room elsewhere for him either, so by logic of deduction the wing is the only way he'll ever fit into this Roma. Cerci basically is a no impact, no relevance player. He had a great year in serie B with Pisa two seasons ago in a system largely similar to this one, but then regressed for a full year on Atalanta's bench. Spalletti says he counts on him for the coming season, but he said the same of Okaka late last summer before taking six months to meticulously pack him up into a box, which he then shipped off to serie B. My bet is that if Cerci even stays, he'll have garbage time minutes, and that Spalletti would rather put someone completely awkward on the wing in important games. Like Perrotta, or Baptista. The latter he actually did say had to play on the left, in order to cut in, because neither he nor the player liked for him to play as striker. Or Cassetti, who's been tried in the role with approving nods from Spalletti's head as a result, and grunts from everyone else.

Where does this leave Vucinic? I may be getting way ahead of myself, but this whole tactics change feels like it's short changing Vucinic, leaving him without real purpose. Sure, he can cut in from the left wing, but that would lead to Riise eating cyanide at half time just to put an end to his pain and woes. Can he cover the prima punta spot next to Totti? Like Ménez his upside is considerate, so based on sheer quality as a player, I'd say he could, and he said himself this week he's working hard to become more of a traditional goal scoring forward. But ultimately he's unlikely to play there. If Spalletti saw him as a bona fide alternative there, he wouldn't have made such big fuss about signing a new striker, he'd be busy trying to sell that solution to the fans instead.

So if that means we're seeing the early signs of the club preparing to sell Mirko, or if he'll become the ultimate impact player from the bench, we don't know yet. When you think back to the 2-1 win in Madrid, where Vucinic sparked the steam rolling of Real Madrid coming off the bench, it's very exciting to consider what a joker he can be. But that's a year and a half ago, it's unlikely he would be very excited about taking a step back again from being a sure starter. And that's completely fair, no hard feelings.

As more games are played, and players comes and goes, things should become more clear. Hopefully they'll make sense, too.