New faces, old problems: Tying Pescara

Posted by Julian De Martinis

One of the most memorable scenes in a film full of them is Harvey Dent's press conference in The Dark Knight. Set after the Joker demands Batman turn himself in, Gotham's district attorney holds a press conference to discuss the city's options. He questions: "Should we give into this terrorist's demands?" "Things are worse than ever," argues a reporter. As the crowd rumbles in agreement, Dent unleashes a masterclass in argument reversal: "Yes, they are. But the night is darkest just before the dawn. I promise you: the dawn is coming." And eventually, the dawn did come, as *spoilers* Batman was able to defeat the Joker by the end of the movie.

One thing is certain: Roma is not Gotham City. For, tonight, there has not been a dawn, but an extension of the darkness.

Only the most optimistic of optimists would find the 1-1 draw with Pescara not technically disastrous - "A point is a point, and the club are just one off of a Europa League spot," they would say. By every other measure, it was terrible.

Playing down to the level of the opponent has been the chief manifestation of the club's mental problem for years. It certainly is not anything new, which is precisely the problem. The new ownership heralded a new dawn. So did Luis Enrique. And Zdenek Zeman. And Aurelio Andreazzoli. Yet none of them have been able to get to the root of this side's inability to win, an inability to reach inside and yank out the best of themselves to pull out routine victories when routine victories are needed.

It was a home match. It was against Pescara - the worst side in the league by seven points; dead last, coming into the game with eight straight losses. An even more depressing realisation: the home side's starting eleven is the best the club has, with the arguable exception of Mattia Destro for Pablo Osvaldo. The midfield failed to control the match, the forwards failed to produce, and the defence was snapped by the weakest of sides.

Obviously none of this bodes well for the club. Pescara have been pummeled by the likes of Sampdoria, Napoli, Milan, Juventus, and Cagliari this season. Since February, they have not conceded more than three goals a game but they have not won any either. Their top scorer this season has four goals; Gianluca Caprari had none. Until today.

"Typical Roma" is becoming a phrase heard all too often but there's no other phrase to sum up this side's matches. Having a former player score against the team is only the tip of the iceberg; missed chances, players playing well below their own individual levels, conceding on one of the rare attempts on goal, etc etc. There's practically a handbook on how this side plays, and the chapter titles are incredibly depressing. This is the Roma we've known. The faces have changed but the identity hasn't; they're merely new masks on an old body of disappointment.

Destro's form is perhaps the only highlight from the match. He scored within five minutes of coming on at half-time for Alessandro Florenzi. Then again, he was given the easiest of tap-ins from Daniele De Rossi's shot/assist. So even the highlight isn't that good.

At one point, there were five forwards on the pitch: Osvaldo, Destro, Totti, Lamela, and Lopez. Andreazzoli didn't lose this game for lack of trying, but the team's tactics were all wrong. Whipping crosses into the box when an away side is sitting so deep is not going to result in a match-winner, bearing terrible mistakes or own goals. Instead, a creative presence would have been needed to draw players, create space, and issue cutting passes to expose frailties. It wasn't AA's fault, but no player on the pitch out there did that.

Speaking of forwards, Osvaldo and Destro really don't play well together. They tend to occupy the same space and the former is much more static than the latter. It would now be a major surprise to see Pablo still in the books by September.

The team could have used Panagiotis Tachtsidis today; a possession-retaining regista who can make smart, incisive passes from the midfield is clearly one of the bigger missing pieces from the side. Miralem Pjanic should, in theory, be able to play a similar role but the midfield failed to gel today and was caught too often on the counter, despite containing a runner like Florenzi and the defensive-minded Daniele De Rossi.

Even when things look so good on paper, they materialise into less-than-stellar results. The points dropped against Palermo and Pescara would have been enough to see the side just two behind Milan and one behind Fiorentina. If that realisation stings a bit, it should.

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