An instructive and honest assessment of the misadventures of Roma at the Bernabéu on Wednesday night made the defeat no less painful for visiting support. But it was difficult not to find a kernel of truth in the words that Monchi pronounced when passing through the mixed zone shortly after full time.
“The best Rome last season probably lost tonight too,” he observed, and it’s hard to disagree.
Real Madrid won the Champions League in four of the last five years and, despite all the curiosity about how they would fare without Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo, their recent dominance was not due exclusively to that duo. Luka Modric is expected to clean up the individual prizes this season, finishing with Ronaldo and Messi for a decade at the Golden Ball, and as the coach of Rome, Eusebio Di Francesco, noted in his subsequent press conference, there were six Real players Madrid in the team that took Croatia 6-0 in the League of Nations earlier this month.
Everyone knew when the draw was made that leaving for the European champions represented the most difficult of group games in Rome. The Gazzetta dello Sport compared it to climbing Mount Everest and in the end, a white storm meant that they did not get anywhere near the summit. Since Di Francesco looked a lot like Sherpa Tenzing last year when leading Rome to the semifinals for the first time since 1984, the disappointment can be explained, at least in part, by expectations.
Rome could have lost to the same opponent if they had faced each other in the knockouts earlier this year. But the key difference between losing 4-1 at the Camp Nou in April and a 3-0 defeat at the Bernabéu on Wednesday is that Roma left the field in Barcelona convinced that the result was a lie and that they deserved better. (The same happened, by the way, after 3-3 at Stamford Bridge in December). That performance in Catalonia gave them the confidence to achieve the “Romantada” fifteen days later.
Unfortunately, the truth was more unpleasant this time because Madrid was the one who thought that the result did not tell the whole story.
“The dominance of Madrid was absolute in the first half,” Emilio Butragueño told reporters in the mixed zone. “We went into the break 1-0 but we deserved more goals, we scored three of them and their goalkeeper was their best player.”
De Rossi has been in Rome for his entire career and said after losing to Real that he knows this team can do better. Quality sports images / Getty Images
Robin Olsen, who has received a disproportionate amount of criticism this season apparently for not being Alisson and for making a mistake in a goal that Torino had rejected on the first day, prevented this was another “Saco de Roma” to match Bayern and Barcelona humiliations of the Rudi Garcia era, not to mention the 7-1 at Old Trafford in 2007. For me it was more like the first match of the Champions League, the 0-0 with Atleti, which probably would have gone in the same way for another exceptional display of goalkeepers and bad shots of Rome’s opponents at night.
The big picture here, however, is that all is not lost. There are five group games remaining and the next two are at home for Viktoria Plzen and a CSKA Moscow team in transition now that the Berezutski brothers, Sergei Ignashevich and Aleksandr Golovin have moved on. The frustration for Captain Daniele De Rossi, however, stems from the fact that he knows that the Roma are better than this.
“We are also a strong team,” he told Sky Italia on Wednesday, “not as strong as [Madrid], but we have to keep an eye on the form we have presented so far.” The Roma occupy ninth place in the Serie A and have not won since the opening day, as some of the problems they had last season remain.
Excellent in the Olympics in the great European nights, they were defeated six times in Serie A last year and their house form continues to disappoint them. The scoring goals were not easy in Di Francesco’s first season and although they are flowing better this season, finding the back of the net still feels like hard work. They can not trust Edin Dzeko to make his best impression of Marco van Basten every week, or Javier Pastore in speculative tackles like the one he scored against Atalanta. Gypsies create a lot, but few of their possibilities are clear and, when they are, the conversion rate is too low.
New concerns this season include giving opponents an edge by giving them the first half. It happened against Atalanta, who was six weeks ahead in his physical preparation after returning early for the Europa League, then against Milan, who had played a game less than them and such.