As the great Chinese tactician Sun Tzu said, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”. Know Your Enemy is a new series here on JuventiKnows in which we will focus on the ‘other’ team: our adversaries. For the most important matches, we ask fans of Juve’s next opponent to expose their team’s secrets & weaknesses. Will Antonio Conte read these? You bet he will! Nevertheless, it isn’t for him we are doing this, but for our readers’ education… Enjoy!
This upcoming Monday, the Bianconeri will travel to Rome again to face old foes. AS Roma vs. Juventus is always an entertaining encounter and to discuss the Giallorossi’s season so far (and how Monday’s game might unravel), we’ve assembled a group of Romanisti gurus.
| Julian De Martinis (@JulianDM11)
Freelance writer who writes for Goal.com and started La Magicast, a very good English-language podcast for Roma fans.
| Alexander Fredriksen (@alexanderoslo)
La Magicast co-host and journalist in Norway (what can we say, we love our Scandinavians here at JuventiKnows).
| Vin L (@legione13)
Blogged for a number of sites including the Udinese Offside (he followed Motta to Roma) and SerieAmerica.
On behalf of JuventiKnows, a warm welcome to all three!!
On to the questions!
1) Roma began a rather ambitious project this past summer with a new owner, new management, and new coach. What are your thoughts on SPANISH ROMA?
Julian: I think it’s exciting. Look at where Roma was a few years ago- or even last year. The squad was stale, the ideas were old, each mercato came and went with little actually done… I think too many fans forget just how much work needs to be done to the club and are losing patience already. Luis Enrique seems to have a lot of ideas but needs to settle on a fixed starting XI. Injuries haven’t helped his case, to be sure, but the only certainties seem to be in goal and in midfield, where De Rossi-Gago-Pjanic seems to be the preferred trio.
For the record, I don’t see much of a Spanish Roma at all. For all the hubbub about the “Barçafication” of the squad, Luis Enrique brought over a whopping one (!) Barcelona players. José Ángel is the only other Spanish player on the team. In fact, if you look at the nationalities of players brought in this summer, Italians lead by a mile due to the fact that so many youngsters were promoted from the Primavera (Verre, Viviani, Caprari) and there were a ton of loan recalls (Curci, Okaka) as well as the full purchase of Marco Borriello.
Alexander: I believe the future looks bright for Roma, and not due to the fact that we have a Barcelona legend as a coach and a lot of Spanish-speaking players. But because the club finally seem to have a long term plan for the future. Under the old management, it was hard to see a plan that stretched past the next transfer window. Extreme measures were needed in Rome, and it has been a very exciting journey so far. So I have faith, in Thomas DiBenedetto and Franco Baldini in particular. Luis Enrique? Yes. The results might not be there, but the idea is. And the idea needs time.
Vin: While I applaud the ambition of the project, I do not approve of its speed or direction.
Regarding the new project’s speed: too many players were brought in too quickly, and the result is a group of players that are effectively on-pitch strangers when compared to other squads. Supporters of the new project will correctly (I hope) point out that time is the only thing needed to bring the players closer together. I contend that if Roma made half of the acquisitions it did this summer and postponed the rest for next year, the adjustment period would already be over and Roma would be firing on all cylinders by now, regardless of the system being implemented.
Regarding the new project’s direction: new Roma owner Thomas DiBenedetto has said that Roma are pursuing a “Barcelona-like system, which is foreign to Italian football“. While Barcelona are an awe-inspiring side, I think that their system is “foreign to Italian football” for a reason. Simply put, Serie A is a league that rewards tactical guile and experience over showmanship, youthful pace, or sheer athleticism. While pace and athleticism have a place in any side, and we all love a bit of showmanship, most Scudetti aren’t won by squads who prize those characteristics over tactical guile or experience. And yet Roma’s premier signings do just that; they’re a host of young, technically gifted, quick players: José Ángel (22), Bojan Krkić (21) Erik Lamela (19) and Miralem Pjanić (21). Don’t get me wrong – each of these players viewed individually is a fantastic addition with a bright future, but what do we get when we bring to Roma ALL AT ONCE? Well, in Serie A, we get beat by Fiorentina 3-0.
At this point, supporters of the new project will point out that this is to be a multi-year effort – one that will perhaps bear fruit in say… two to three seasons, and in an ideal world, I’d agree that such a multi-year transformation was possible. Unfortunately however, there’s no guarantee that Roma’s new signings will stick around for one year, let alone two or three. And when half of them leave, where does that leave Roma’s new project?
2) Roma made a significant amount of ACQUISITIONS this Summer. Who has settled in well, and who hasn’t?
Julian: Pjanic is one of the few who has truly shown. He has six assists already this year and his creativity flourishes the further he can get up the pitch. His tactical nature seems perfectly suited for Serie A. Osvaldo has been the other one that shone in my eyes: his movement gives the team a focal point up front and his goalscoring return has been quite decent. And finally, Lamela has had some great games, but there have been matches where he’s been isolated and unimpressive.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been so great for everyone else. Stekelenburg has only had one game where he truly shone, in the victory over Palermo. Otherwise he hasn’t been a bad goalie but he certainly isn’t playing like a man who was in the World Cup final last year. Kjaer has had amazing interceptions and awful braindead moments that seem to get him sent off more often than not, and José Ángel is still inconsistent. Gago was doing quite well until this past weekend where his sending off didn’t help the club. Bojan continues to reinforce his stereotype (tons of talent, couldn’t hit a barn door).
That’s not to say none of them will come good: as I’ve been stressing all season, we’re merely 3 months into a long-term project, and most of these guys are rather young. There’s no doubt in my mind that Lamela has the craft to be a great forward in Serie A, for example. They all just need a little more time.
Alexander: Tough question since it took a while before we could see glimpse of what the team could do when it finally “clicked” offensively. Beside Stekelenburg, who was a safe buy, I think Ángel and Pjanic settled in quickly. Heinze as well. And I expect Osvaldo and Lamela to grow as long as the whole team gets accustomed to the formation and style. Unfortunately there has been too many changes in the starting line-up, and the whole team have suffered due to it. Bojan seem to struggle the most, and might continue to do so until the team finally play with confidence and feel more comfortable with the new ideas. When that day arrives, I wouldn’t be surprised so see another Bojan.
Vin: Settled in? I honestly think they’re all still in the getting-to-know-each-other phase. That said, if we go by performances, we’ve seen glimpses of greatness as well as groan-inducing moments from pretty much every single acquisition. Most recently, I’ve heard increasing criticism aimed at Bojan (goalkeeper impersonation aside), but I think it’s largely unfounded; he seems to have a good attitude and a real desire to do well. He just needs to find some consistent form, and… you know… not use his hands.
On the other side of the coin, Lamela, who pro-project tifosi hail as the greatest thing since sliced bread (they were practically salivating to see him play earlier this season), has me worried. Specifically, I don’t question his talent; I am, however, beginning to question his attitude. We’ve already seen him shoot when he should’ve passed, bump shoulders and mouth off to the opposition (see Fiorentina) and if you read between the lines, it’s fairly apparent he may have deserved what Osvaldo gave to him. Now, some may say that Francesco Totti has exuded a similar attitude from time to time, but to that I’d reply that Francesco Totti isn’t a 19 year-old new kid who has yet to prove himself. Not to excuse Totti, but come on. There’s a big difference between a 19 year-old and a grown man.
3) Roma also sold a good chunk of players this past year. WHO DO YOU WISH ROMA HAD KEPT?
Julian: I doubt you’ll find a Romanista who won’t say Philippe Mexès, although that was less of a sale and more a fruit of the previous management’s ability to be little more than inept. Mirko Vucinic was a favorite of mine but in terms of a mentality shift, it was probably for the best that he and Menez left. Personally I think we really could’ve used Matteo Brighi in times like these, with so many injuries and suspensions heading into the Juve match. He wasn’t happy staying on the bench, though, so I can see why he left- though I do wish we had kept him.
Alexander: I miss Vucinic‘s personality. He was always a bit crazy, but in a good way. And when I met him, he was so polite and cool, that it was hard for me to dislike him when he wanted out of the club. But I don’t think I miss Vucinic, the football player. As brilliant as Mirko and Ménez were at times, their constant desire to sulk and lose focus convinced me that Roma would be better off without them. Most of the sales made sense. I wish Mexès was still here though.
Vin: You mean besides Mexès? We’re told that the players who were let go were somehow not appropriate for the Enrique system of play. That said, Roma have kept Rodrigo Taddei – almost Roma’s Amauri – and I have difficulty understanding how HE fits said system (or ANY system that’s not Forrest Gump-based) while a hard-working, rarely-makes-mistakes player like Matteo Brighi doesn’t. Roma could REALLY use Jon Arne Riise right now. There. I said it. And I won’t apologize for saying that I’d feel a lot more comfortable with a ginger-haired Norwegian minding the flank.
4) Luis Enrique has switched the formation and starting XI quite a bit this season. Do you feel he’s starting to FIGURE OUT HIS IDEAL TEAM? If not, what is he missing?
Julian: I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s struggling. Injuries again have played an enormous role in this: had Burdisso and Kjaer not received long term injuries, for example, I can’t see why they wouldn’t be the starting center-back pairing. Then of course Totti was injured, Osvaldo decided to punch Lamela, Lamela himself missed the beginning of the season… Luis Enrique’s deck is always changing, so I think that shifting formations is not only necessary, but smart. He’s adapting the team to whatever players he has at his disposal each game.
Alexander: Yes, I think he saw something in the line-up against Novara and Lecce. Perhaps not the strongest oponents, but Lamela – Osvaldo – Bojan up front with Gago – De Rossi – Pjanic in the midfield looked very, very good. A line-up we didn’t see against Udinese and Fiorentina. It’s evident that LE has switched too much from game to game – but many of the changes have been forced upon him due to injuries and suspensions. So blaming LE entirely is too easy. So hard to say what’s missing when we haven’t played with what seems to be the best XI over a longer period of time.
Vin: I think he’s only beginning to figure out his ideal team. Enrique has had his hand forced quite bit by injuries this season, and I don’t envy his position even when this team is healthy. That said, I do wish that – if he’s going to play Erik Lamela – that he’d play him not as a striker, but as a winger or right behind the strikers. In addition to that being a more natural position for him, placing him there might free up a spot in the striker rotation as well.
5) If you had to pick a WEAK and a STRONG point of Roma’s starting XI, what would they be?
Julian: Weak point: without a doubt, the defense. I don’t even want to think of what it’ll look like going into the Juventus match but I have a feeling it’ll involve at least 2 midfielders playing out of position. Strong point? The midfield. DDR-Gago-Pjanic was gelling amazingly well and had a perfect balance of guile and strength. Of course with Gago out this weekend, it remains to be seen who will fill in for him and how they’ll do.
Alexander: Injury-free, I think it’s the lack of alternatives that worries me. I like Gago-Pjanic-De Rossi, it’s the best trio we can produce. But in some games I feel we need a quick and explosive box to box player. And the alternatives are Perrotta, Greco and Simplicio. Our current state: our CB status is a nightmare. I’m unsure if Burdisso-Kjær is a good combo, but I wonder if I’ll ever get an answer to that. The defence needs reinforcements, big time.
Vin: The weak point has to be the back line. Period. When everyone is healthy, it’s decent (albeit not great), but Burdisso’s awful injury has really caused trouble. The strong point is probably the midfield. Not that the forwards are bad, per se… but it’s just that the midfield has stood out in recent weeks. Pjanic–De Rossi–Gago seem to be fairly capable in combination.
6) There have been comparisons between LUIS ENRIQUE and Antonio Conte, as they both jumped from a 2nd division squad to one of the Italian giants. Luis Enrique has struggled, but do you see progress? What is he doing right, and where is he going wrong?
Julian: Conte has had the added benefit of knowing the Italian league inside and out, both from his time as a coach and his time as a player. LE has a bit less experience as a coach and that was only in a foreign league, so it seems natural to me that one needs more time to adapt. It’s tough to measure progress (I know I keep harping on this, but since we have so many injuries/suspensions, we have no set starting XI and thus can’t monitor it for progress) but when everyone is healthy, we have gotten better at scoring goals.
What he’s doing wrong, in my eyes, is filling the spots of injured players with deadweight veterans. Is Perrotta really a better midfield option than Viviani? 3 years ago, yes, but today? Is Cassetti that much better than Nego would be? Things like that. If this is a youth revolution, it needs to be done consistently.
Alexander: I feel the team has been moving in the right direction since the Cagliari game. Our obvious problem has been “much possession, few chances”. Then, against Lecce and Novara, we suddenly saw some really positive stuff in the final third were we had struggled. Then we had the setback in Udine, before the joke in Firenze. Is Luis Enrique doing much right? I’m not sure. Much wrong? I’m not sure. There only thing I’m sure of is that with all these injuries and suspensions, what can we expect besides more changes and inconsistent results?
Vin: Contrary to what you’re probably expecting, I think that Luis Enrique is generally doing as well as any rational person can expect. Don’t get me wrong, I still think his system is wrong for Serie A, but as far as his overall leadership and game day maneuvering, I’d be nitpicking if I started criticizing him. In short, hate the project, not the man. That said, if you want to swap him for Antonio Conte, let’s make it happen. We can throw in Rodrigo Taddei. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Not even if you take Amauri and his wages off our hands]
7) The biggest Juventus-Roma transfer in recent years was us signing MIRKO VUCINIC this Summer. He’s had a decent time since his move North, but hasn’t scored much and hasn’t exploded. Do you think he was a wise signing for the Old Lady? Was he a wise sale for Roma?
Julian: I was against the sale of Vucinic for two reasons: one, he was a personal favorite of mine, and two, Juventus just don’t need him. He has a reputation for scoring/performing only against the big clubs (although at the end of last season, his reputation was for missing the easiest of chances against both big and small clubs). And Juve? Same reputation: Del Neri’s Juventus, for example, had no problem taking on the top clubs in Italy. It’s the bottom clubs that both struggle against, and thus Vucinic doesn’t really strengthen Juventus in my eyes. He certainly hasn’t hurt Conte’s squad since joining, however, so I can’t say that he was a bad signing. However I wouldn’t call it a wise one, either.
Was he a wise sale for Roma? He was a necessary one, which moots the question. After his agent said the relationship with the fans was “broken” this summer, there was only ever one option. Of course, that could have been his agent just angling for a move, but given the fickle nature of many Roma fans, it doesn’t surprise me that he went from hero to villain within a year.
Alexander: I think the deal benefited both clubs, yes. He seemed to be drifting further away the last year in Rome, didn’t seem hungry nor inspired. I guess I expected him to find his “groove” more quickly in Turin, but I guess he needs more time to settle in before he “explodes”. The qualities are there, unsure if his head is.
Vin: That depends on which Vucinic we’re talking about. Let me ask you this: have Juventini discovered that in acquiring Vucinic, you’ve actually signed two players… “big-game Mirko” and “doesn’t give a **** Mirko”? When Vucinic decides not to care, you’ll wonder if he’s actually sleepwalking on the pitch and if he was the worst deal of the year. But just wait. When Juve’s back is against the wall, big-game Mirko is likely to pull through, his shorts will come off (wait, you’ll see) and all will be well.
8) Juventus travel to Roma without any suspensions. Roma of course, will be missing Juan, Gago, and Bojan after the Firenze debacle. Of these players, WHICH ONE IS THE BIGGEST LOSS?
Julian: Indubitably Gago. Juan’s decline over the past year has been nothing short of astonishing: he was well and truly the best centre-back in Serie A in my eyes, and now he’s nothing more than a liability. Bojan probably wouldn’t give Lichtsteiner anything he couldn’t handle, either. But Gago would’ve been huge in chaining Pirlo and preventing Marchisio and Vidal from pushing forward. Gago also lets De Rossi do what he does best: sit deep and keep the ball as far away from our defense as possible. Because when they have to actually defend, bad things tend to happen.
Alexander: We’ll also be missing Kjær, Burdisso, Pizarro, Borriello, Rosi, and Borini. Borriello and Rosi might actually probably be back for Juve, but our “not available” list is a tragic comedy. Besides the obvious crisis we have after Kjær and Burdisso’s injuries, Gago’s suspension was the worst. It would be easier to solve the CB crisis by slotting De Rossi back, if only Gago and Pjanic could be 2/3 of the midfield…
Vin: Roma’s injury situation is such that I have to ignore current form here and say that Juan is by far the biggest suspension loss, just based on his position. I mean… Roma’s “defense” (I use that term lightly) was hurting already. Now they have to face Juventus sans another center back?
9) Specifically for this upcoming match against Juventus, where do you feel Roma’s STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES lie? (Conte eagerly awaiting for the answers to this one)
Julian: Strength? If Totti plays, Totti. He will definitely want to prove that he’s not past it and has a vital role in the team. I’m also drooling at the prospect of the combined creative powers of him and Lamela. Weakness? Undoubtedly the fullback positions. Matri’s movement is usually tough enough to handle for any defense, but throw in what will probably be a midfielder playing as a terzino, and Vucinic, if healthy, could have had a field day against his former team.
Alexander: Historically, this is a game Roma won’t win. But they have always been the favourite the last years despite the obvious Juve-jinx at home. Now many laugh at the possibility of Roma getting three points. Too many signs point at Juventus. They might be the favourite for the first time in a long time. Against a Roma who bleeds. There is a saying nothing is more dangerous than a cornered animal… I expect this wolf to bite!
Vin: Again, the primary weakness is our back line. Aside from that, it’s not as though the rest of the team is even close to full-strength either. Still, there may be a silver lining to all of this. See… with Gago and Bojan out of the picture, it’s up to De Rossi and Totti to really turn in season-best performances. Fortunately over the years, the latter has shown himself to be no less lethal coming off of an injury. Not only that, but I think that we may also see some pre-Enrique Roma players get some match time. One or two might even be Italian! Borriello? Perhaps even him, if he’s recovered in time (poor Marco has been all but ignored, despite the fact that in each of his two outings in the Enrique system – which he supposedly isn’t appropriate for – he’s had an assist).
In any case, Roma may very well slip back into their old ways this match, just based on the available personnel… and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing while the team’s so banged up. In a sense, I am kind of looking forward to it.
10) We imagine being optimistic about this match would be pretty hard for a Romanista right now, but Roma will surely play differently vs. Juve than against Udinese. In fact, De Rossi called this game his “most felt” game after the derby. HOW DO YOU THINK IT WILL END?
Julian: I’d love to envision a Roma win but it’s hard to see that happening for a number of reasons. Juventus are red-hot right now, Roma are widely inconsistent, the Olimpico has hardly been a fortress for Enrique, the aforementioned injuries and suspensions… A draw, then.
Alexander: We’ll win.
Vin: Is Quagliarella playing? I am quite certain that if he plays, he’ll be locked and loaded, and I doubt anyone will think to warn Stekelenburg that Quagliarella can score from three miles away. Even without Quagliarella, however, Juve have to be heavy favorites. Still, I don’t think they’ll blow Roma out; I think this may be a lot closer than people expect.
A big thank you to Julian, Alexander, and Vin for their contribution!