Bologna-Roma was a good match in probably only one way: since scoring two goals in the first three matches of 2013, Roma have gone on to score six in the subsequent trio, including three Sunday in the 3-3 draw at Bologna. It was a bad match in many other ways.
To say it was an underwhelming start is probably accurate – it’s probably time to start wondering why, exactly, Zdenek Zeman always insists on so many men from a kickoff when it never really seems to lead to much more than regular kickoffs do. In fact, 75 percent of Roma’s goals have come in the later 30 minutes of play in either half, suggesting that the side are at their best offensively once they’ve settled into a rhythm*.
Nevertheless, Roma took the lead courtesy of a terrible error passing out from the back from Bologna; Francesco Totti played a neat little assist for Alessandro Florenzi to slot into the far corner of the net, and it was a slightly different match after that. The visitors were clearly inflated from the goal and started to impose themselves more, before Bologna equalized. Once again it was the result of individual mistakes – Nicolas Burdisso’s poor challenge and Mauro Goicoechea’s terrible keeping to palm the ball right in Alberto Gilardino’s way.
What was a nice change of pace, however, was the way in which Roma immediately responded: from nearly the very next possession, Miralem Pjanic crossed the ball perfectly to Pablo Osvaldo for the striker to rise unmarked and head home his 11th goal of the season. If the side showed that kind of resilience all season, there’s no saying how far up the table they would be. Alas, they haven't, and they certainly didn't continue to show it against Bologna.
In a rather lively opening 25 minutes, the home team found a second equalizer from Manolo Gabbiadini. The same two Roma players were at fault once again: Burdisso gave him far too much time and space in the box to turn and rip off a shot that somehow got past the near post of Goicoechea. On television feeds, cameras cut to Maarten Stekelenburg on the bench immediately after – a symbol that more than speaks for itself after the Dutchman’s solid display in goal against Inter last week.
The rest of the first half was notable for demonstrating the underrated-ness of Alessandro Diamanti – in many ways, a player of his creative caliber is really missing from Roma’s midfield (see more on that below). In general, Stefano Pioli has his Bologna team well-disciplined and organized tactically if not somewhat streaky in form. There’s a good reason his name is being tossed around as a potential successor to Zeman; his sides represent a type of control and ebbing that is a far cry from the anarchy of Roma’s current coach. Nevertheless, they’re in 15th for a reason, and failing to beat them has seen Roma fall nine points behind third and tumbling down into eighth position.
Bologna took the lead early in the second half, after both Burdisso and Goicoechea – surprise, surprise- went to clear the ball, only for the rebound to fall right into Cristian Pasquato’s path. Clearly, preventing rebounds is a major weakness of the defense and Bologna exploited it dearly. Roma had one more rally left, with Panagiotis Tachtisidis scoring the equalising goal from a fantastic looping header off of Totti’s free kick. Both sides traded decent chances after that but the match ended a draw.
*A working theory of mine: because they’re unconventional and that’s what Zeman stands for. Along with those short corners that get crossed in that never really seem to work, the Czech seems to offer a different way of playing football that isn’t really results-based but different more or less for the sake of being different.
The Bigger Picture
The essential problem remains that the midfield still isn’t quite working. Daniele De Rossi has been underperforming or benched; Florenzi has been improving but nowhere near the level he was at in September; Michael Bradley is serviceable but hardly setting Serie A on fire; and Tachtsidis has a lot of potential that needs to be ironed out and harnessed at a club with less pressure and fewer ambitions. Pjanic has been by far the most consistent midfielder but Roma need more players on his technical level; in essence, the club have depth in midfield but not really quality, which shifts the innovative burden onto the 36-year-old Totti. It’s simply unthinkable that a side hoping for a Champions League spot would put out Bradley, Florenzi, and Tachtsidis all at once. On or two (max) at a time, sure, but all three? Simply not good enough, not to mention that the three have never played together before this season.
Sure, the defense is terrible without Marquinhos; Federico Balzaretti has been a ghost of his Palermo self; and the forwards are still too often not clinical enough, but at least the former two issues can be derived from the fact that the midfield fails to really control matches. Roma’s biggest weakness is that they’re soft: easy to score on, difficult to score for. More possession and smarter use of the ball would see greater goal-scoring chances and less pressure on the defense, which is absolutely necessary in a Zeman system.
With no wins in the league in 2013, however, the biggest question of all might just be how much longer this Roma will play under Zeman’s system anyway.