Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

The devil is, famously, in the details (and Luciano Moggi's contact list). As long as you look at things from a certain angle, it's possible to remain upbeat after yesterday's serie A round. Mirko Vucinic's goal was sublime, a treat to all who had forsaken their lunch in order to watch football at such an ungodly hour, and a reassuring signal that Vucinic isn't so out of tune as some will have you believe. Not with the team and his role on it, not in his relationship to the ball itself. Also positive is Mexès' turnaround from last year being near complete, as he played a great game before submitting to injury or precautionary measures (this turnaround in a contract year may or may not have been anticipated).

Also, and I was slightly surprised by this myself, we're doing no worse than last year. Precisely one year ago Roma had, as now, 32 points amassed. Then, as now, that put Roma at an eight point distance of Milan at 40. Phew! Between beatdowns in Sardinia, uninspiring stalemates with Chievo, Parma and Bologna you would think Roma would be left impossibly distanced somewhere on the horizon by now. Only, this curiosity doesn't satisfy nor inspire me. Ranieri had a hellish time when first joining Roma last season, and the club only began hitting form when Cassetti shin-kicked Lazio to the curb in the beginning of the December. Being at the same stage now as then isn't a sign of stability, it is the sign of a big chance wasted. There's always a chance Roma could scrap together another unlikely run like last spring, but there are no prizes for identifying "unlikely" as the operate word in that sentence. This season was supposed to be all about building on last season's spring, building immunity to the occasional bad result like last April's Sampdoria loss. Yet here we are, in the exact same spot as then.

I was as guilty as anyone for getting caught up in the dizzying run of last season, but it was clear even back then that Ranieri's greatest accomplishment was giving the team the determination and self-belief that no result was impossible. He stripped the remains of Spalletti's Roma down to nuts and bolts, the passing and movement of 2006 through 2008 downgraded into the very basics. But they never let down, and it worked. It is, however, the kind of approach that only works until it doesn't. When you waive all pretenses to a functioning game plan in lieu of sheer will power, all it takes is a couple of set backs to leave you with little more than nothing at all. This is what happened yesterday against Sampdoria; one goal up, courtesy of some Montenegrin witchcraft, but then nothing. This inability to close out games is this team's perpetual downfall, which is all the more haunting since there are two viable methods to do this, Roma mastering neither. One is to impose your superiority on the opposition and not relent until you've scored two or three goals and beaten them into submission, the other being closing up shop and playing disciplined defense. I favor the former, but would gladly settle for the latter approach. Instead we're submitted to displays which threatens to tear down the walls of your football world. Juan is a lion. Juan doesn't do things like yesterday, he's supposed to be above that. Except he did and he's clearly not, and when we've seen the nth unlikely breakdown your sense of disbelief starts to vanish and you start wondering if it's all so accidental. Clearly I'm not questioning Juan's motivations or suggesting he did anything deliberately; even great players make mistakes. But I do wonder if a team so often at the mercy of similar implausible gifts to the opposition is free of guilt. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and while it could be tempting to look at Juan's back pass as an isolated event, perhaps it isn't. Perhaps that back pass, all those soft goals given away during the season betrays something more disconcerting about this team and their self-belief. It doesn't take more than a crack here and there before things start falling apart.