Ring the church bells, King Alberto has returned and he's ready to get back to business - wait, or not. Seems the reports were premature and he might not be back after all. The team will be without the other two superduperstars on the team, with Il Capitano still nursing his ankle and Daniele De DDR voluntarily getting a yellow so he could have a goddamn seat in the stands already. Luckily enough, the opponent is a relative softie, though not in the Lazio sense, and Roma should have a fairly easy time disposing of them.
Roma still stands second in the table, with the teams in 1st and 3rd bashing their heads against each other this weekend, hopefully allowing Roma to make up ground or break further from somebody. Empoli, conversely, is currently sitting not-so-pretty in the relegation zone, at 2-6-2 with 8 points and a -9 goal differential. A pure look at the table and you'd think "pfft, Roma may not need to show". Not so fast, my friends. Those two wins? A 1-0 victory at the San Siro and a 3-1 win against Palermo. The two draws? Napoli and a small club, Lazio. So, it appears they play to the level of their opponents. At least they did until midweek, losing 3-0 to the reigning Serie B champions. It will be easy, but Roma will still have to perform. This isn't last year's Empoli, but it's no walk over either. (Well, when you factor in injuries....)
Roma, on the other hand, is on a relative high going into the game, winning 4 out of their last 5, 3 despite the absence of 3 starters including His Francesconess, with the only blemish being a 4-4 draw to Napoli. That, my friends, is solid. Real solid. This game also marks the beginning of Roma's calcio breather. Actually, it's a calcio nap, considering their last run of fixtures. The difference is astounding. Check out the two runs:
Last 7 Games: Opponents combined for a 29-17-24 record (111pts), with an absurd goal differential of +40.
Next 7 Games: Opponents have combined for 18-31-21 record (75pts), with an equally absurd goal differential of -35 - only in the wrong direction - and not a single opponent has a positive goal differential at the moment. Only Udinese is breaking even.
I knew the fixtures would be different. I didn't know how different. Especially that 75 in goal differential. I was pleased that Roma is currently sitting in second after the run of calcio hell. Now, I'm over the moon. What a difference and what a promising sign for the future. Depending on how Inter fares against Vujentus this weekend, I'm feeling more and more confident that a consistent Roma can win this scudetto.
(I like the word different, alright? Deal with it.)
Roma: WDWWW - Sexy, ain't it?
Empoli: LLWLL - Eww.
Roma: ANTUNES Gabriel, BARUSSO Ahmed, BERTAGNOLI Julio Sergio, BRIGHI Matteo, CASSETTI Marco, CURCI Gianluca, CICINHO, ESPOSITO Mauro, FERRARI Matteo, GIULY Ludovic, JUAN, MANCINI Alessandro, MARANGON Alexander ‘Doni’, MEXES Philippe, PERROTTA Simone, PIT Adrian, PIZARRO David Marcelo Cortez, TONETTO Max, VUCINIC Mirko.
Roma: Francesco is out, but other than that the boys are returning en masse. Taddei & King Alberto will be back in whatever capacity - whether or not they play is another matter. Marco Andreolli has begun training again, not that it will matter until December or so, but good news nonetheless. Other than that, things are looking good on the injury front finally. (Yeah, that's it, everybody get hurt for the big games and then return simultaneously against the minnows...dammit.)
* - See that paragraph right there? Blow it up. This is why you can't do game previews more than six hours ahead of time. KA out. Totti out. Taddei out. Andreolli out. Panucci out.
Empoli: Read this and tell me you don't feel bad for what Roma is about to do to Empoli...
Empoli boss Gigi Cagni has even worse problems picking his line-up, as an injury crisis has struck the club. They welcome Roma without Antonio Busce, Guillermo Giacomazzi, Rej Volpato and goalkeeper Daniele Balli, the latter out for a couple of weeks with a thigh strain. Defenders Richard Vanigli – whose challenge famously fractured Totti’s ankle in February 2006 – Felice Piccolo and Francesco Pratali are also doubts with muscular twinges. The tactician must reshuffle his line-up and is expected to give Under-21 international talents Sebastian Giovinco, Claudio Marchisio and Lino Marzoratti rare starts, while 22-year-old goalkeeper Davide Bassi takes over between the sticks for his first Serie A game of the season.
I think Roma might put in 4. Empoli fans, get your lube ready.
Probable XIs, aka Welcome To Guesswork
Cicinho, Ferrari, Juan, Tonetto;
Giuly, Perrotta, Mancini;
I don't know if Simone will play, I think one of J-Smooth or Philou will get a rest, while Espo could play - and if Espo isn't at least subbed in at some point, then I have no idea why they bought him. Who knows who plays RB. I have a better chance of guessing tonight's lotto. (7 32 9er B Marshmallow π - trust me)
Raggi, Marzoratti, Adani, Tosto;
Antonini, Marchisio, Moro;
Stolen directly from channel 4. Why? Because in 10 games this campaign Empoli has employed 7 different formations. Talk about an identity crisis. You think some stability might help? Maybe? Just a little?
Roma v Stupid Decisions, Thus Stupid Goals:
Juve: Even though the ref handed the cheaters the point, the team let down their guard and allowed Juve back into the game. Should have been a clear 3 points, no questions asked.
Fiorentina: David making a stupid pass to a Viola shirt (again), then Matteo Ferrari failing to realize Bobo can't beat an anvil off the dribble, taking him down in the box. Penalty draws Fiorentina even, Roma loses 2 points.
Inter: Lulu Gulu thinks he's Randy Moss for a minute, catches a pass over the middle, Roma goes down a man and loses any chance of obtaining a result.
Napoli: 2 soft and stupid fouls result in free kicks which Napoli scores off of, including one where David leaves his man, the best player on Napoli, allowing him to net the first goal. Also, ridiculous inability to clear the ball in the box, resulting in the third goal. Draw and another lost 2 points, which should have clearly been Roma's. (You don't score 4 goals and draw at home.)
Lazio: Lord knows what happened on that first goal, and yet again Roma conceded a free kick in a very dangerous position, which then put Lazio within one and gave them momentum, sending all of us running to the drugstore for some Zantac. Luckily, they took the 3.
Quite simply, they need to play smarter and make sure to concentrate on Empoli, not Sporting. If they don't, even teams like Empoli can - and will - take points away.
Empoli's Team Bus v The Goal Scoring Virtuoso That Is Vucigol: I don't think it's a forgone conclusion that Empoli will park a team bus in front of goal and play for the draw this weekend. I do think it's likely, but not certain (also not sure if they'll have a choice). Regardless of what they scheme up, they'll have to deal with the goal scoring phenomenon that is Mirko Vucinic. They'll presumably close him down as best they can, but all he needs is an inch of space and it's time for him to take his shirt off.
DDR's Replacement & David v Holding Down The Center Of The Pitch: Even though Empoli lost Sergio Almiron to Rubentus this summer, they got a couple of their prodigies on loan to take up the center of the pitch. Claudio Marchisio and Sebastian Giovinco are still dangerous, though it's a toss up as to how much the latter will play. (Also, SG makes Lulu Gulu looks like Gheorge Muresan - the Washington Bullet, not the Billy Crystal co-star.) Most of the midfield should be held easily, but they do still have some talent there. Whether it be Matteo Brighi or Alberto, they'll have to capably lock down the middle of the pitch or Empoli can sneak in a goal or two.
The Top Scoring Booties In Serie A v 22 Year Old Backup Keep In His First Game This Season: Two words: Oh. Shit.
There is little to say other than this: I have no clue how Roma does not win this game. They've only been held scoreless in one game this season and that was in the cozy confines of Old Trafford, and even scored a man down against Roberto Mancini's 47 Men Behind The Ball Inter. This is a fact: Roma will score, and probably more than once. Empoli, on the other hand, probably won't. They've scored a whopping 5 goals this season, and 3 of those came against Palermo in one game. So, for those scoring at home, they've been held scoreless 7 out of 10 games, which is a recipe for relegation. They won't stop Roma from scoring, Roma will probably stop them from scoring. It's really that simple. (Lots of scoring going on here)
As for the details of the game, I think everybody on the field has noticed one thing over the last 10 days: Get the ball to Mirko - and often. When he's not scoring goals, he has continually improved on his lay-offs and passing, and is now looking to be an assist provider in the mold of That Other Guy who sometimes plays that position for this team. Empoli can park the team bus all they, eventually Mirko will get an inch of space and bury the ball in the back of the net. Non-negotiable.
The rest of the game will see a great deal of clusterfucking (mmm), and lots of bouncing off Empoli's eventual wall, before putting in the odd chance on net. The starting lineup is like women at the moment, a great mystery, so I couldn't even guess how this game will play out. Logic tells me we'll see new faces while a few of the guys rest for Sporting, but we've thought that for the last 6 weeks and it hasn't been the case. The back line will bitch Empoli's attack around the pitch like Ike on Tina for 90 and disperse the ball to the attack accordingly. At which point it just becomes "How well can Roma finish?"
I see at least 3, if not more, with Empoli getting nary a quality chance on goal, based on quality, form and Empoli getting the injury bug at the wrong moment. Should be fun to watch and finally a nice respite after calcio hell.
Score: 3-0 Roma, and I'm being conservative
Goals: Vugigol (37, 51), Juan (27) - Like I said, I will never again predict less than a goal from Mirko as long as he is starting up top. I also think Simone might score a goal. If he keeps up his current rate (playing in 70% of the league games), he'll play in 26.6 games and score 11.4 goals. There's your 10+.
When: Ummm, 1500 CET, 9a EST - It's now our daylight savings, so I have no idea what this will equate to. Just be on your toes.
Where: Stadio Carlo Castellani, Empoli
Forecast: High of 19°C, partly cloudy.
US TV: FSC @ 9AM EST Live.