Associazione Sportiva Roma 2007-2008:
Alright, the final installment of the four part season preview (because Roma is just so freakin sweet three parts just isn't enough). The individual previews have already been released: Forwards, Midfielders, Defenders & Keepers. This is the overall breakdown:
1. Gianluca Curci GK
2. Christian Panucci RB
3. Cicinho RB
4. Juan CB
5. Philippe Mexes CB
6. Aldair - Retired
7. David Pizarro CM
8. Alberto Aquilani CM
9. Mirko Vucinic ST
10. Francesco Totti ST (Captain)
11. Rodrigo Taddei RW
13. Marco Andreolli CB
14. Ludovic Giuly MF
16. Daniele De Rossi (Vice-Captain)
17. Edgar Alvarez RW
18. Mauro Esposito RW
20. Simone Perrotta CM
21. Matteo Ferrari CB
22. Max Tonetto LB
23. Shabani Nonda ST
25. Carlo Zotti GK
26. Adrian Pit LW
27. Julio Sergio GK
28. Aleandro Rosi RW
29. Ahmed Barusso DM
30. Mancini LW
32. Doni GK
33. Matteo Brighi CM
34. Gianluca Freddi CB
77. Marco Cassetti RB
Luciano Spalletti, known as The Grand Imperial Poobah around these parts, is one of Serie A's premier coaches, and worthy of all the praise he's acquired throughout his few seasons in Rome. In short, he's a tactical wizard. The reason La Magica is seen as one of Europe's premier joga bonito teams is because of TGIP and his unique attacking style. An offensive based system that operates largely without a true out and out striker but relies on duel contributions throughout the entire squad, including the much ballyhooed - at least around here - Roman Clusterfuck that sets up shop in the opponent's box with regularity. Aside from his tactics, Spalletti favors the team concept, and wants no part of any players who threaten cohesive unity in his squad. After the debacle that was Antonio Cassano, TGIP has worked hard to create, at the very minimum, a civil feel within the locker room, and halt any public rifts within the confines of the Olimpico. As an added bonus to his own abilities, it is no secret that one of the biggest draws to playing for Roma is not a paycheck, it's the potential to receive the vaunted Spalletti ass slap on a regular basis. One of these days, there will be a line forming outside Rosella's office compiled of all the greatest player's in world football willing to sacrifice all financial demands for the once in a lifetime chance to get a firm palm on the ass cheek from one Luciano Spalletti - mark my words. Kidding aside, he's on the short list for one of the best coaches in Europe. Period.
Juan - Bayer Leverkusen (€6.3m)
Cicinho - Real Madrid (€9m + €2m)
David Pizarro - Inter (Co-ownership resolved for €12m total)
Mirko Vucinic - Lecce (Option picked up for €10.75m)
Marco Andreolli - Inter (Co-owned for €3m)
Ludovic Giuly - Barcelona (€3m + €2m)
Mauro Esposito - Cagliari (Co-owned for €2.5m)
Ahmed Barusso - Rimini (Co-owned for €2.5m)
Marco Cassetti - Lecce (Co-ownership resolved for €3m total)
Adrian Pit - Bellinzona (Free)
Daniel Unal - Bellinzona (Undisclosed loan)
Keivan Zarineh - Rieti (Free)
Matteo Brighi - Chievo
Edgar Alvarez - Messina
Shabani Nonda - Blackburn
Carlo Zotti - Sampdoria
Cristian Chivu - Inter (€13m + 50% of Marco Andreolli)
Christian Wilhemsson - Nantes (@#$% yeah baby!)
Rodrigo Defendi - Tottenham
Gilberto Martinez - Brescia
Francesco Tavano - Valencia
Vincenzo Montella - Sampdoria
Ricardo Faty - Bayer Leverkusen (2 years)
Daniele Magliocchetti - Cagliari (Serie A - not for long)
Stefano Okaka Chuka - Modena (Serie B)
Valerio Virga - Grosetto (B)
Simone Palermo - Rimini (B)
Alessio Cerci - Pisa (B)
Keivan Zarineh - Cisco Roma (C1)
Microsoft Stock in 1978 aka Best Purchase Award: Juan. He is, well, freakin' sweet, and the best of the lot. I've said it a million times, so I'll refrain from saying it was complete thievery, but it was quite thievish. He'll make everyone forget about what's-his-nuts soon enough.
Getting Out of the Way of Speeding Traffic aka Best Move Award: Getting Christian Wilhelmsson the fuck out of town. I can stop throwing shit at the TV now. Christ almighty he blows. Talented, but blows.
Federica Fontana aka Sexiest Pickup Award: Cicinho, easy. If Roma didn't have the most exciting team in Serie A already, Cici clinched the deal. If he can stay healthy, it's a fair price. If he can improve and start to fulfill his potential, it's the steal of the summer.
Pulp Fiction Basement Scene aka Worst Bending Over Award: Duh. David Pizarro. €12m? Are you kidding me? €12 fucking million? Seriously?
Milk Was A Bad Choice aka Worst Move Award: Allowing Inter to come in a poach David Suazo out from under The Grand Imperial Poobah's outstretched arms. You know, because Roma had to stay polite. At least Moratti did the classy thing, as usual, and obeyed the wishes of Cagliari. Oh...wait....
The What's Your Name Again? Award: Chivu, because it's going to happen a lot sooner than you think.
Julia Stiles aka Most Underrated Move Award: Ahmed Barusso. Talk to me in 2 years when Roman Abramovich is offering up Claudio Pizarro and the rights to Latvia for him, and Moratti is bitching to Rosella about how he gave her such a deal on Little David and that she owes him (classy AND logical...what a guy). Seriously, he's a stud.
* - As far as Julia goes, she's got an understated sexiness about her, not to mention she seems like a totally cool girl, which obviously vaults her about 12 notches of hotness immediately - if only because they're about as rare as a 300-karat pink diamond. Plus, one of these days she's going to put out a stellar acting performances and make everyone forget about Save The Last Dance. I hope.
In nearly every game the season, TGIP will employ a 4-2-3-1 system calling for a standard back line, two holding/defensive midfielders, a midfield line composed of two wingers and one trequartista and a sole striker up top. To the Roma novice, it sounds like a very complicated and layered system, but it's somewhat misleading. Yes, it is fairly complicated, but it can be simplified quite easily: run your fucking ass off. Basically, run back to fulfill the necessary defensive duties, run towards and join the aforementioned Roman Clusterfuck, rinse, wash, repeat. That simple. Obviously there are set positions, but the fullbacks and even center backs are offensive oriented, the two "defensive" midfielders are two of Roma's most talented offensive players, and the third option has little defensive skill to speak of. Then there's the second striker, or trequartista, who spends half his days defending his own half. Two wingers will probably score 8-10 goals apiece and are one of the primary "through lanes" of the offense and both have the defensive abilities of a wingback; and then the striker, who duties including playmaking from the midifeld. So yeah, in short, run your ass off, defend, then join the Roman Clusterfuck on top. It should be a beaut.
Possible Alternates: 4-3-3; 4-2-1-2-1; 4-2-1-3; 3-2-3-2. None are likely outside of the last, but it could happen.
THE (SOMEWHAT REALISTIC) EXPECTATIONS
Last year was an important year by all accounts. Taking home a trophy is always a great thing, and finishing second while advancing to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in only TGIP's second year is a hell of an accomplishment after the turmoil of the previous few campaigns. From the biggest of pictures, the Fabio Capello mess has been cleaned up officially now. Despite similar expectations, this new campaign is entirely different for many reasons - both positive and negative. First of all, it's the end of Calciopoli with the return of Juventus and everybody starting with a clean slate, no more point deductions. Parity has returned somewhat, and the league has more depth, it appears, that at any point in recent years. That alone makes it a difficult campaign.
Next, despite only selling one key player and the rest returning on loan, the squad has overgone a minor overhaul, especially in the back four. Two new defenders who will see a lot, if not most, of the games will require something of an adjustment/evaluation period - not to mention the injuries to begin the campaign forcing some shuffling. The depth on the wings, one of Spalletti's key areas marked for improvement in the summer, has improved greatly. If only because Chippen is now knocking balls off defender's shins in the Prem. But it will take some time to see how well Giuly, Espo and Mirko can perform under the spotlight. The rest of the squad should stay relatively status quo and each respectively strong.
Third, that 7 week gauntlet of calcio hell. How well will Roma perform and then rebound? Will it be either focus on Serie A or CL? Will the squad, particularly the defense, be healthy enough by then? My feeling is this: Roma needs to take a minimum of 7 points from the first 3 weeks against Palermo, Siena, and Regina. That allows at worst two wins and a draw, which is more than doable - with 9 points a very real possibility. Then that leaves the 7 weeks of hell. As we all know, one of Roma's worst problems is dropping points against weaker opposition - then playing their collective arses off against the big boys. With the new depth this shouldn't be as much of a problem, so it's fair to say Roma can easily take 6 points off the two "breathers" in the middle, Parma and Napoli. In the remaining 5 games against Fiorentina, Juventus, Inter, Milan and Lazio - I think they can and should take ten points. Beating Juve, Lazyo and Fiorentina while dropping one of Milan and Inter with a draw to the other. That leaves 23 points after 10 games, with a pansy schedule the rest of the way until the winter. Inter isn't going to have nearly the season they had last year, and it won't require 113 points to take the league this year. And if the performance in the Super Coppa was foreshadowing in any way, then taking close to maximum points is a very real possibility in these first ten weeks. After that, Roma can work itself towards that 7 week gauntlet in the second half a bit more smoothly.
As far as the true expectations go, Roma should grab a top four Champions League spot and make a respectable run in the Coppa - probably to the semi's, considering the ridiculous depth they have at certain positions right now. The Champions League is a little hard to predict without seeing the draw, as well as the new scoring/weighting system, but Roma should advance past the group stages. Again, depending on the draw (as last year's draw showed us, there is a big difference in Liverpool drawing Barcelona and ManU drawing Lille, or Milan drawing Celtic), another appearance in the quarter-finals is a very realistic goal, if not expectation. TBD.
Serie A: Scudetto. How could I be considered the offside's true Roma representative if I didn't pick Roma? But honestly, if you stand back and look at things, it's obvious Roma has shored up a couple of their most glaring weak points and now looks to be a great squad with a tactical wizar at the helm. If Roma gets a head of steam, they will be difficult to beat - because there is little question they can beat anyone in Europe on a given day. Also, this being the third year of Spalletti is a major key, and a factor people are not giving enough weight. Forza La Magica.
Champions League: Semi-finals. I still feel like destiny is calling in 2009, when the Final will be at the Olimpico. Still, an improved performance and enough to have Roma knocking on the door as a European powerhouse.
Coppa Italia: Semi-finals. The Scudetto run will force TGIP to rest nearly everyone.
Top Scorer: Duh, Il Capitano (23 goals)
Assists: Ummm.....Totti? Yeah, Totti. (8a)
Yellows: Mexes (16)
Reds: Mexes (2) Christ this is easy....
Best Player: Francesco.
Player To Watch Out For: Mauro Esposito. If he finds that rejuvenation machine...look out Serie A and hello 4 goals a game.
Player NOT To Watch Out For: Adrian Pit (Pronounced 'Piz') Honorable Mention: Daniele Prade
Player Expected To Improve The Most: Mirko Vucinic. Legend in the Making.
Player We Pray Will Improve The Most: Gianluca Curci. Fun fact: The 3rd leading cause of death in Rome is cardiac arrest due to Alexander Donieber.
Player Who Will Surprisingly Impress The Most: Marco Andreolli
Most Broken Legs: Ahmed Barusso
Most Goals Against Lazio: Simone Perrotta (3)
Most Illegal Midseason Contacts: Massimo Moratti
Best Surprising Inclusion of a WAG Midseason: Matteo Brighi
The Christian Wilhelmsson aka Focal Point of My Quasi-Logical Hatred Award: Christ, the only real option is Lulu Gulu - but I've warmed up to him (I don't typically hate in season). So this award is being saved for Danny Szetela if he ever decides to embarrass Roma with his presence. But be assured, if Lulu starts missing 3-4 sitters per game on average, then this award is going to be his by a unanimous vote.
Most Spalletti Ass Slaps Award: Taddei (1,743)
Most Handbags Bought Midseason: Daniele Prade
Daniele De Rossi - Best Midfielder in Serie A
Alberto Aquilani - Best Young Player in Serie A
Francesco Totti - Best Player In Serie A
You know, you'd think I was a homer (I am), but even most non-Roma (minus any Lazio fans) supporters would argue that's a very real possibility. Totti is clearly the best player in Serie A, despite what Ricky Kaka fans think (his damage was done mostly in the CL anyway, and he's nowhere near as consistent as Er Pupone). De Rossi is probably the best overall midfielder, and is elite when considering both attacking and defense. Aquilani is easily one of the top 3 young talents in Serie A, all while coming off a stellar U-21 tournament. Write it off, but it's not illogical.
And with that, I give you this:
UNICO GRANDE AMORE
* - Big thanks to Inara who gave me a rough guide with her Lyon season preview, as well as teaching me this whole "pictures in the center" thing.