Palermo 0 - Roma 2:
I'd like to introduce you to your 2007-08 Associazione Sportiva Roma, also known as "awesomeness collectively personified." In a game where Roma was obviously a) not at full-strength and b) still not in full form/fitness yet, they completely dominated for stretches, and when they needed to sit back, absorb pressure and defend the goal, they did so against one of Serie A's premier attacking front lines. The game was largely a tale of two halves, with Roma completely dominating both ends of the first half, the beginning of the second half, then clearly getting a little winded and handing over the keys to the game to Amauri, Fabrizio Miccoli and Edison Cavani. Doni was absolutely brilliant after being lined up against Sicily's resident firing squad and making some good, some great, and some spectacular saves to keep a clean sheet after the final whistle blew. As impressive a performance as we could've hoped for at this stage.
Palermo: Fontana, Zaccardo, Rinaudo, Barzagli, Capuano, Tedesco (1° st Bresciano), Guana (8° st Migliaccio), Simplicio, Jankovic (1° st Cavani), Miccoli, Amauri.
A disp.: Agliardi, Matteini, Dellafiore, Cossentino
Roma: Doni, Cassetti, Mexes, Panucci, Tonetto, De Rossi, Aquilani, Taddei, Giuly (30° st Cicinho), Vucinic (24° st Brighi), Totti (40° st Alvarez).
A disp.: Curci, Rosi, Barusso, Della Penna.
Goals: Mexes (3°), Aquilani (27°)
Cards: Barzagli, Guana, Bresciano, Brighi.
The season kicked off better than anyone could've expected, after only 3 minute Roma went up on a Rodrigo Tadde cross that about skimmed the goal mouth before landing on a lunging Philippe Mexes' foot, which sent the Giallorossi faithful into a frenzy, and I scurrying to the comp to make sure he was still in my fantasy lineup (he is - booya). If you're going to have your (mostly) sit-at-home defender score the first goal of campaign after three minutes, I'd say you're in good shape. Damn good shape.
(Don't even ask me what the announcer is saying) Courtesy of Albacore, aka The Tuna.
You want some chances on net? Take your pick. Mirko Vucinic, Rodrigo Taddei, Lulu Gulu, Alberto Aquilani, Francesco Totti - they all had their shots. Alberto Fontana earned his paycheck with a few stops as Roma fired early and often, already in mid-season form in that respect. Mirko was particularly impressive with his one v one skills and footwork, and even had a few good defensive stops.
The tenth minute was Palermo's best chance of the first half, when Amauri headed a pass over to Ciro Capuano and he put it off the top of the bar. A few minutes later Miccoli jumped up to peek over the wall and sent a shot to Doni's left which he dove for and saved extremely well. At this point it looked like Good Doni had shown up, but one can never be too sure so the nitro and oxygen tanks were close by for Roma fans across the world. Palermo continued with the aerial attack, and the game continued to resemble a high-flying circus act - including an indiviual run from The French Pocket Rocke through Palermo's defense, at least until he met Andrea Barzagli who said "No soup for you!"
And then, and then, and then, this........
......that. Kid's good I hear. David, meet bench. Bench, meet David. You two should get along just fine. Fantastic goal, nothing more needs to be said. The future is now.
That goal essentially took the steam out of Palermo for the remaining of the half, and Roma continued to dominate on the attack as they had throughout the first half hour. Mirko looked to make it three clear after flicking a ball over the top of Fontana, only for Leandro Rinaudo to clear it out before it got to the goal mouth - bastard. The best remaining chance of the half was Totti's free kick low to the right which was saved well by Fontana, who only prevented another goal by a hair. At this point, the bubbly was on ice and ready to be uncorked.
The second half started off pretty much the same as the first, with Roma firing hard and firing often. Fontana was on his toes and parried away shot after shot for awhile, and someone surely needs to check his post game pee test for steroids, cocaine and/or viagra. The big difference in the game came after the half when Edison Cavani was brought on, and Palermo started to take control of the game. No, those two are not a coincidence, either.
Basically, Miccoli fired off the woodwork and missed a goal by centimeters, Cavani fired from close range a few times and was saved or missed, Migliaccio nearly scored a header, Amauri was everywhere, even throwing in a few stepovers to remind Dunga that he still is Brazilian and, you know, could actually play for the Selecao. In summary, the last half hour was alot of Doni facing the firing squad and a couple near breakaways from Lulu Gulu and Cicinho, who was playing RW in what looked to be a 6-2-1-1, aka The Team Bus. Luckily enough, like a prize fighter who had exhausted his arsenal yet still failing to knock out his opponent (I'm looking at you, George Foreman), Palermo completely took its foot off the pedal with 5 minutes remaining and conceded defeat. Whistle blows, commence bubbly.
Alberto Aquilani: My Boy. Seriously, at this point there is little to do but watch in amazement as he becomes one of the best players in the world in front of our eyes. He was dynamic at both ends, controlled the ball and tempo well, sent out some cheeky passes (including a back heel), but most importantly, he has really matured over the last 6 months or so. Or maybe we've just missed it due to his injury-plagued season. The goal? Ethereal. David Pizarro has lost his starting spot. King Alberto.
* - And Roberto Donadoni was in the stands. How much would you like to bet he starts against France?
Francesco Totti: We all know he is Il Capitano, leader of the Giallorossi and on the very very brief list of the world's best players. But every time the season starts anew, and maybe this is just me, he just never ceases to amaze me by how damn good he really is. His moves are sublime, his touch is perfection and when the ball is at his feet, defenders are left awaiting his next move, because there is nary a chance in hell they will take it away. The man is a virtuoso, a maestro - throw every superlative in the book at him and it still wouldn't be enough. His work is art and his art takes your breath away; he's just that damn good. He won't be around forever, cherish every moment. (I'm done, really)
Doni: Brilliant. Just brilliant. He saved no less than two goals in the second half with some superb saves, and kept his positioning tight and didn't get out of his element, especially with a squad whose main goal at times was obviously to find Amauri's noggin from the wings. He didn't get too aggressive on the crosses and kept his cool. Next game? Who the hell knows. Like we all know, some days this is the Doni we get, others...charge up the defibrillators.
Cicinho: Surprisingly, he was brought in for Lulu Gulu and took up post at RW. Although it was quite obvious The Grand Imperial Poobah had gone into full defensive mode at that point. We only got 15 minutes, but it was instantly obvious how well Cicinho is going to fit into this squad. That much touted plus-plus speed was there in spades, and he was close to finding himself all in front of goal with a serene lollipop pass from Francesco. Well worth the wait.
Mirko Vucinic: A repeat performance of the Juventus and Inter matches: fantastic in the first half and somewhere in the locker room playing cards with Claudio Della Penna during the second half. He'll need to recover more consistency, but until then he'll be more than adequate filling in for Mancini - when he returns.
Amauri: He just gets better and better every single time I see him. I'm glad Roma was able to get this game out of the way early, because I have a feeling he is going to tear through Serie A with little regard for the women and children.
Edison Cavani: This kid is so gifted. Once he matures and grows into his body a little more (he's damn thin), he'll be lighting up Europe. Very impressive.
Alberto Fontana: Despite losing and giving up a couple goals, there was nothing he could do about either and he really saved Palermo from an embarrassing scoreline. 40 or not, hell of a game.
Key Matchup Analysis:
Fabrizio Miccoli, Amauri & Edison Cavani v Roma’s Patchwork Back Four:
Roma held well, despite the onslaught Palermo was able to muster up in the second half. Miccoli hit a post, Cavani had a rocket of a point-blank shot saved by Doni and Amauri was a constant nuisance and factor throughout the game. They had their chances but were shut out by a collective effort from the back four, the midfield and Doni. Winner: Roma's back four (only because Palermo failed to score).
Francesco Totti & Ludovic Giuly v Andrea Barzagli & Leandro Rinaudo: Both did well, and Rinaudo had some particularly impressive moments, but Totti and Lulu showed they are forming a nice chemistry. Lulu was able to create a lot of space but wasn't able to really take things to that next step - as he was outmuscled often. Still, Totti took care of business and was able to fire hard and fire often, despite not bagging a goal. Winner: Totti & Gulu.
Ludovic Giuly v The Side of a Barn: Lulu didn't get too many chances to shoot on goal, so there isn't a clear winner. Winner: Push.
Doni v Doni: The world-beating Doni showed up and took charge of the game when Palermo started pressing. Winner: Good Doni.
Daniele De Rossi & Alberto Aquilani v Palermo: While Aquilani was a revelation, DDR didn't exactly have his best game in the shirt. Still, both absolutely set the momentum of the game in the first half and controlled the tempo and game for large stretches. Winner: DDR & AA (mainly AA).
Man of the Match: Doni. Obviously Doni was outstanding, but what's more is how those saves affected Palermo. It's no secret the Rosaneri were firing on all cylinders as the second half progressed, forcing Roma to park the team bus in front of goal. But Doni's saves not only kept the ball out of the net, they also forced the momentum to refrain from reaching turbo overdrive and send Palermo to net with confidence and the look of Jack from the Shining in their eyes. Great performance by Alexander.
Player Who Earned Himself A New Nickname: At this point, we need to do something about Aquilani. Il piccolo coccodillo isn't going to cut it at this point. We need something that aptly encompasses all that is Alberto Aquilani. I like The King, or King Alberto. Chime in with your suggestions.
Best Defender: Mexes, easy. He did well by keeping Amauri in check aerially, and that goal doesn't hurt either.
Holy @#$%...Who Is That?: Edgar "Burritos" Alvarez, both for actually getting onto the pitch (for Totti, no less), and actually impressing. He's on his way out, hopefully someone was impressed by the 7 seconds he got and is willing to pay a bazillion euros for his services.
Least Enthused By The 2-0 Scoreline At Halftime: The Grand Imperial Poobah, who looked like somebody had just killed his dog even though Roma had their foot on the neck of Palermo for the entire half.
Injuries: None (that we know of). Although King Alberto did send my heart into arrhythmia when he went head over heels in the second half and slammed his shoulder into the ground. Looks to be fine, probably a little sore.
Overview: Quite simply, Roma is a scudetto contender. If they can go to Sicily at half-strength and dominate the game for the majority of time, while keeping that highly-potent offense out of the net (despite some phenomenal chances) when they were pushed back, then this Roma team has something extremely special. Scudetto special.
* - Full highlights, if available, and transfer newsie bits tomorrow.