For Whom the Red Card Flies

One day, one ocean in between, two different contexts; two rallies to restore sanity. Or as Chris felicitously called it, 180 minutes to get it together.

Roma needed this win like Lotito needs a cellphone; in and of itself it doesn't save the day, but life would be a lot more complicated without it. Taddei's taken up residence in the doc's offices, and more dismayingly (seriously, ring the alarm because we're at defcon two) so has Pek, and even Mexès. The form of those who are miraculously uninjured has been iffy at best, and to top it off Roma hadn't won in what at least feels like two life times before walking into the toughest part of the season calendar.

Yeah, this win was needed.

No, this doesn't mean everything is perfectly fine.

Sanity was, however, temporarily restored on Saturday when Ranieri nailed down perhaps the most sensical lineup he has produced during the season so far. Instead of forcing the team into a 4-4-2 straitjacket as last week, the lineup against Lecce looked more like a 4-3-3 with attention given to the characteristics of the players at hand. Last week Vucinic was forced to start ten meters further down (which only gave the opponents ten more meters of generally safe areas with which to deal with him), but could now play the outside left part of an attacking trident which was surprisingly fluid and quick. If this were last week against Parma, Perrotta would have been asked to act as the wing player he isn't and never has been; against Lecce he instead quietly slid into a three man central midfield and not asked to stretch himself thin. It would be a stretch to say that the midfield was fantastic. Or great....or even very good. It worked fine, and Lecce didn't have much to put up, but both Brighi and Perrotta have had better games for Roma than this. On the other hand, DDR really was very good and his game marked the return to the dynamic De Rossi for which weighed incursions are as prevalent as his tackles and his shutting down Lecce's passing angles. And the 50 meter passes to no one were nowhere to be seen, much to my relief.

The result was a moderately fine Roma side which largely controlled the game and what happened in it. There were a few occasions on which Lecce threatened (the cross bar hit which surprised Julio Sergio, and a few touches by Corvia), but for every such Apulian chance Roma stacked up six or seven of their own and comfortably created barrage of chances and half chances. Vucinic was the most active Roma player in this department, taking around half of Roma's shots in the game, and gliding past players with ease. (La Gazzetta dello Sport isn't completely transparent with what makes up their game statistics, but their reported numbers of 4 successful dribbles out of 6 attempts doesn't sound unreasonable.) His goal was a testament to the quality on offer with the attacking trident present; Totti was involved by hitting the long pass-turned-assist, Borriello by committing to the run through the centre which effectively pulled a potentially disturbing defender away from Mirko, the ball and the goal line, while Mirko's finish was vintage Mirko. Up until this point, everything's fine. Only, not really.

Caravaggio, originally uploaded by mariroma.

I appreciate bitter tastes. If I am to indulge myself, I often opt for Campari. I drink my coffee without sugar, to experience the bitterness undiluted. The bitter taste that Totti's red card produced was a different beast altogether. Replay angles show a slight shove by Totti on Oliveira, but nothing that comes even close to warranting a red card. Oliveira is a dirty player who seems to be genuinely disagreeable, and I'm sure he could get a bus load full of nuns to want to commit a couple of crimes directed at him, but I wouldn't even file his little kick that tripped Totti under red card offenses. Yellow card for both, everyone back for the kickoff. Instead Totti misses the derby, and he admitted himself afterwards that he's morbidly aware of the few number of such games he has left. Not to trivialize life, but isn't the sensation similar to that of learning you have one year less left than you thought? No one likes being reminded that we're mortal, but Totti seems acutely aware. He's heading into the last phase of his career, so eliminating the chance to play in the most important normal game can only aggravate that feeling of despair when you feel something slipping away. Ironically, or perhaps merely sadly, his outrage as he walked off the pitch, perfectly aware of the consequences, will almost assuredly rule out his participation in the derby he wanted so badly to play. Even if the red card and it's suspension should get overturned, he'll get slammed with something else for reacting as he did. Not that I blame him. The stiff upper lip is a trait I haven't ever seen with my own eyes in Rome. Besides, according to some Frasier episode the book on psychology I keep by my nightstand, anger is one of the stages of dealing with losses such as this.

In order to come full circle to "acceptance", all eyes are turned to Ménez. He came on after Totti's sending off and showed he can still play. The allegories that sort of relay holds is a bit on the nose, but please pay no attention to that, there's still some core of truth to it. It's hard to win games without elements of creativity ingrained into a team, and without both Pek and Totti we will need it, him, for the derby win.