Contrary to popular opinion, the concept of defending is not anathema to Zdenek Zeman. He isn't against it per se. "It's nothing personal," the great man insists. It's just why make a priority of it, when it's not what most people watch a game for? In that sense, Zeman's outlook on football is quite democratic really.
"When you ask a player what he'd like to work on [in training], he will nearly always answer: 'Attacking'. And what do the supporters want? Goals and a spectacle or defensive play instead? Obviously [they'd prefer] a team that pushes forward rather than Catenaccio! I listen to what the people want."
Except Zeman's hearing is often selective and, as with some ear problems, it can leave him and his football teams unbalanced. He gets the bit about playing exciting all-out attacking football loud and clear. But as for the other thing about it being a means to an end rather than an end in itself, like winning a top flight title, well, that sometimes falls on deaf ears.
Towards the end of last season and the beginning of this one, however, Zeman appeared to have finally got the message. There was talk that relatively speaking his teams were showing at least some restraint in their football. For instance, as Pescara closed in on promotion to Serie A, they did not play with as high a line as they had done before. Players sat back and paid greater attention to their duties in coverage. It seemed like the days when Zeman would go all-in and frustratingly risk results, recklessly throwing on attackers at times when his teams were either drawing or only narrowly in the lead, were over. He was even making a few defensive substitutions.
The shift, while only slight - remember Pescara still conceded 55 goals in that campaign - was welcomed by the papers as a long overdue sign of "professional maturity" from Zeman. It augured well for his return to Roma last summer and despite a 2-2 draw at home to Catania on the opening weekend, which saw his team twice fall behind, prompting the ever so predictable cries of "classic Zeman," what followed shortly afterwards was another display to convince some that he had in fact changed. Against Inter at San Siro in September, Roma played in a way that, for all their attacking intent, was measured and intelligent.
Afterwards Zeman was cast as the Master and Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni, the Pupil. They'd met in an airport four years earlier. On seeing Zeman, the precocious Stramaccioni had gone over to him and asked why he hadn't written a book about his tactics. "I like to keep my secrets to myself," Zeman replied.
This, however, seemed like a new chapter. Yet whenever reporters put it to Zeman that his approach to the game now has a slightly different nuance to, say, 15 or 20 years ago, he dismissed the idea. "My thoughts on football haven't changed," he said. The rest of this season perhaps indicates as much. It's still "Same Old Zeman." And while to some that's great, to others it's a bit of a disappointment. He gets your hopes up only to let you down. For La Gazzetta dello Sport columnist Luigi Garlando, Zeman is an "unfulfilled promise," the football equivalent of a "Japanese soldier in the jungle who ignores that it's the end of the war." He just keeps attacking.
Roma, as you would expect, are formidable going forward this season. At one point they were scoring at the rate of Il Grande Torino. Things have relented somewhat of late. But they've still found the back of the net on 44 occasions, averaging 2.1 goals and 17 shots per game. It's the second best record in Serie A behind Juventus'.
Practically irresistible on the attack, the frustration, again, as you would expect, is that Roma, in general, offer so little resistance in defence. Theirs is the third worst record in Serie A with 35 goals conceded. Only bottom club Siena have let in more on the counter-attack. But why exactly is this? Could it perhaps be down to the vertical nature of Roma's play?
Zeman certainly expects his players to get the ball from one end to the other as quickly as possible, uncoiling like a spring. When an attack breaks down, they're strung out all over the pitch. Rather than short and compact, the team is long and stretched. Look for example at their average player positions in December's 1-0 defeat to Chievo and in particular the space in the middle of the park. The midfield three of each side is highlighted below.
Roma's players are often far apart and isolated when out of possession. There's little discernible defensive shape and they struggle to win the ball back. The midfield is bypassed. Not a single member of it features on the list of Serie A's top 20 players at recovering the ball, a list headed by former Roma playmaker David Pizarro , Juventus' Andrea Pirlo  and Siena's Simone Vergassola . Is it any wonder, particularly when you also consider that Roma have won the second fewest tackles  and the fewest aerial duels  in the league, that they're so vulnerable?
In essence, Roma are the boxer who comes out swinging [they've scored 21 goals in the first half of games this season, more than anyone else in Serie A]. Everyone cheers and gets on their feet as he dances like a butterfly and stings like a bee but his guard is almost never up. They get caught. One moment they're pummeling Fiorentina and Milan 4-2. The next they're taking a 4-1 beating at the hands of Juventus and Napoli.
They make for an enthralling watch, as all Zeman teams do, but the question is: thrills and spills aside, and without forgetting the club spent £36m in the summer, how much better are they than last season? Well at this stage of the previous campaign, Luis Enrique had actually managed a point more and Roma were sixth, not seventh. Few of course would go back given the choice, not to mention the affection with which Zeman is held.
Responsibility for Roma's ups and downs this season don't all lie with him. Eight players left in the summer. Ten came in. Some new signings have either not worked out or are taking time to adapt and learn a new system and style of play for which no previous experience could have prepared them. Daniele De Rossi is staying but he's going through the motions, as he does every other season in terms of form. In short, there's been a lot more upheaval than many think.
But consider this: Fiorentina appointed a new coach [incidentally one that Roma could also have had, Vincenzo Montella], they brought in no fewer than 18 new players in the summer [for a lot less money too] and implemented a new system and style of play. They've played football this season that's been beautiful, like Roma's, but, in contrast, it's been balanced too. Even after a run of three games without a win in Serie A, they're still three points ahead of them in fifth. Roma fans will point to how they remain in the Coppa Italia and are now only one game from the final. But that's beside the point.
Make no mistake about it, there's great potential within this Roma squad. Great margins for improvement too, more perhaps than any other team in Serie A with the exception of Fiorentina. But for it to be realised the romance of Zemanlandia needs to be grounded in realism, otherwise what Roma are building is no more than a castle made of sand, which, as Jimi Hendrix, sang may "fall in the sea, eventually..."