Ménez Makes Holes in Swiss Cheese and Defenses

Basel-Roma was largely a mixed bag. Among the things we were pleased to find were three points, whose importance would only be oversold if I tried to say all players were justly rewarded a unicorn as match bonus; the umpteenth breakthrough of Jérémy Ménez; spotting Roger Federer, which is pleasant even if he wasn't playing and actually cheering for his home side this time. The things that were disappointing to fish up include the second half in its entirety, of which I have nothing good to say, as well as the billionth injury (this time to Burdisso). Considering the difficult conditions in which Ranieri had to choose his starting elevenPizarro, Taddei and Brighi would all likely have figured in way or another were they available, and Mexès stayed home in Romethe first half was hard to dislike very much although it only goes so far in explaining the complete desertion that took place in the second half. Welcome to 2010/11.

Roma had its best period of the game after about ten to fifteen minutes, lasting until half time, during which time Roma secured a two goal lead. The key to both those goals–as well as another penalty claim which if it wasn't daylight robbery, was at least a dark alley stick-up with fingers in a jacket pocket shaped like a gunwas Ménez whose positioning behind the two attackers was devastating. He exploited spaces behind Basel's midfield to run at defenders hopelessly caught in between and struggling to close him down without over-committing and abandoning their marking of Totti or Vucinic. This is where Ménez should play, this is where he's allowed to be electrifying. I disagree with Ranieri's attempts to transform into a wing player, and not even the truisms that there's too little space in the middle convinces me fully. Yes, there often is more space on the wing, that much is certainly true. But if we were to ask all opponent coaches Roma have played, and will play, this season where they would prefer for Ménez to be, I can't imagine many not saying chained to the sideline somewhere. Against teams doubling up in the middle it stands to reason that he would find it difficult to maneuver, but against the ones that don't...well, the goals last night speak for themselves. Against Basel he wasn't as isolated as he is on the wing, and if it doesn't lead to him scoring just because the ball happened to fall to him (his goal), it can lead to him having more realistic passing alternatives (the back heel to set up Riise).

Two goals up and cruising, then? No, but it was flattering for Ranieri that you think so. Instead of keeping on, Ménez was pulled back and shackled in as soon as Totti hit that penalty kick, and Roma was on patrolling mode for the rest of the half. Not very daring in attack, but at the same time Basel wasn't allowed to be threatening in theirs. It was a fair compromise in order to be able to take the two goal buffer into half time. Abandoning all pretenses to play straight out of the gates as the second half began was no compromise, however. That was surrendering. That Roma held onto the two goal lead for so long reflects badly on Basel more than it reflects well on Roma. (Basel is a modest team, so meditate on how bad Roma were two weeks ago to lose to them). But they did it, some way, somehow. Leandro Greco, whose age of 24 almost rivals the number of professional games he has played in his career, scored an unlikely third goal which rendered futile even Roma's usual attempts to gift away late equalizing and/or winning goals. Game. Roma now has a very good chance of making the cut for next stage, even if Basel's goal difference is a drawback, and qualification could likely be assured with only four points in the closing two games.

The home crowd was very active in displaying their displeasure with Roma's goals, or with Totti touching the ball, or breathing. It looked as though it got to the referee, who hardly conceded a free kick to Roma for thirty minutes after Totti's penalty. Which seemed strange to me, since being whistled at by the Swiss seems akin to being threatened with being tickled. Their players were posturing aggressively as well–you know something's off when Cassetti is being given a yellow card for twice shoving a Basel attacker and Nicolas Burdisso is the calming voice of reason trying to negotiate peace between the two. I had a list, about the length of Lotito's cell phone bill, of things I had expected to see before my eyes witnessed Burdisso stop a fight, and now I don't know what to do with it. Send it as character reference for his anger management course? Cross over Burdisso's name and write in Mexès' in its place? Speaking of which, considering the former's injury (which looked four kinds of bad) Mexès had better be back for the derby, because to quote Chris, that's not the kind of game that's Guillermo-proof.