Sotto 'n manto di stelle, la Roma bella m'appare

Writing about football is often an invitation to be lazy. Big teams, good teams, usually go further than teams of lesser quality and stature, and so we're tempted in hindsight to say certain things were inevitable. But the sport is still decided largely by incidents. Last night's game seemed to be just such an occurance, as two incidents put Roma in the ground. Then again, some games are decided by will and banalities such as who wants it more. Roma wanted this more. Bayern's first goal is ingenious, and while Roma's central defense could have done better I think it can be important to lay off the blame game, recognize that you're never going to go 50 games without conceding a single goal, and just applaud a wonderful football move. Bayern's second goal, not so much; the blame game is very appropriate here, even if it too was an isolated incident. A moment's carelessness that seemed to threaten, indeed ruin, an entire Champions League campaign. It looked to be over at that point, and little hinted at the capacity to overturn the result. Roma's defense was pushed so far back that Julio Sergio had all of two m² in which to maneuver unhindered. The midfield wasn't clicking, with Greco auditioning for a red card for all of the first half, and Brighi doing little right. DDR did okay, but wasn't close to being enough. In attack Ménez was smothered, Borriello isolated and Vucinic repeated his very bad Juventus performance almost play for play.

Awakening, originally uploaded by Mauri Graziosi.

Ranieri is often chided for an alleged lack of tactical nous. He can only play 4-4-2, he sacrifices small animals at the altar of catenaccio—familiar, isn't it? He started the game last night with a rhomb in midfield and Vucinic playing off Borriello.This formation has had Roma play some quietly great football the past month, but when against Bayern it turned out to be unbalanced and the wrong approach he made tactical changes with completely altered the dynamics of the game. Simplicio replaced Greco and added athleticism to a midfield struggling to cope, he re-arranged the attack by putting Vucinic and Ménez on a wing of their own. Suddenly you're looking at a 4-3-3 which dominated its opponent and three goals scored with a strong correlation to the way Ranieri wanted the team to play. The first goal saw Ménez break away down the right, and cross to Borriello, which is probably a near exact demonstration of how to best utilize the space Ranieri saw on the wings. The second goal utilized the free space created by having so many creative players on the pitch as Vucinic pulled back, and back, and back and then hit an overlapping Riise with the pass where Vucinic himself should have been according to the stale logic of positional contuniuity. From there, a low cross in between the defensive line and the goalkeeper and a midfielder filling in on the other side of the Bavarian defense. Finally, the situation in which Borriello provoked the penalty was born from a spectacular through pass by Totti. As with Vucinic on the second goal it was the result of a creative player Bayern feared pulling back, and taking the opposition with him, allowing the space behind their defensive line for Borriello to run into. This, and the curious statistic that it was the fifteenth time in as many months that Ranieri's Roma has turned defeat into victory, suggests a coach with extraordinary feel for reading games as they're playing out. It also betrays him as a coach who on many occasions have gotten the starting approach wrong or slightly off, because that has to be the downside to that statistic. But if faced with the choice, I find it a lot more useful for a coach to have the ability to read and actively change games through his own alterations than one who's more often on point before games only to struggle to have a say during the course of a game. To top off an impressive showing, Ranieri even managed to save Juan and Pizarro meaning that despite despair at halftime his bold turnover strategy still holds up to scrutiny.

But these are all technical and tactical things, and frankly they're a lot less exciting than almost everything else last night. The real stories we find elsewhere. We find them in Borriello—who would wrestle an alligator if it meant he could take a shot at goal—for the second time in as many games displaying a frightening strength and will. He has good feet, and no apparent physical limitations, but more than this it is precisely that will and desire to score goals that makes him a very good footballer. Lesser men would have crumbled against Udinese, stayed dormant last night after slipping. We find more such stories in the continued path towards recognition by Ménez, who has undergone a quite remarkable distillation over the past year, and once again showed himself to be central to the success of his team. We find Totti, dismissed by van Gaal as irrelevant and instead turning up off the bench both harmonious and decisive. But above all we find the real value of last night in Roma's dedication towards being a good team. As Totti said, they can't hide any longer, but need to demonstrate it. Just as they know they can, just as we who watch know they can.