Having negotiated terms with S.P.A.L.,1The match is drawn – definitely not on Caesar’s terms. Caesar marches his men back to Rome, where work begins on defensive fortifications ahead of Mamucium City’s impending arrival. The wounds are still fresh from their previous clash not two weeks ago,2These wounds are more mental than physical; nobody picked up any knocks during the first battle. but the upcoming encounter at the Olimpico gives Rome the opportunity to atone for their previous capitulation.
Three soldiers drop to the reserve ranks, with Santonus, Perottius and Schick making way for Kolarov, El Shaarawian and De Rossus respectively. Despite having the favourable ground and the vocal support of the people, Caesar still exercises caution, matching Mam City man-for-man with the Second formation. The strategy was designed to frustrate the enemy, with the deployment of three decanii stifling their central column.
Learning from previous experience, Caesar had undertaken extensive measures to prepare for this battle, but could not account for cruel fortune. De Rossus’ opposite number, a soldier from a far-flung land who went by the name of Fernandinho, fires a curling, speculative shot from distance. Carried goalwards by a violent wind, the ball gathers unnatural pace and movement en route to goal, whistling beyond Olsen’s fingertips and causing serious damage to early hopes of victory.3It’s a worldy from a player who has a long shots rating of 13.
With his own eyes Caesar saw the trouble created by the early misfortune. Gaps were opening up between the ranks, and Bernardo Silva went desperately close to hitting the target. Issuing a rallying cry from the touchline, the commander-in-chief urged his men to show some passion, while instructing the legion to be more positive when engaging the enemy.
Approaching the thirty-minute mark, Rome work the ball out to the right flank, where Rick Karsdorp slices the Mam City defence apart with one incisive diagonal manoeuvre. Dzeko is presented with the most glorious of opportunities from less than two paces out, but is denied by the foreign triarius.4Goalkeeper. The opposition rally and the chance is lost.
During a brief impasse, the legion regroups, and are told in no uncertain terms that their leader expects better from the second period.5They get bollocked again. The caution exercised in the first half is hurled aside as Rome presses onward, but it proves to be a rash decision from the men. Before the hour mark, a deep cross is cleared to Germanic chariot rider Leroy Sané,6The Britons were still utilising chariot warfare as late as Caesar’s invasions. who cuts through the field with the speed of horse and the firmness of infantry,7How Caesar describes the chariot warriors in Di Bello Gallico. and releases feared warrior Sergio Aguero.
Kun fires across Olsen to double City’s advantage; within ten minutes, he trebles it in similar circumstances. Moments after El Shaarawian spurned a gilt-edged opportunity, Sané charges downfield once more. The men are unfamiliar with chariot warfare, and are ill-equipped to deal with the threat. The ball once again is laid onto Aguero, fast becoming a sworn enemy of the Roman people, to strike the killing blow.
When all hope looks to have faded, the troops draw on unbeknownst reserves of courage and determination. Dzeko atones for his previous error, getting the better of Belgae veteran Vincent Kompany to reduce the deficit. The world-weary De Rossus – without doubt a hero of Rome, but not the great soldier of old – makes way for the more attack-minded Pastorius. giving no quarter to the rattled Britons. Mamucium make a change of their own, replacing B. Silva with hard-hitting Hispanic decanus Ignacio Camacho,as they seek to withstand the redoubled assault of the host party.
The legion breaks through the City entrenchment late in stoppage time, the irate Manolas powering in from a desperate set piece, but the sun has set too quickly over the Olimpico. Having threatened to overrun Rome, the Britons depart with the narrowest of triumphs to their name. They will not return with any great haste.8Both the home and away fixtures have now been played, so City are not scheduled to take on Rome again. Scholars suggest that Caesar knew this was the case, but embellished events in order to mitigate the defeat.
Shifting focus from continental expansion, Caesar turns his attention back to domestic affairs. For over a decade, Juventus has prevented Rome from seizing absolute power. Turin is the new Tarentum;9Tarentum was one of the last free cities to fall to the Romans in the aftermath of the Punic Wars in 209 BC. Eleven men behind the ball, very hard to break down. Allegri the modern day Pyrrhus, of sorts.10King Pyrrhus of Epirus was a thorn in Rome’s side during the early days of Rome. However, this is where any comparisons between Allegri and Pyrrhus end, as Allegri’s success has been consistent and plentiful, and has not cost him a great number of his good men; if anything, he has managed to retain his most reliable defensive warriors – Buffon, Chiellini, Barzagli – for considerable periods of time. They have won every one of the last eight campaigns, but they are yet to truly win over the hearts of the peninsula, who still remember the treachery and bribery of Calciopolus in 2006 AD – corruption so great as to make the Roman senate look scrupulous – and their dark hand can be detected in dealings beyond Italian borders.
Seeking counsel on Juve’s unorthodox tactics – something resembling the Fifth formation, only wider and more exposed in the central column – Caesar consults his advisers.11Caesar sought assistance from Twitter; 14 people responded. Though not unanimous, a general consensus is established:12Five advisers voted for the Second, while the First and Fourth received three votes apiece. Three members of the council chose ‘something more pagan’, but failed to elaborate further. Their counsel was disregarded. Rome should once again line up in the Second formation, for the players are becoming increasingly familiar with the strategy, and an extra defensive line will be required to combat the dual threat of renowned Hispanic commander Cristiano and rising star Dybala.
The men are still recovering from the exertions of battle five days prior. Karsdorp and De Rossus incurred superficial muscular wounds, while Under’s efforts down the right flank resulted in a bruised and swollen ankle. Kolarov is uninjured but exhausted. De Rossus and Kolarov have little choice but to strap on their shinpads, but Under and Karsdorp are not to be risked.
The most grievous injury blow is struck not in the previous battle, but in training for the next one. Bryan Cristantius, one of the legion’s most consistent performers, is afflicted with a thigh strain. Greek physician Alexandros Stefanakis attempts to rebalance Cristantius’ four humors;13Practitioners of ancient medicine believed it was important to balance all four humors – blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm – and maladies were a result of imbalance. None of these are the cause of a thigh strain, which is probably where Stefanakis went wrong. Also, he’s a truly atrocious physiotherapist. it fails, and the deep-lying decanus is ruled out for four to seven weeks. In the following days, Perottius pulls his thigh, Zaniolus twists his knee.
Suggestions are tentatively put forth that the legion is being pushed too hard in these training sessions, but this is the Roman way.
For seventy-three remarkable minutes at the Stadio delle Alpi, the legion fight with discipline and ferocity. Ronaldo is stymied for much of the conflict and withdrawn from the field after an hour. Dybala cuts a frustrated figure, getting little more than a caution on the eve.
A stalemate in trying circumstances is a positive result, but victory against overwhelming odds would be worthy of an ovation.14Caesar doesn’t expect a full-blown triumph to be thrown in honour of a victory at Juve with five months remaining of the campaign, but a smaller celebration could be in order. Caesar withdraws the fading Pellegrinius and sends on Xadas, a Hispanic attacker of his own, in an attempt to clinch a famous win.
The endeavour, the discipline, the altered tactical gameplan, all are undone within moments by the actions of one man: none other than our primus pilus.15The commanding centurion for the first cohort; the senior centurion of the entire legion. In a nutshell, he’s the captain.
With time against the hosts, Douglas Costa attempts to drive directly inside from the right flank, but is halted by the challenge of De Rossus, who did not heed the trumpet call from the near touchline calling for calm. The soldier, 35 in years, is duly sent for an early bath; a communal activity designed to encourage camaraderie in the apodyterium, De Rossus will instead attend the thermae alone to contemplate his damnable shame.16As bathing took so long, Roman baths were a place for members of the community to mingle, socialise and relax. An early bath would normally be something to enjoy, but when the fraternising element is removed, it’s not quite so pleasant – especially considering how dirty they could be. He will not be permitted to remain when the rest of the men return.
Two minutes after Xadas’ introduction, Steven Nzonzi is also summoned from the bench to offset De Rossus’ early departure. The Gallic ball-winner had fallen from Caesar’s grace in previous weeks, incapable of adapting to the new formations. As fate would have it, it is Nzonzi who surrenders possession in the final two minutes, recklessly firing an attempted clearance into the back of Joao Cancelo; Alex Sandro takes advantage of the error to inflict the most disheartening of defeats upon the legion.
After the battle, Caesar calls a parade and emboldens the downhearted troops, insisting that he could not fault one of them for their efforts. He proceeds to fault De Rossus for the rash action which cost his compatriots so dearly. Discipline is everything in the Roman army,17Relentless marches, long hours of training, a particularly tough development programme and tactics which place teamwork above all else. This does not work when soldiers begin to break ranks. and on the battlefield, it must come from the very top – starting with the skipper. Without it, the philosophy crumbles and Rome conquers nothing.
Drag to see Daniele De Rossus’ response.
This is explained to De Rossus, who is placed on barley rations for two weeks and relegated to inferior duties, though retains his rank.18This is a standard punishment within the army for lesser ‘unmanly acts’. De Rossus will also be fined two weeks’ wages – the equivalent of almost 800 denarii – for good measure. For his part, Daniele acknowledges his error and accepts the punishment, but this day marks the beginning of the slow decline in the relationship between commander-in-chief and his chief centurion.
Having incurred back-to-back defeats for the first time in his illustrious career, Caesar hopes to halt the general decline. In four previous instances of defeat – not counting the most recent losses – Rome came back a stronger force than ever before.19As mentioned in the previous post, Caesar always bounced back immediately from major defeats. After the British retreat, he pacified the Morini tribe; after the failure at Gergovia in 52 BC came the conquest-defining (and successful) Siege of Alesia; and he followed up a loss at Dyrrachium with a stunning triumph over Pompey at Pharsalus, a victory that helped clinch the title of dictator. Caesar later recovered from a tactical retreat at Ruspina to defeat the Optimates at Thapsus. Should history repeat itself, AC Mediolanum could be subjected to a massacre of truly epic proportions.