Old Friends and New

During the hour following the final whistle of Roma-Inter, I completed a quick and highly unscientific survey via phone calls, text messages and the Internets, and it seems I stand fairly alone in thinking Totti was great in this game. Or if not quite great, then very necessary for Roma. Yes, some passes and touches were off, and the indirect free kick one of Luca Toni's shoes' length away from the goal line wasn't flattering. On the plus side is everything else. If it wasn't already noticeable during his 75 minutes on the pitch, the 15 without him on it painted the entire picture of what he'd been giving Roma. When he went out, Inter's entire team moved ten meters up to the pitch and Roma struggled to even get a hold of the ball in Inter's half, let alone weave together threatening chances. Inter's midfield could dedicate itself to more than dropping deep and cutting off passing angles, and balanced out the game. Totti was more mobile and dynamic than he's been in recent weeks, perhaps even months, as he dropped down deep to act the glue that held together midfield and attack. Pizarro took a backseat in the playmaking role and willingly handed the reins to Totti, whose main outlet became Ménez whom he fed ball after ball out on the right side. Even when he only played 75 minutes, even when he didn't have a hand in Roma's winning goal, even when I struggle to think of a good chance he had during the night, was Totti important for Roma. Again.

Out on the right, Totti's old pal Chivu was taken advantage of by Totti's new pal Ménez. What Ménez put him through during 90 minutes was at the very least mild bullying, and in any case certainly humbling. That sentiment had to be intensively fortified by a home crowd working up to its highest decibel marks of the night whenever Chivu touched the ball, while Ménez was being cheered on more and more vivaciously. With a sense of urgency that never seemed to let up, Roma looked for Ménez who in turn wasted no time looking for Chivu, before hitting in low crosses and passes for Borriello in the center. Totti to Ménez, Ménez almost almost to Borriello was on loop, and it never grew trite. It didn't translate into a goal tonight, but it held a sword to Inter and kept them reacting instead of being proactive. These are things that add up to a lot over 90 minutes, and any day on the job is made a lot easier when you only have to worry about Eto'o and Sneijder for less than half the time you'd normally expect to.

When it did come to handling those two, and the rest of Inter, Roma's defense did a superb job worthy of exclusively superlatives. Burdisso wasn't in trouble even once, and Lobont did better than I could have hoped he would. Riise stepped right back into doing what he always does, and helped solidify the entire defense as well as provide more offensive contribution that Roma's mustered from that flank in his absence. Cassetti lost his footing once that I can remember, which considering both that he was going up against Eto'o and that he dominated him comprehensively for the rest of the game is nothing to be upset over. Juan has come back to the perfect defender that he really is; if Milito didn't even see the ball, it was thanks to a complete lockdown by Juan, and when needed he helped out on Eto'o and Sneijder as well. He was the best player of the game, by far, and deserves some kind of DVD based tutoring videos with his face and name splattered all across the cover in recognition of that.

What this means for the serie A table I'll leave for others to speculate on. Personally I'm not even interested in that before Christmas, as it tells us a whole lot of nothing for at least ten weeks of football. Chievo and Brescia can both go top tomorrow, and no one in the world can convince me that either of them will remain thereabout until May. Not even if Zdenek Zeman said it. (Sure, I'd waver a bit, but in the end I'm fairly sure I would still come down on the side of No.) I prefer to look at it for what it is: a clear and undeniable sign of Roma being alive still. Roma is better than she has shown herself the past month, and none of the players had grown mediocre and toothless over night. I'm sure we'll continue to see that over the coming weeks, at which point we may be able to look back on September 25th and Mirko stomping on the billboard he'd already kicked over as the symbol of Roma's resurrection. God, how I love that crazy Montenegrin.

Is anyone at all surprised Mirko wasn't even kind of good, but rather outright bad for the fifteen minutes he was on, but still managed to score a beautiful goal, the weight of which cannot be measured fairly? God, how I love that crazy Montenegrin.