Sunday, November 04, 2007

Marco Polo in Reverse

After nine days in China, I leave tomorrow. Turns out that there is some football here after all, but you have to be an insomniac to see it. Saturday and Sunday nights on CCTV 5 (that’s right, folks – state-owned sports channels! It’s an interesting concept) both feature triple-headers from midnight to six AM and there’s a couple of Wednesday matches shown, too. The lineup is a Premiership-free mix of German, Spanish and Italian leagues, which means I got to see my frustratingly erratic Sevilla side spank the meringues 2-0 yesterday. Fantastic.

As a result of this line-up, I’ve seen more of Roma in a week here than I have all season. That Mirko Vucinic is pretty tasty, isn’t he? It turns out that Roma’s boss, Signor Spalletti, has been serious about implementing the 4-6-0 plan I advocated this summer (prego, Luciano) and the results have been – interesting. This month’s issue of Champions described the formation as defensive in outlook, but this is nonsense. Loyalty to in-laws forbid me from supporting anyone but my adopted Palermo, but to my mind Roma play an enjoyable and attacking brand of football and are a pleasure to watch.

It may well be, though, that Spalletti doesn’t quite have the players to make the most of 4-6-0, which demands above all else that players be able to make quick and intelligent off-the-ball runs. This squad is intelligent, but I’m not sure they’ve got the pace to really make the most of the formation. There’s probably a couple of English squads that do have the right players for this kind of set-up, but either don’t have the inclination (Man U and Arsenal) or the tactical discipline (West Ham) to pull it off.

Still, there’s no arguing with results: Roma could be serious contenders this year if they could just sharpen up at the back a bit. And overall the quality of play in Serie A seems to have picked up somewhat. Some teams still have the incredibly annoying habit of ceding midfield after losing possession so they can run back and pack the defensive third (that’s an Italian trait that will be incredibly hard to break) but generally this stuff is a little easier on the eye than it used to be.

The fans don’t seem to be coming back yet, though. I’m watching Cagliari-Sampdoria right now and there’s almost nobody there. Granted, Cagliari’s sheer fucking awfulness may have something to do with it (they are 3-0 down in the first half and look less organized than a riot defensively), but I think this is a league-wide problem. I’m pretty sure that if you took out all the games at the San Siro, average Serie A attendance figures would be lower than those for MLS. Il piu bello campionato del mondo? There’s still a ways to go…


Anonymous ursus arctos said...

So, I guess Spalletti et al can blame your jinx for the two late goals at Empoli.

Your attendance figures are a bit off. There is a terrific repository of Italian attendance figures here:, which demonstrates that you would have to jetison Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina as well before you could begin to think about getting to MLS-like numbers on average.

That said, the fact that there are three members of Serie A (Empoli, Livorno and Siena) who are currently averaging under 10,000 a game says a lot about just how unbalanced the league is in terms of support.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Antonio G said...

Nice try, but I only take credit for the good bits.

Cheers for the tip on the link. Looking at this, Serie A without the Milan teams seems to give an average attendance of about 21,000. , which I think is about 4,500 per game higher than MLS.

I also note with satisfaction that 8 clubs' *highest* attendance figures are lower than the smallest figure posted by TFC.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous ursus arctos said...

You're massive, I tell you, massive.

The comparison would be even more striking if you did it on a percentage of capacity basis. I am pretty sure that MLS would "win" that one outright, even allowing for the full potential capacities at the Meadowlands and RFK.

Watching Serie A football at Empoli or Siena is eerily similar to watching National League baseball at Parc Jarry.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Marco Ursi said...

I've followed Serie A closely this season and there have been a number of highly entertaining matches so far, including the freaky 4-4 Roma-Napoli showdown and yesterday's hard-fought draw between Inter and Juve. Watching Milan flounder has also been fascinating.

As for that 4-6-0 idea, Roma really need Aquilani's delivery and movement to make it work. I agree that they play an attractive game.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Antonio G said...

Milan only seem to flounder every second game, though. The other half of the time, they're brilliant. Kind of like Liverpool, actually.

Urs, I don't understand how Empoli's stadium can seem empty. I've watched a game there - I'd be surprised if capacity were more than 20,000...that's not *big* enough to seem empty. Juve at Delle Alpi would have seemed much more lonely, no?

12:47 PM  

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