Well, at least there's one silver lining to having so many matches close together: You don't have to wait long after a poor performance to get excited about another game. Sunday sucked, but all the focus is now on Sporting...if it wasn't there already during the second half in Tuscany. The boys played well against Sporting a couple weeks ago, but this game will be more difficult and much more important, as they are in Portuguese hunting ground and a win all but seals their passage into the knockout stages of the Champions League.
The bad news is they'll still be without Francesco Totti and Alberto Aquilani. The good news is Daniele De Rossi will be returning, and that even without the Romanisti, Roma is still the better team.
In what seems to be a recurring theme this year, we'll have to wait until the game starts to see if Roma packed their finishing booties with them for the trek to the Atlantic side of things - especially that Mirko Vucinic guy, who almost lost his Vucigol moniker in one game this weekend (he's still in his nickname probation period, so he can have it back when he deserves it). Also, Mancini could put a ball or two in to help things out. Actually, how bout this, everyone score a goal and we'll all shut up. Cool? Yeah.
Group F Standings
ManYoo 9pts (+4)
Roma 6pts (+2)
Sporting 3pts (-1)
Dynamo 0pts (-5)
Things be lookin' good. Possible outcomes:
Win: Sporting would need to beat ManYoo in the cozy confines of Old Trafford against 12 men (well, 11 men and a transsexual rodeo clown masquerading as a right winger) and Dynamo Kyiv at home (not happening), while Roma would need to fail to take a single point from both ManYoo at home and in Ukraine (probably not happening). Safe to say, they'll be sittin' sexy with a W.
Draw: Not a big problem, because they'd be still 3 points ahead with the next games being Roma in the former Eastern Bloc and Sporting up in Chanmester. Not ideal, but not so bad.
Loss: A virtual tie in second place, but I'd still rather be Roma for the remainder of the group stages, especially with Francesco and Alberto returning for the next game.
Suffice to say, this isn't a "must win", but it's a "should take points", and doing that would make life peaches and cream and butterflies and cupcakes. Delicious.
Roma: ANTUNES Gabriel, BARUSSO Ahmed, BERTAGNOLI Julio Sergio, BRIGHI Matteo, CASSETTI Marco, CURCI Gianluca, CICINHO, DE ROSSI Daniele, 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.
Sporting Lisbon: TBA
Read 'em and weep. Actually, read 'em and cry your farkin' eyes out. Totti, out until after the break. Aquilani, out but may be around for the game against next year's Serie B boys (forgive for not doing cartwheels - out of all the teams in the last month he's coming back for Cagliari, wonderful). Taddei, still out with a fragile psyche (with all the injuries, the last thing this team needs is a bunch of Chivus - or AIDS). Christian Panucci is out with a minor injury. Marco Andreolli, well, you know.
Cassetti, Mexes, Juan, Tonetto;
Gulu, Perrotta, Mancini;
Basically, the way I see it there are only two spots up for debate. Marco Cassetti or Cicinho could start at RB, flip a coin at this point - although Spalletti seems to favor a more defensive RB than Cicinho when Lulu is on the field (yeah, that's right, Marco Cassetti = more defensive...go figure). The other is less likely, which is someone else starts at RW/LW other than Lulu, be it a RB/LB (more likely) or Mauro Esposito (less likely, and can't imagine he's a huge Spalletti fan at this point). Other than that, should be pretty standard, with the usual subs coming on at some point: Brighi, the RB who doesn't start and probably someone like Curci or Bertagnoli for Mancini late in the game.
Abel, Veloso, Tonel, Ronny;
Vukcevic, Moutinho, Romagnoli, Izmailov;
I haven't a farkin' clue. But Greg will. He'll also probably have obscenely obscure 1980's pop culture references with which to whet our entertainment appetite. And maybe videos of jacked half-naked dudes. Yeah, definitely videos of dudes wearing nothing but grape smugglers, smuggling grapes reduced to peas due to frequent steroid use. Not that I'd know anything about that. Oh, and maybe a preview. And Don Swayze. I'm done.
* - But I do know having Veloso out of the midfield is a good thing, a very good thing.
Roma v The Magical Forcefield Around Goal: Team mantra for tomorrow's game: Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish. Gotta finish.
Oh, and they'll be playing against Sporting's number uno in net. Another added obstacle to their cement footedness. Sweet.
Back 4 & Doni v Portuguese Set Pieces: It's not just that they can't win headers anymore - which they've dramatically improved on - it's that Doni now needs to improve his positioning on a consistent and permanent basis. How many times this year have Roman keepers been caught off their line? No spoons, but enough goals. Smarter. Set. Piece. Defense. If not Sporting can keep this game close enough, especially at home (see: ManYoo loss, where they played well), and poach a quality goal off a set piece.
Hell, let's just forget all that and stop conceding stupid free kicks within distance of goal? Yeah? YEAH? Cool.
AS Roma v The Second Half Meltdown: Either this team will begin to learn how to close down the end of games, or the whole thing will need to be blown up. You play a full 90 minutes, and that's non-negotiable. If they don't Sporting will be taking points. And that's not a "maybe", that's a guarantee.
I'll say this much right now: Despite the loss of Totti and Alberto, there's no way Sporting can outperform Roma tactically, and there are only a few players on Sporting who can make a difference individually. If Roma shows up, cares, and plays a full 90, there is very little chance that Sporting beats a primed Roma. Therefore, Roma's biggest opponent is themselves, as usual.
It will probably play out nearly the same as the first leg in Rome, with Sporting attacking a little more, and Roma still has to worry about Joao Mouthinho, Liedson, Simon Vukcevic and Miguel Veloso (especially the last one), amongst others. They can string a set of passes together well, but that's typically not what beats Roma, as they are almost always snake-bitten by set-pieces or a moment of individual genius. Play smart, play hard, and they'll win.
As for Roma, it seems the best avenue to beating the Lisboners is to get out wide and work yourself into space in the middle, which sounds like the main characteristics of both Mancini and Lulu Gulu. Again, the Phabulous Phoursome of Mirko, Simone, Lulu and Amantino work so well off each other to create so many chances, it'll just be up to them to finish. And hell, law of percentages says Roma has to score at least 7 of their first 7 chances after all the gimmes they missed in Empoli, right? Well, we hope.
Therefore, get the fullbacks up, work the fellas into space, and continually make Sporting feel as though they're playing away with all of the pressure being put on them. Make it seem like they are having to bring out the team bus in the hostile environment of the Olimpico, and take their mental edge away early - as their performance against ManYoo at home showed, they're a confident and very good side when playing at home.
I don't think Roma will win by much, but I do believe they'll win. Empoli was surely an embarrassing wakeup call, as the last few times they pulled that stunt it was aginst Napoli, Fiorentina and Juventus - all more than respectable teams to draw with. Empoli? Not so much this year. So, the inclusion of DDR should be enough for Roma to bend but not break, push up, create chances from width on in and eventually grab a couple. Should be a good game either way.
Score: 2-1 Roma
Goals: De Rossi (22), Djalo (53), Vucinic (71)
MOTM: DDR, and I'd be almost willing to lay huge bucks on this
When: 2030 CET, 1430 US ET
Where: Estádio José Alvalade, Lisbon
Forecast: 17°C, clear.
USTV: What, did you really think ESPN would show a non-Premiership team? Get real.
Streaming: MyP2P here or uefa here.