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May 7, 2014

Humiliation in hindsight: Roma's loss to Catania

Roma have only lost three times in Serie A all season, but the first two times were different. The 3-0 to Antonio Conte's Juventus side was a game where Roma boss Rudi Garcia's men were simply outfoxed and outperformed; the 1-0 loss to Napoli was a case of some poor luck, bad finishing, and a late dagger that sent the side scrambling. Neither was anywhere near the total embarrassment that the 4-1 loss to Catania was this past weekend. What caused it?

- Report: Catania 4-1 Roma

Reason 1: The absences -- The visitors were missing their best defender (Mehdi Benatia), two midfield stalwarts (Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan), and top goalscorer (Mattia Destro) from the first whistle. Add in Federico Balzaretti's injury woes and it's evident that the Roma that played on Sunday was far from full-strength.

Catania entered the match at the foot of the table, however, and Garcia not unwisely decided to use the opportunity to play Alessio Romagnoli in his natural role. That way, he did not have to rush Benatia back from injury and could finally rest Gervinho to give Adem Ljajic and Alessandro Florenzi the chance to flank Francesco Totti. What he simply could not have foreseen is just how poorly the side would play.

Counter-point: At the end of the day, the team Roma put out was still incredibly solid: Miralem Pjanic, Daniele De Rossi, Morgan De Sanctis, Douglas Maicon, and Totti himself are a spine more than worthy of giving trouble to Catania. The trouble was that they didn’t.

Minor reason 2: Catania's motives -- The home side knew that anything less than a win would almost certainly see them drop to Serie B; ignoring how terribly unmotivated Roma were for the moment, Catania manager Maurizio Pellegrino's men played like a side that was desperate for points. Added to the fact that trips to Sicily tend to trouble Roma and the recipe for a bad showing was on the cards.

Minor reason 3: Catania's home record -- It may be rather poor from a pure record standpoint, but Catania have occasionally been more threatening in front of their home fans than the losses would suggest. For example, they played Juventus and Napoli at home within a matter of three days in late March and lost both, but by a solitary Carlos Tevez goal in the former and fighting back from 4-0 down to give Rafa Benitez's side a scare in a match that ended 2-4 in the latter.

Major reason: Self-inflicted wound -- Despite all of this, despite even the fact that this was an immensely winnable match, the ultimate failure was one of motivation. Garcia finally conceded before the match that the Scudetto was all but Juventus', and the total lack of effort from Roma mathematically made it so. Several players had poor games -- uncharacteristically so from Pjanic, Maicon and Dodo especially -- but perhaps Totti aside, no one walked off the pitch looking remotely good.

It was well and truly a side that played at their very worst and stands as a shining example as to just how important motivation is in the sport. If it's often remarked that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho's success is built upon his fantastic relationship with his players, many of whom would run through walls for him. Roma's humiliation to Catania may have truly proved just how key it is to be mentally focused.