Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Roma missing their mojo

At the start of the Italian football season hopes were high that AS Roma and Juventus were going to compete in a thrilling race for the title. In fact, some experts even believed Rudi Garcia's men could end Juve's hegemony in Serie A. The thinking went that along with Antonio Conte's resignation, the winning edge would also depart the Old Lady.

In the early months of the season it seemed the prediction of a tight race would indeed be borne out. Many even looked at Juve's narrow and controversial win over Roma in the sixth round of fixtures as a sign that the Giallorossi were neck and neck with the champions. Even in defeat Roma played with verve and passion that has typified Garcia's reign since he came to the Italian capital.

Then came that match against Bayern Munich at the Olimpico. After an impressive start to their Champions League campaign in the group stages, the game against Bayern was to mark Roma's arrival on the European stage. Nobody considered them favourites by any stretch of the imagination, but the general feeling was that they were going to make life difficult for Pep Guardiola's men. 

For the first fifteen minutes Roma came out strong. There was the relentless pressing allied with fast transitions. Manuel Neuer was called into action, making two good saves. Then Bayern broke on the counter and Arjen Robben scored. Roma betrayed their lack of experience as they went hell for leather chasing the equalizer. This played into the Bavarian giant's hands and the match finished 7-1 to the visitors.

It was a chastening experience for club and manager. At the time Garcia said it was a match that they would learn from and adapt different tactics in future games. A good manager learns most from defeat, but Garcia and his men seem to have been struck in neutral since then. They had a respectable outing in the return leg despite losing, not leaving the open spaces for Bayern that they did at home.

Yet, there is a difference in being a bit cautious against a team of Bayern's might and doing it against teams of lesser quality than you. That is exactly how Roma have been playing since November. The speed, possession and directness have deserted the team completely. In an attempt to be defensively solid, Roma have veered too far away from their attacking approach. As a result, for the first time in Garcia's reign there isn't a clear philosophy and style of play. The first eleven isn't consistent, although injuries and suspensions are a natural reason rather than Garcia tinkering.

As a result, Roma are now seven points behind Juve in second place. Of course, such a gap can be overcome, but Juve with their machine-like efficiency are unlikely to drop silly points. There is a ruthlessness and winning mentality that separates the Bianconeri and Giallorossi. Nothing illustrates this more than their home form. 

Roma have thrown away silly points in draws at home against opposition they should be defeating with comfort. If Roma would have won all their home games as they should have, they would now be leading the league. In stead, they are playing with no confidence at the Olimpico, as evidenced in an insipid performance against Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia earlier today.

Losing to La Viola is no disgrace, but home draws in cups should not be fretted away without a fight but that is what happened. Now competing on only two fronts, Garcia has to get his men focused and playing at the high standards they set at the start of the season. Some of the signings made in the winter transfer window may help. 

Roma can still achieve a lot this season. With Juve still in the Coppa and the Champions League, it's conceivable that the Giallorossi can claw back the deficit from Massimiliano Allegri's men. There is also the Europa League in which they have one of the stronger squads amongst those remaining in the competition. Even if Roma don't win silverware, a second consecutive season of direct qualification to the Champions League will be considered a success. For that to happen, Roma need to recover their mojo. Soon.