Some ideas are best consigned to the past. Ruffs. Atlantis (both the city and the television series). The Anglo-Italian Cup. I thought the Barca-Roma experiment was one of them, honestly I did, but I’ve recently become suspicious that they’ve still been doing it just keeping it under the radar.
The craggy face on the front of the Barca-Roma ship was Luis Enrique, a man who quite possibly bleeds blue and red, and so was an ideal candidate to front the Giallorossi’s change of style to a more Catalan style. He crashed and burned spectacularly, as so many Roma coaches have in the recent past; do you remember the Andreazzoli era? Me either.
Anyway, I don’t want to comment on the behind the scenes stuff, or even the style of play – Roma haven’t had time to develop the team cogency that Barcelona have; the passing that comes from playing together, and playing in a certain style, for years but they have got certain aspects, currently, that look if not ‘Barca-Roma’, then certainly ‘A Tribute To Barcelona’.
Watch Barcelona play and they can often seem imbalanced towards the right – Jordi Alba seems to make his arrivals late, running onto balls played out to him for just that purpose. That means that Dani Alves operates almost as much as part of the attack rather than the defence – just as, I’m sure you’ve noticed, Maicon does for Roma. Both rampaging Brazilian right-backs who are far better advancing than tracking back and skew the formation their way slightly.
Roma, however, have no Xavi like figure. Or so I thought until recently when Kevin Strootman was described as a ‘washing machine’, which took a while to properly settle into my mind, but the additional description – ‘he gets the ball wherever he is, ‘cleans it’, and passes it on to a team-mate’. That’s almost Xavi’s raison d’être, is it not?
So playing the ball into Xavi we often see Pique, a defender known for the quickness of his feet and the way he can, also, win attacking headers as well as defensive, and scores a fair few goals for a centre-back. Or rather, he’s playing the Mehdi Benatia role for the Blaugrauna.
Behind Pique is Victor Valdes, a man who has never quite been seen as operating at quite the same level as his team-mates, but is dependable enough when called upon; he’s not an exact fit for Morgan de Sanctis, but both have been written off a number of times, and both have come back time and again to disprove their doubters.
Going forward to the rather fluid midfield they both share, there’s no doubt that the collective Pjanic, is weaker than the Cesc, Iniesta, Busquets axis that runs through Barcelona, though both sides have seen the benefit of slinging a speed-merchant into the opposition defence – with (preposterous as it still sounds) Gervinho doing the same job there for Roma that Pedro does for Barcelona – albeit the Lupi tend to use the option more often.
There’s even the defensive option of a De Rossi or a Mascherano, both of whom can dole out the theatrics or the crunching tackles as the situation demands. Both play best as part of a midfield, but both have adequately filled in at centre-back, too, even if they’d rather not play there.
And then there’s the shining light. The beacon through which both teams are seen. The man playing just off the front, prompting and probing, unleashing pieces of deft wonderment from time to time and providing the face and identity of the team. Lionel Messi may be regarded as one of the best players the world has ever seen, but there’s little doubt his opposite number in Rome, Francesco Totti, is held in the same esteem in Italy – or at least in the capital.
The Barce-Roma experiment was largely viewed to have failed and yet, only a few years down the line, Roma have put together a team of players who (albeit very roughly) tessellate over to the Spanish side. Whether that is as a direct result of them trying, or whether I’m seeing something that isn’t there, I’m not entirely sure. It certainly seems to me that – taking perhaps Totti as their pivot – Roma have enacted the Barce-Roma look they were looking for under Luis Enrique even if not the style of play that would go with it; but then maybe that’s the whole point.
Barcelona’s formation is simply a way of them using space. The tiki-taka aspect of their possession is separate to that. Roma haven’t got that, they use the same spaces, but play differently with them, stretching the game quickly through the likes of Gervinho and Maicon. Maybe I’m way off the mark, but I don’t think Barce-Roma are dead. I think they’re still with us, proceeding by stealth.
(Incidentally, the formation is only a very rough one for how they can replace one another – it isn’t any way exact, because Barcelona’s squad is considerably more vast than Roma’s (Roma have no Neymar, for example) but there’s enough there to suggest they might try to acquire players to take them in that direction.