An air of disappointment settled over the Stadio Olimpico in Rome as the referee blew the final whistle on Monday. Not because the fans were dismayed by Roma's performance; it was in fact the quality of the performance that led to the disappointment.
Roma had again drawn with a team well below their standards, this time Cagliari, and frustration and discouragement seemed to be the only reasonable responses to such a score line. Roma were clearly the better team, dominating possession and shutting down any sort of counter attack close to the halfway line, yet they could not manage to pull ahead when it mattered most.
Frustrations reached a boiling point as manager Rudi Garcia was controversially sent to the stands for allegedly berating the fourth official, and from that moment on there was always a sense that this was just not going to be Roma's night.
With the team playing so well, everyone from the players to the owners must be baffled as to why the results are not there.
Roma are merely finding out the negative side of being a top team, which is why they have drawn their last three games. Their early season run of victories announced their presence as a top team in Italy, forcing every other team to adapt their playing style to absorb their quality.
In the Cagliari game, Roma were forced to attack a wall of defenders, with at least nine Cagliari players behind the ball at all times. This served to nullify the threats of the fleet-footed Gervinho and the equally pacy Alessandro Florenzi.
Gervinho has rediscovered himself after reuniting with Garcia, and Florenzi has been developing into a top player after his impressive showing at the U21 European Championships in Israel over the summer.
These two players have been crucial to the creation of most of Roma's goals this season, but on Monday they had no room in which to work since there were so many defenders crammed into such a tight area. As Gervinho and Florenzi had no space in which to work, Adem Ljalic, Kevin Strootman, and the wing-backs Dodo and Maicon shouldered the burden of creating chances.
Ljajic was forced to drop deep to receive the ball in the same area as Strootman, which eliminated the central target for Roma's attack and rendered Ljajic ineffective, and Dodo and Maicon were only able to hit speculative efforts from distance, with only Maicon troubling man of the match Vlada Avramov with any regularity.
Roma are going to need to get used to teams parking the bus against them; it is a tactic that all top teams must face. All of Roma's draws have come against teams that have packed it in against them.
Granted, Roma have had to deal with a string of significant injuries, with Gervinho and Mattia Destro only recently being declared fit to play, but they definitely have the quality to be able to win these games.
Frustration is a natural response to such a tactic, but a team with this many good players, especially ones who are all buying into the same system, can certainly find a way to break through a wall of defenders. They must, really, in order to be taken seriously as a title contender.
Based on the amount of different goalscorers this season, depth is most likely not the issue for Roma's recent run of disappointing results. Rather, they are encountering the growing pains of becoming a truly top team, and if they can be mature enough to channel their frustration into better play, they will have a real chance of bringing the Scudetto back to Rome.
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