Roma defeated Parma away on Monday night to send themselves to the top of the Serie A table but it was hardly a comfortable victory and has shed light on three separate aspects.
1. The Daniele De Rossi/Kevin Strootman double pivot.
Before the season started, arguably, the most exciting aspect of Roma’s season was going to be how Kevin Strootman and Daniele De Rossi played together. After two games together (Strootman missed the season opener against Livorno through injury) it’s clear that Rudi Garcia has decided to deploy the duo as a double pivot. In short, the role of the double pivot is to cover the area in front of the back line and when in possession, to help dictate the speed of the game as well as the general approach to the game. De Rossi and Strootman are also both tasked with the job of helping out the full backs and doubling up on the opposition’s wide players so as to prevent crosses being whipped into the box and due to Federico Balzaretti’s comprehension of intelligent pressing as an alien concept, Strootman and De Rossi’s assistance will be of utmost importance.
Against Parma, Daniel De Rossi and Strootman made a combined total of 5 interceptions, 5 clearances and 5 tackles (6 attempted). De Rossi also won two headed contests out of the three that he was involved in and interestingly enough, the tough tackling duo also only committed one foul between them. The duo certainly performed their roles with diligence and with the utmost discipline. On the other side of the coin the two were also quite adept in going forward, Strootman managed to execute four key passes and completed 92% of all his other passes while De Rossi on the other hand was a bit more reserved and did not manage any key passes, although he did complete 86% of his passes along with one goal attempt, that was blocked.
The heat maps below tell a similar story, showing how both De Rossi and Strootman were a huge unified presence in the centre of midfield and also in the wider areas as they looked to help out the respective full backs (Maicon and Balzaretti). Although the season is merely embryonic, the double pivot experiment is already beginning to pay off for Rudi Garcia and the duo will have to maintain this form next weekend as Rome’s first big test of the season approaches, the derby della Capitale.
2. A Question Of Mentality
When Jonathan Biabiany powered home a bullet header in the 39th minute to open the scoring, Roma fans around the world panicked. For the past two seasons, under Luis Enrique and Zdenek Zeman, Roma have been plagued by defeats to provisional sides such as Siena, Bologna, Cagliari and even Parma. After falling behind to Parma, many (including myself) wondered if Rudi Garcia had developed the tonic to heal a crumbling mentality that was violently damaged in the now famous Coppa Italia Final defeat to cross-town rivals Lazio. He had. Roma came out in the second half and from the restart already looked more likely to score than they did in the first half. It only took two minutes for Roma to find the equaliser as Miralem Pjanic provided a beautiful chipped pass for Alessandro Florenzi to strike home. With the scores level, it was game on, although it was somewhat of a nervous wait until the 70th minute when another chipped pass (this time courtesy of Strootman) found the feet of Francesco Totti, who calmly slotted the ball into the net to bring up his 228th league goal. The comeback concluded when Gervinho was brought down in the box five minutes from time, and Strootman slotted away the resultant penalty.
For any other side, this comeback may have not been such a big deal but for this Roma, it’s massive. If anything the Giallorossi are used to being the victims of comebacks (Bologna staged an incredible comeback last season at the Olimpico when they fought back from 2-0 down to win the game 3-2) courtesy of Zdenek Zeman. The former manager was so insistent on aggressive attacking play that by the 60th minute of most games the players were largely worn out and suffering from fatigue. Garcia’s system is in many ways the opposite, instead Roma now play a more patient game looking to tire out the opposition by making them chase shadows across the pitch and then finally striking when the opposing team’s mental and physical levels are low. Evidence for this, is that Roma have yet to score in the first half of a league game this season.
Along with the newly acquired mental steel to stage a come back, there also seems to be a new ”serene” element to Roma’s attitude. After the game, Pjanic was quoted as saying “The coach has installed a calmness within the team and I feel like an important member of it (the team)” with perhaps the most important word in that quote being “calmness”, as Garcia has certainly brought an overwhelming sense of calm to the team, when under recent managers the word more synonymous with the side was “panic”. Roma will need that sense of calm come Sunday, as with the squad’s mentality in a state of recovery, a derby game represents the perfect opportunity for Roma to build on their newly established mentality.
3. Federico Balzaretti’s Ineptitude.
If there was one thing that was blatantly clear versus Parma it was a brewing crisis at left back. Not only did Federico Balzaretti have a shocking game, he also made Jonathan Biabiany seem like a future Ballon d’Or recipient. An incredible 71.64% of Biabiany’s play came down the length of Parma’s right flank (Roma’s left flank) and the 25 year old French winger was able to make three crosses (albeit unsuccessful ones) and two goal attempts, one of which opened the scoring for the evening.
Although Biabiany’s statistics may not seem that convincing, perhaps it is in conjunction with Balzaretti’s statistics that we begin to unravel the full story. Balzaretti only made one successful tackle the whole evening and missed another three as well as losing half of his aerial duels. Although Balzaretti’s defensive statistics make for grim reading it is perhaps by looking at Jonathan Biabiany’s heat map for the game (provided below) that we are able to really quantify his effect on the game. In this case, the heat map shows just how dominant Biabiany was down Parma’s right flank and the really worrying thing for Roma, despite escaping the Enio Tardini with all three points, is that Jonathan Biabiany is hardly the crème de la crème of Italian football’s widemen.
For example, already next week Roma face Lazio (as mentioned above) in a match as concerned with points as it is with revenge and Roma will have to be defensively sound against a very strong frontline of Miroslav Klose and Antonio Candreva and although the former may be more of a concern to Mehdi Benatia and Leandro Castan, the latter is surely causing sleepless nights for Federico Balzaretti. It would not be a knee jerk reaction to swap Balzaretti for Vasilis Torosidis come derby day, despite the Greek international being more accustomed to the right side of the defence Balzaretti is simply too large a liability to be allowed to play against mid-table teams, never mind top table heavyweights. Balzaretti had a poor 2012/13 season and is showing no signs of improvement thus far and therefore has to be dropped for the derby as some much depends on the result of it.
If there is one thing to be said after the Parma game it is that all is not as rosy as fans are making it out to be. Balzaretti and his weaknesses, simply put have the ability to cost Roma points against the bigger teams, almost singlehandedly. Should Balzaretti feature in the starting eleven come Sunday, I am infallible in my belief that it will cost us the game and much of Garcia’s work on the mental aspect, over the course of the summer, will seem to have been done all in vain.