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Roma v Manchester United
In one of the largest games in club history, the Giallorossi will be without their general, their fearless leader, their captain: Francesco Totti. It’s no secret he’s getting older. It’s no secret he takes a great deal of punishment as defenders fruitlessly hack at his lower half for ninety minutes every weekend. Thus, it’s no secret these occurrences are, unfortunately, going to become more and more commonplace. The heart and soul of Rome will be spending more days in the stands while the remaining XI finds a way to go on without their talisman.
Today it is time for one to emerge from that XI and claim his status as a more than a legend - as a living god, a man amongst boys. It’s time for a golden child from Rome to throw the city on his back for 90 minutes and take what’s meant to be his. Today is Daniele De Rossi’s day.
While the only games being discussed will be those involving Manchester United and Roma in Champions League battles, I can’t help but drift in my mind back to July 9th, 2006 in Berlin. Specifically the 61st minute when Daniele De Rossi, fresh off his suspension, was brought on to replace Francesco in what was a great deal more than a simple substitution in a World Cup final. It was symbolic as a Roma gladiator who had fought back from a devastating injury to assist his national team to near deified status made way for the young wolf, his future successor for club and country. Already wearing the Azzurri #10, he’ll eventually capture the Giallorossi edition, the captain’s armband and, much more importantly, the savior of Rome.
There is no replacing Totti’s brilliance, and there is no replacing his unconscionable vision, but there is little question as to who has been the best player for Roma this year. There is also no question as to who has been Serie A’s best midfielder this season – and perhaps a candidate for the best player. De Rossi has been a veritable tornado in midfield, bouncing from sideline to sideline, consuming everything in his path, vacuuming balls into his vortex and spitting them back out with a touch of gold. Everything you hope for in a defensive midfielder, quite simply.
De Rossi is, and I’ve felt this for quite some time, Roma’s best defender. He is Maldini in midfield; precision tackling, impeccable timing and predatory instincts. Yet he is more than defense in that he is an offensive catalyst, plus more. He is Gattuso and Pirlo combined. He is Gattuso in Armani. He is a world champion. He is the future captain. He is a born leader. He is whatever praise he has heaped on him by his ever-growing wave of admirers. He just isn’t Rome’s savior – yet.
There haven’t been many bigger games in Roma’s history than this one. Perhaps the only continental game which could be larger is a matchup with Liverpool in the final. Luciano Spalletti’s men will take the field as they do every week, but today they’ll do so without their leader and calcio’s greatest game changing force. The Poobah will concoct a lineup which is surely a worthy adversary of Manchester United, but far from ideal; light years away from one including Francesco Totti, regardless of Mirko's exploits in the Champions League this season.
There is no bigger stage for a true gladiator to strap on his armor and rally his troops for an assault on the promised land. Daniele is, without a doubt, already a legend for Roma, but he is still mortal. Today the fate of Rome rests on his shoulders. Today he can become a god.
DE ROSSI Daniele
Van der Sar, Evra, Hargreaves, Ferdinand, Brown, Ronaldo, Anderson, Rooney, Giggs, Park, Vidic, Carrick, Scholes, Pique, O'Shea, Silvestre, Kuszczak, Tevez, Eagles, Heaton, Welbeck.
Totti, Juan, Simone. In Old man River we trust.
ManYoo will be missing Nani, and that's it for now. The "questionables" (Ferdinand, Carrick, Giggs and Evra) are all on the squad list. I suppose none or all could play, and I'd lean towards the latter. (Oh, and Fletcher - woo...woo.)
Cicinho, Mexes, Panucci, Tonetto;
De Rossi, Aquilani;
Taddei, Giuly, Mancini;
I am quite confident in this lineup. I really can’t see Matteo Ferrari playing any part in this game barring injury and/or complete disaster after his performance in Sardinia. There is the chance that Ludovicious sees the bench in favor of King Alberto stepping in at trequartista with David Pizarro slotting in just behind him. However, I love the way Ludovicious and Mirko work off of each other, both so adept at finding and running to space, causing immense havoc for defenders. I suspect the same may be true of TGIP as well.
van der Sar;
Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra;
Scholes, Hargreaves, Anderson;
Ronaldo, Rooney, Giggs.
Switch this around a bit, but the important ones will stay standard.
Anybody In The Vicinity v Cristian Ronaldo: I have more distaste for the Grade A classless act that is Cristiano Ronaldo than I do for any other player in the game. However, I’m not completely blind, and I realize he’s running away with the Ballon D’Or this year*, and deservedly so. There is no arguing his immense talent; but he can be stopped, he can be frustrated easily and he can be taken off his game. There is a blueprint, masterminded by Carlo Ancellotti last year, and that is to throw one, two, and three defenders at him when he gets even a whiff of the ball. Close him down, frustrate him and take him out of the game. He may be a man physically, but he has still yet to evolve beyond petulant child when it comes to his mentality. Take him out of the game, and move on to Rooney and Tevez.
* - The only way he doesn’t win it is if Fernando Torres continues his torrid pace and Rafa brings home another Champions League trophy with El Nino as the catalyst.
Alberto Aquilani v Accuracy: I won’t say he must score on of his patented howitzers for Roma to take home a red skin, but it would certainly help; especially because Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are so good, and Mirko will have his hands full there. What they don’t have is a world class defensive mid. They’ve been searching for a successor to Roy Keane for what seems like eons now (first option supposedly being Rome’s very own Daniele De Rossi), but have yet to really grab hold of a golden child, instead stacking the cupboard full of gifted attacking options. Owen Hargreaves is less than frightening and I wouldn’t image he’ll be enough to close down the midfield – that is if he plays. While Vidic and Ferdinand are busy dealing with Giallorossi filling gaps and spaces, Aquilani will be gathering the ball in front of the back four and unleashing vicious shots towards Edwin van der Sar. It’s been a mighty long time since he’s connected on one, and now would seem high time to ripple the Stadio Olimpico nets and run towards the Curva Sud kissing the badge as the faithful erupt in a deafening roar. And if he’s truly on point, we may get to enjoy it multiple times.
Philippe Mexes v Wayne Rooney: We all know Philou is as emotionally driven as he is physically gifted – and he is a world class talent. He has made no subtle hints about his desire for revenge against Wayne Rooney after the shellacking Roma, and especially the back line, endured last year.
Though the very definition of English overhype, Rooney is still good and a tireless worker who can be just as effective in minute 90 as he can in minute 1. Despite his relatively long droughts in scoring throughout various competitions (CL couple years back, Premiership this year), he can and does score goals. So first things first: Philou cannot get an early yellow due to overexuberance. Not only because it means he’ll be suspended for the return leg at Old Trafford, but also because it forces him to let up a bit. Smart, well timed challenges. Also, Philou cannot get too hell bent on revenge on solely Rooney and forget shape and tactics. There is no shortage of guys on ManU who can kill you in front of your own goal, and Rooney can find them. Revenge is nice, but be smart about it.
Mirko Vucinic & Ludovic Giuly v The Big Game.:
Mirko: Watching Mirko’s videos yesterday it was somewhat surprising to not only remember the goals, but also remember the situations in which those goals came. After Francesco went down against Sporting and he had to come on early, he ended up making a slalom run through the Portuguese defense like Alberto Tomba. The deft touch and sheer will he displayed against Sampdoria after Roma had gone down a man away from home. Milan at the San Siro, without Totti. The derby, without Totti. Milan, down a goal. Whenever Roma needed a hero, he came in to save the day - especially without Il Capitano. His stage has been set.
Ludovicious: When Ludovic was bought last summer, many people thought it was with the Champions League in mind. He captained Monaco’s surprise outfit to a final in 2004, putting the dagger in Madrid’s hearts when his squad were down 4-2 going back home. The next year he was the hero again, scoring the lone goal in the two-legged tie with Milan in the semi-finals. A man with the experience of lengthy Champions League runs. Something this Roma team lacked until this very year. The stage is set for Mirko, but the same must be said for Ludovicious. Whether from the start or from the bench, it’s time for some more European magic from the little Frenchman.
This really says enough for me:
"When I heard we would face Manchester I put my arms in the air and shouted ‘Hell, yes, at last!’
"Finally we have the chance to put things right. This is the perfect opportunity for us to wipe out the memory of last year.
"We've taken this draw as a matter of pride. There is a moral here and that is in life you always get the chance to make up for what happened in the past. This is our chance to find peace.
"We can reverse the pain we have had in our hearts and now we can free ourselves from it. We've carried this inside for a year now and we can get rid of it."
This is not last year’s Roma. This is not even last fall’s Roma. This team is ready to play, ready to win these legs, and ready to fight for it.
Score: 2-1 Roma
Goals: Aquilani (41), Vucinic (62), Tevez (71)
MOTM: Daniele De Rossi
When: 2045 CET, 1445 EST
Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Forecast: 16°C, clear.
FORZA ROMA, it’s time for…..