“Inter remain the favorites for the title. The other contenders are Milan, and they will fight it out among themselves. The Scudetto doesn’t interest me.”
With nine games to go and four points behind the league leaders, Roma, not Milan, are best poised to knock Inter Milan off its berth and win the scudetto. Moreover, if the Giallorossi manager harbors any hopes of a title, he’s certainly doing his best to conceal it, and more importantly going about it the right way.
The Tinker-man. Il Mister. El General. Claudio Ranieri has had his fair share of aliases as well as critics and supporters during his managerial spells in Spain, England and Italy. Best known for his mercurial tactical style, the mild mannered football character has been a revelation at Roma since taking over the reigns at the capital following the resignation of Luciano Spaletti. Ousted by Turin giants Juventus after less than a season amidst claims he had lost the dressing room in relation to well publicized spats with Juventus golden boys – Del Piero and Buffon – along with calls for his “head” by fans, his subsequent appointment at Roma was met with loads of skepticism amongst little fan fare.
“I have finally returned home… coaching Roma is a dream come true” exclaimed the Rome native despite cackles across media outlets and Giallorossi faithfuls who labeled him as “nice guy loser”, furthermore questioning his ability to rejuvenate a team bereft of confidence, lacking ideas on and off the pitch and over-dependent on often crocked aging maestro Francesco Totti. Seven months later, echoes of discontent and skepticism have faded, replaced with perpetual admiration and lavish praises as he continues to work wonders in Rome. And with nine games left, a Seria A title is within grasp.
Ranieri’s tactical nous has fashioned the team into a current 19 game league unbeaten run. Perhaps his most remarkable bit of skill has been his transformation of Mirko Vucinic from a deep-lying / support striker into a complete forward; thus the Montenegrin international is the catalyst of the team’s attack – responsible for creating and scoring goals – and simply drifts around when the team is not in position. Whilst Totti is still the team’s trequartista, Vucinic’s maturity into this new role has been essential for a team which operates without any true wingers, relying to surging wing-backs to provide much needed width. The 26 yr old leads the team in fouls suffered, total shots, shots on target, assists and only trails Totti by a single goal – whose tally of 10 consists of four penalties compared to Vucinic’s lone spot kick.
As the club from the Eternal city holds hopes for a title, it faces its biggest test of the season this weekend when it hosts Inter Milan. If the Giallorossi can secure a draw or unlikely win again against the Nerazzurri, it faces an easier end of the season fixture list in comparison to its title challengers. Away games at Bari, Chievo, Parma and home ties against Atalanta and Cagliari are very winnable. The derby against relegation threatened Lazio is expected to be the biggest in recent seasons, then followed the following week with a visit of Sampdoria.
Unlike Roma, AC Milan finish the season with five tough fixtures; visits to Sampdoria, Palermo and Genoa while hosting Fiorentina at the San Siro on May 2nd. The final match of the season sees Leonardo’s Rossineri entertain Zaccheroni’s Old Lady – one which will undoubtedly dictate whether Juventus secure a crucial champions league spot. Inter Milan, on the other hand, have a much easier run in than AC Milan but have their sights set on Champions league glory and will more than likely rotate the squad to accommodate its two front battle.
Should Inter slip up in the title race, expect Ranieri’s coy approach to be overshadowed by the Italian press adulation and optimism for Roma’s prospects of its 4th ever scudetto, its first since Capello’s 2000-2001 season. The man who laid the groundwork for Benitez’s Valencia domestic and European triumph, the unsung hero of Mourinho’s Chelsea tenure, the savior of Parma from relegation certainty and honor in Juventus‘ rise from calamity might finally get a deserved reward.
It’s due time lady luck smiled on the butcher’s son.