During the 1997-98 season, Francesco Totti was a 21 year-old talented boy having already earned his stardom at the capital club. Zdenek Zeman was the manager of AS Roma at that time and had deployed Totti on the left flank in a rigid 4-3-3 system. Totti flourished immensely in the role and arguably the season was the launchpad to his rise to fame. Totti has only grown in stature since and 14 years later as Zeman is once again in charge of Roma, his trust in his system is still intact. Zeman is still a believer in a free-flowing 4-3-3 and has found his captain a new life. Luis Enrique nearly deemed Totti surplus to an ambitious AS Roma but Zeman has successfully re-established the legacy of Totti in his Roma project.
Mainly deployed on the left in a 4-3-3, Totti now is more of a creator and relishes to play in this new role where he’s offered enough space as he drifts inside behind the two forwards far too often. Roma have an energy machine in Erik Lamela who operates from the other flank and the attack is now marshaled by an in-form Osvaldo. Totti brilliantly combines with Daniele De Rossi who further advances up in center midfield and both the masterminds collectively aim to find that one ball that beats the defence and meets the target man in a dangerous position. Invariably Totti manages to locate Lamela, Osvaldo and Florenzi in potential scoring positions and spectators are simply left wondering how!
Although Roma have their defensive shortcomings – something that is pretty obvious to any Zeman team, they have nonetheless been so wonderful to watch this season and so was further testified this weekend in their emphatic 2-4 victory over Genoa at Luigi Ferraris after conceding a two goal lead early in the first half. A characteristic shaky defence was totally left wanting as Kucka and Jankovic put the hosts in command but the comeback led by Totti himself with a sublime finish was never to end and saw two astonishing goals from Osvaldo capped off by a delightfully crafted goal late in the second half by Lamela. With his goal, Totti is now at the third place in the list of all time top goal scorers in Serie A, having overtaken both Giuseppe Meazza and Jose Altafini.
Roma were pretty quick with their movement and were brilliant on the ball all through the game. That’s partly the reason why they continued to create one chance after another and maintained a good share of possession, leaving little scope for their opponents to cause any real danger after the two early goals. The result now sees Roma at the fifth position on the table, one above Fiorentina and trailing Inter and Lazio by four points.
Post the win, Zeman has been vocal about the improved performances of De Rossi and Osvaldo which should even settle the rather avoidable dressing room disruption that was caused. The only worrying factor for Roma at the moment is their lack of discipline while defending. Roma could very easily have been at the receiving end of such a result too, an example of which was seen in the game against Bologna. Zeman has to fill the gaps and he will have to be extremely quick with his measures or else such performances from Roma will keep coming from time to time but they will fail to mount any substantial challenge to the teams standing above them.
The game of the weekend was a clash for the top of the table between Juventus and Napoli. Both teams, being tied at 19 points from the 7 games and yet to be beaten, were locking horns in Turin and the build-up to this contest had garnered interest from every corner in Europe. Napoli, it’s firmly believed, is the only real competition to challenge Juventus in their defence of the league title and were considered a serious threat ahead of this game to end Juventus’ unbeaten streak that has lasted for time immemorial now. The last time Juventus lost a league game, PSG was still a name unknown to most.
The game however failed to live up to its hype and both teams were rather conservative and safe in their approach. Chances were few and far in between and the possession too was almost equally distributed between the two sides. Juventus were particularly watchful of Cavani and Hamsik whereas Napoli too were solid against the dangerous Juve midfield. Pirlo with his trademark long balls threatened the defence at times but Juventus forwards could not do much with those. However, the two second half substitutions – Martin Caceres and Paul Pogba – hogged all the limelight, putting two past the Napoli net in a matter of two minutes which completely changed the dynamics of the game. Paul Pogba’s volley that left everyone watching flabbergasted will certainly go down as one of the better goals scored during the season.
When was the last time a team having won the league two seasons back, having finished second only to the champions the next season, had lost five of its first eight games in the new season? Ladies and Gentlemen, we present to you AC Milan! Yet another day in the office and it was yet another loss for Allegri’s men.
Against an in-form Lazio side, it was always going to be difficult to play at Stadio Olimpico and adding to that the current situation that Milan find themselves in, there was always only one team winning this and it certainly was not the one that wears Red & Black. With his team selection, Allegri has already invited enough criticism but the trend did not change on Saturday as Allegri persisted with Bonera in the centre defence and his insistence on 4-3-1-2 with zero creativity from the middle is as baffling as Kevin Constant’s presence in the squad.
To nobody’s surprise, Lazio steamrolled past the Milanese defence and were three up even before the hour mark. Milan did bounce back with two but never looked motivated enough to find the third and earn a crucial point. Lazio successfully maintained a good defensive shape for the final ten minutes and protected the thin lead. Milan have now lost more number of games than any other team in the league unless things miraculously change, Allegri’s future is far from safe.
Adding insult to injury for Milan is the form of Inter. Far from perfect, Inter are forming this habit of grinding the right results under Stramaccioni. Their inexplicable failure at San Siro for the first few weeks too has been sorted now and they have started to produce good results in front of home fans as well. Against Catania, Inter were comfortable and convincing which the final scoreline that read 2-0 shows. Though Catania did create some troubles for Inter defence, eventually the Goals from Cassano and Palacio secured the three points for the Nerazzurri which keeps them in touching distance with Juventus and Napoli.
A goal from Maicosuel against the promoted Pescara was enough to earn Udinese only their second win of the season – Their first one of course, was against Milan. The Udinese squad has been greatly depleted with the exodus of their key performers during the last two seasons and the squad requires great repair work. With 9 points now, Udinese are 12th in the table and chances look bleak of things turning around brightly any time soon for them. With the defeat, Pescara are now in the relegation zone – and Milan are out of the relegation zone only courtesy a better goal difference.
Lying even below Pescara in the relegation zone are Palermo. The Sicilian side, with only one win so far was held for a stalemate against the newly promoted Torino who are doing fairly good in the top division. The second best side from Turin are yet to lose a game on the run and presently sit at the 9th position on the table.
Things are going so right for Juventus that even their discards are now shining with their new clubs. Amauri with a brace against Sampdoria, earned Parma their second win in the season and they moved up to 11th place. Among other results over the weekend, Fiorentina were held for a draw on their visit to Chievo while Cagliari and Atalanta managed to win their games over Bologna and Siena respectively. Siena continue to be at rock bottom with 2 points while Bologna too are walking on thin ice having only accumulated seven points so far.
Next week in the Serie A action, Juventus travel to Sicily to face Catania while Bologna host Inter. Napoli play host to Chievo while Milan will face Genoa at San Siro. The most interesting game from the matchday though will be played between Roma and Udinese in the Capital city.