...Easy As 123

This is ABC football.

This is also what happens when the heads and minds are in it. To be sure Roma isn't made up of bad footballers, it's just that they play like it when not psyched up properly, or attentive enough. Ranieri's urges for "more gladiators" and "ABC football" struck chords all over the Olimpico tonight.

The win (Roma's 1000th in serie A, holla!) against Fiorentina took the best of Spalletti ball, and mixed it with some Ranieri tendencies, like a high defensive line that effectively executed the offside trap around 200 times (official count!). The shortening of the team that brought about made the team more compact and reduced the space and lanes for Fiorentina's offensive three behind Gilardino. Offensively Roma made a lot of intelligent runs from deep (Perrotta in primis, but also DDR on his goal of course), which is of course a Spallettianism if there ever was one. But more than tactical tendencies, I think what made this Roma play like this was a mind set, and an attitude that was lacking before.

But rather than trying to convey the crazy eyes of DDR before the game (his intensity does scare me at times), or Burdisso's grinta, Riise's stoicism, we could also look at some of those tactical aspects I diminished not ten seconds ago. Like the offensive play, which was as well timed as the Jacksons performance of the song this post takes its title from. Vucinic was nothing less than spectacular during the first half, and his presence gifts Roma so much more than the direct benefits of him being there. His running gives every team mate an added option to pass to, wherever they and he are. He'll find a way to make himself at least worthy of consideration for the pass, be it from Totti ten meters away or Cassetti on the other side of the pitch. Totti stepped up and put in his best performance of the (still young) season. The penalty shouldn't be ignored or dismissed because it's a penalty kick - that sort of execution is worth our admiration and acknowledgment. The second goal was one part anticipation and one part absolute dedication to putting the ball in the goal. The third goal belongs in the what-makes-football-beautiful category--that pass is out of this world. I'm not sure my feeble mind can compute the degree of difficulty in hitting that pass with the outside of the foot like that.

I have never been a believer in Okaka, and have always preferred to stand aside the bandwagon skeptical, afraid that the primavera clips that others build their faith on would prove to be worthless once the physical gap between him and opponents was eradicated. But tonight I quickly went from sulking over Ménez's exclusion to a state of being impressed both by Okaka himself, and Ranieri for noticing these things in him so quickly. I still don't believe he'll ever be a great goalscorer, and Okaka's greatness tonight can be summed up in one word: hustle. It was all of the runs he made to pressure the ball handling defender, it was all of the runs he made offensively to spread open the lanes for his team mates, it was the dedication to executing what Ranieri had asked of him. (It was also his back heel at the end - studying Totti much?) While on the topic of players we haven't seen a lot before, let's talk Julio Sergio. Can anyone come up with even one convincing reason why Arthur was playing all this time, and Bertagnoli wasn't? I think the continued choice not to play him month after month will go down as one of football's greatest mysteries, right after the question of what it is Seba Frey is eating. He played well and was the only thing stopping a double digit win, but let's be real: dude's fat. You'd think someone in Fiorentina's staff would have noticed by now.

Ranieri's finger prints are all over this win. He was more upset at his own players at 3-0 up than we're used to seeing from the coach while losing--again, I'm not placing inherent values in their different styles, but it's difficult to imagine Ranieri's more voluble approach to coaching isn't causing reactions. There was a clear added objective beyond the win tonight; to shut out Fiorentina completely and for the first time finish a game without letting in a goal. I understand the situation that ultimately defeated that objective was special, as Perrotta's back pass was unexpected and that it quickly changed the dynamics of that play. But at the same time I don't think Gilardino would have gotten of a shot on goal if Juan was still on the field. As the Brazilian went out the chemistry and understanding he and Burdisso had developed up to that point evaporated. Mexes and Burdisso was a clean slate; back to square one. But it's more than that too, it's also a sense of Mexes giving up too much space, not being as focused as he can be.

Benching Mexes was a statement that you can't expect to stand unquestioned and unchallenged just because you're considered a starter in the minds of most. The performances of Burdisso and Juan on the one hand, and Mexes on the other, shows the wisdom in that call. I think it's an important statement by Ranieri, and it shows name and salary isn't enough to get picked automatically. That could be, should be, a wake up call for many, Mexes of course among those. This doesn't mean I have stopped seeing Mexes as a big part of Roma's team both now and in the future, just that he needs to get back in shape and up his game.