Is time up for Eusebio Di Francesco at Roma?
"I'm disgusted". This is the harsh comment made by Roma president James Pallotta after the Giallorossi's bad defeat at Bologna, their fourth match without a win this season. Not the best way to start the week for Eusebio Di Francesco, who is facing his most difficult time since sitting on the capital's team bench. This year must banish Antonio Conte's ghost.
Winning in Rome is more difficult than anywhere else in Italy. The fans' exaggerated love for the team can push players and coach beyond their limits, as happened in the last season with the Remontada against Barcelona. On the other hand, they can't forgive lack of dedication.
For this very reason, Di Francesco has the great opportunity to make fans instantly forget all the debates. A week with two derbies, the minor one played midweek against Frosinone, but above all the real one against Lazio today.
Frosinone are newly promoted in Serie A. With only one point gained so far, obtained with a dull 0-0 against Chievo Verona, the Canaries still seek their season's first goal. Roma, after a 3-day retreat, didn't fail. Cengiz Under scored after just two minutes and the team led 3-0 at halftime. Despite this reassuring score, the Giallorossi showed the second-half determination lacked in recent matches. Nicolo Zaniolo and Luca Pellegrini made their first appearances in Serie A, with the latter providing the pass for the final 4-0 scored by Aleksandar Kolarov.
An easy win, but Saturday won't be so easy against Lazio. The Eagles won against Udinese while Ciro Immobile, Sergei Milinkovic-Savic and Lucas Leiva rested on the bench. Simone Inzaghi's team plays a solid, organized 4-4-1-1, whereas Di Francesco continues to search for the right tactical key to allow the players provided by Monchi to express their best.
In the last transfer market, Roma sold Allison and above all lost Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan. Meanwhile, Monchi signed former Palermo star Javier Pastore from Paris Saint-Germain. The Argentinian is a great player but he is forcing Di Francesco to leave his 4-3-3 to set up a 4-2-3-1 formation with De Rossi and the other new signing, Steven N'Zonzi, playing as pivot midfielders behind Pastore. El Flaco seems even more irreplaceable after yesterday's spectacular goal, his second backheel strike this season, mirroring the first that came against Atalanta.
Di Francesco is also a former Roma player. He won the Scudetto in 2001 when coached by Fabio Capello, but his style of play is more influenced by Don Fabio's predecessor, Zdenek Zeman, the 4-3-3 precursor in Italy and integralist coach who never changed his mind about attacking gameplay. In the first matches of this season, Di Francesco insisted with this tactic of adapting Pastore to play in the midfield with alternating results. Bench players like Lorenzo Pellegrini and Bryan Cristante don't seem ready to be in the starting eleven. Only once this year, against Milan, Roma played with the 4-2-3-1 with Pastore playing as "trequartista" between midfield and attack. Things didn't go well. Against Frosinone, though, Pastore showed all his class in a brilliant match by the whole team.
Fans and press still hold Di Francesco in great esteem after reaching Champions League semi-finals last season. He can't be sacked easily. The real problem of this season's beginning has been the unfocused mental approach to the game. Roma still has one of the best squads in Serie A. Maybe not at Juventus' level but one that can surely harbour hopes to end in the league table just behind the Vecchia Signora. In my opinion, Roma will win this weekend's capital derby against Lazio despite the latter's dangerous attack. Inzaghi's team still lacks personality and has serious defensive problems. They must also have an eye on the next Champions League round at home against Viktoria Plzen.
Maybe the critics have motivated the players, but before blaming the team, Pallotta should concede more time to his coach. He should remember the financially profitable transfers he allowed in recent years, dismantling what was the strongest midfield in Italy, selling players such as Salah, Pjanic, Marquinhos, Rudiger, Romagnoli, Paredes, Emerson Palmieri. What a team if only some of these players remained.