90 Minutes or Less

The best comment after the derby was made by Luca Di Bartolomei (yes, he): this season isn't judicable on a basis of game by game. That way madness lies, and Roma has enough of that going on without inviting it upon itself. This is not a comment on the derby (a game I wasn't displeased with per se, considering the circumstances), this is merely a comment after the derby. It's an attempt to reflect on the season as a whole, not individual weeks, games or players.

My weapons of choice: a red bull, a google doc spreadsheet and a collaborator who unlike me not only knows the answer to 12 * 11 without using devices, but is actually good at numbers. Together we seized on the post-derby feelings of depression and anger and exposed ourselves to a repeat of every goal scored in a Roma game this year. Every goal scored, every goal allowed. Welcome to our hell.

[Imagined picture of lazio players celebrating.]

We split goals scored into four categories. You could get a lot more refined or crude than that, but for the purpose of this look this served us well. These are the categories, which largely speak for themselves:

Axiom 1: Luchoball signifies goals scored as a natural result of Roma's stated style of play, possession based football. Examples here, here and here.

(Axiom 2: Francesco Totti is spectacular.)

Fastbreaks, on the other hand, are goals scored after Roma has conquered the ball relatively high up the pitch and used the momentum and (possible) numerical advantage to storm the opposition (examples here, here and here). Set pieces are self-explanatory, and include all goals scored in connection to them. That means corner kicks, direct or indirect free kicks and penalties. Finally, there's long and/or direct balls which opens up the defense. Neither strictly counter attacking nor Luchoballerific in nature, it's a threat of it's own as Inter learned.

                                          Luchoball      Fastbreaks    Set pieces    Long passes    Total

        Goals/percent          15/35%          8/19%          16/37%           4/9%              43/100%

What sticks out is the large number of goals scored via set pieces. 16 in and of itself is an excellent number, and should be a source of pride for the technical staff and players. The worrying part is that they're the largest group of them all, meaning goals aren't coming from elsewhere as they should. For a team which stated in preseason that it'll live and die by possession based football and daring teams to do something about it, Roma is scoring far too seldom that way. In relation to the high numbers of possession the team is racking up, too little is happening. Clearly, here is ample room for improvement.

Although a caveat is in order: in 2012, the number of goals Roma have scored on the fastbreak nearly equal those coming about after some Luchoball (4 and 5 respectively), which may not mean anything more than the inherent difference in style between Borini and Osvaldo. In the latter's absence due to injury, Borini, who's a very different type of player, has thrived. Perhaps with Osvaldo, the sole penalty box presence Roma has to offer, the numbers for Luchoball would be higher. Without him playing, and Totti pulled back a good ten meters, there's just no one there to put it in the roof of the net, bite the head of a pigeon and paint himself in the blood of his enemies. So Osvaldo coming back is good news.

Defensively, things are relatively predictable for those who've seen Roma this season:

We chose a different categorization system for the goals Roma has given up, due to the specific nature of Luis Enrique's Roma. It would be entirely fruitless trying to fit Siena or Udinese into Luchoball, so we haven't even bothered hammering square pegs through circles. Instead, a very simple approach: was Roma's defense in balance, or off balance? Here's an example of the former, and here one of the latter. Set pieces are self-explanatory. It would be fully possible to get a lot more specific and tally mistakes due to bad clearances, bad hair days, or occasions on which the team collectively thought they were going out for ice cream. However there's beauty in simplicity, and god knows we needed some after sitting through 37 slaps in a row. They're frustratingly repetitive and often so dumb that I'm unsure whether to permanently consign my forehead to the keyboard of my laptop, or take comfort in the optimism that one day we'll learn.

 "Off balance" dominates and sweeps the awards, on the back of Cagliari and Atalanta alone. The rough edges on the categories means it's a broad definition. It includes botched offside traps putting the rest of the defense in harm's way, being destroyed on an counter attack due to too many players pushing up and/or losing the ball in midfield and other exciting combinations Roma are inventing. A lot of the mistakes aren't necessarily system failures as such, but in the hands of lesser players they become a de facto part of the system. With Thiago Silva running the show, about half these goals don't happen, but since Roma's defenders demonstrably aren't Thiago Silva that does little to help us. Roma's defenders are good at other things, and as shown in the derby, Juan is still a lion when he's not spending 90 minutes backtracking. 8 of the 10 goals Roma have given up when the defense was in balance came before the Christmas break, which suggests a clear improvement here in 2012.
        In the same period, Roma have shipped goals when off balance at an alarming rate. It is worth noting that since the new year, when Roma has given up 10 such goals, the regular midfield has barely played together. In the two instances that they did, Roma won both games (vs. Inter and Parma). In the losses to Cagliari and Atalanta, lesser players had to step in (in both cases for Daniele De Rossi). A weaker midfield's inability to retain the ball comfortably could explain why so many of these off balance goals have come lately. It's probably not that Roma's defenders suddenly lost an ability that was there before to maintain a high line, but probably more to do with the fact they they're left exposed. It is of course a concern that none of the options in midfield are good enough to be trusted for longer periods, and seeing the derby closed out with a central midfield consisting of Fabio Simplicio and Marquino was more fuel for the ever-burning fire in my heart for David Pizarro. In the summer I said with conviction that el Pek would be perfect for possession football, and I still think I'm right; figures Luis Enrique would be one of the people disagreeing with me.

There's plenty to build on here. But there's also plenty to cultivate, work that needs to be done both in the transfer market and on the training pitch. If Roma's primavera team can't provide Luis Enrique with moldable pieces needed to obtain stability and continuity as well as taking things even further, they need to be brought in from the outside. Because it's becoming painfully obvious the current squad could be much better suited than it is.