Catania v Roma
Never has this collection of athletes faced a larger game with more on the line than they will experience when stepping onto the pitch in Sicily, and I am completely convinced that tomorrow we will see a level of ferocity unseen from Roma thus far this season.
Unfortunately, it's not all in Roma's hands, and Parma has become everyone's second team. You would never bet against Inter to lose or even draw, but the Gialloblu proved themselves worth adversaries in January and the new unrest in Milan this week, along with Inter's history of choking, allows for a modicum of hope. And with that hope comes a little bit of Forza Parma, a lot of prayer and karma with the weight of the world on its shoulders. Quite frankly, a Roma scudetto win is the only thing which can convince me all is right in the world.
As for the Elephanti, Catania is nowhere near Roma's class. That's not really up for discussion, and has been on display on three separate occasions this year - even with one draw thrown in, a draw that, for all intents and purposes, was an exhibition. They had a decent first half of the season and a stunning run in the Coppa Italia, but this is a relegation-quality team. On a normal day, we can say 9 out of 10 would go to Roma, yet this is anything but a normal day.
One could almost consider these games with these circumstances akin to a derby in that form and skill are irrelevant. What matters is desire, the "will to win". Teams in Catania's position often play well above and beyond when facing survival. In this case I'm not sure you can completely throw talent, class and form out the window - especially with Roma having more than 3 points at stake - but their effect is certainly watered down. The Sicilians will scrap, they will fight and they will attempt to claw their way above the relegation mire and onto the ledge containing another year with much of the same. Their problem becomes Roma has just as much to fight for, if not more. Do these desires cancel each other out and leave us back at square one with talent v talent? Could be. Could very well be. We'll only know once the game is over.
For now, without getting into tactics and matchups, of which there are very few, if any, relevant ones, the greatest worry is Roma scoring a goal. Catania has conceded the second fewest goals at home in the league this season - thirteen - and we don't exactly need to unveil a lengthy presentation detailing Roma's struggles with finishing. No great secret, it's their Achilles heel. Of course, this doesn't seem to be the case since the loss of The Jesus. Averaging a solid three goals per game against a higher caliber of opposition, would a couple be two much to ask during what will be the biggest game of nearly every player's life? I don't think so.
If we do want to look back at the three games against Catania this season, one thing is completely evident: they're exposed even when they aren't pushing numbers forward. The problem becomes even if Parma loses, they can be relegated because Empoli has the tie-breaker. So really, with each game being played at the same time, they have to play for the win - or at least play for the draw. Even though they've built something of a fortress down there in Catania, I find it impossible to believe Roma won't will itself to at least one goal. Meaning I'd be utterly shocked to see a nil-nil draw, and I doubt I'm the only one.
What becomes mighty dangerous in the event that Catania opens up with a goal. At which point we'd see a Livorno-esque team picture in the back. So as much is this game is about emotion and heart and desire and all those clichéd things which make up Hollywood's archives, it's just as much about wits and tactics when the scoreline comes into play. Would you rather have Spalletti or Walter Zenga making decisions on the fly? That's what I thought.
On the other hand, if Roma opens up for a goal, Catania will be forced to open up the back and perhaps consequently, the floodgates for the boys. Which may allow us to to turn our attention to the Tardini. Well, at least we hope...
The overwhelming feeling for me is that Roma will come flying out of the gate and play to a level we don't often get to see. I've spent some time this week thinking about which was the game of the year, I actually came up with three in three different categories, and I couldn't help but to compare the feeling of this game to Udinese. Yes, Udinese was nearly tailor-made for Roma tactically, but it wasn't the opening efforts or domination which was most impressive. It was the reaction after the goal. It was the first time a Roma team gave the impression that we were watching champions. Calmly and coolly they absorbed the pressure of the goal, stepped their game up just one notch and proceeded to conquer Udinese as though it was their destiny. This will be another display of champions. This team has matured immeasurably, and it's become quite clear at hand is not the same old Roma. They deserve this scudetto, whether they get it or not, and they'll prove it in Sicily.
But most importantly of all? This one's for Francesco. Bring it home for him.
1. Inter 82 points
2. Roma 81 points
17. Catania 36pts (-12)
18. Parma 34pts (-18)
19. Empoli 33pts (-24)
Catania's last five at home: DLWWL
They're certainly not unbeatable at home, are they. Especially when considering the draw was with Siena and the two losses via Torino and Reggina, two teams which just assured safety last weekend. So while they may concede few goals, it's easily a result for the taking.
BERTAGNOLI J. Sergio
DE ROSSI Daniele
1 Bizzarri, 16 Polito, 18 Rossi.
22 Alvarez, 3 Sabato, 2 Sardo, 5 Silvestre, 21 Silvestri, 4 Sottil, 6 Stovini,
17 Baiocco, 27 Biagianti, 9 Colucci, 8 Edusei, 20 Gazzola, 13 Izco, 19 Tedesco,
25 Martinez, 10 Mascara, 15 Morimoto, 11 Pià, 24 Spinesi.
Iannelli, Ioime, Lasagna, Sciacca.
• Juan is available, but I strongly doubt we'll see him in the starting lineup. Though fantastic, OMR has been solid for nearly the entire year while throwing in the odd goal. There's really no need to risk another injury to Juan and a needless substitution when the drop-off to OMR is negligible. On the bench for reserve use at best, I'd say.
• Doni is going, I'd bet my bottom dollar he plays.
Cicinho, Panucci, Mexes, Tonetto;
Mancini, Aquilani, Perrotta;
It works, simple as that. Highly doubt Spal will mess with it.
* - If Panucci is any type of captain, he'll give the armband to DDR.
There is but one.
Daniele De Rossi v The World: It's doubtful we would get few arguments against the notion that DDR has been Roma's best player this season. He's also been the best midfielder in the league and a candidate for best player. This has been the season where we've seen the full bloom of DDR; at a time when it was desperately needed with the injuries to Il Capatino. They needed him to rise to another level and he did. It's that simple. And consequently, in the absence of Francesco, this has become his team. Whether he gets the arm band or not is irrelevant. The man bleeds red and yellow, and his heart beats as Roma's heart beats.
This is, without a doubt, a must win game. Roma has Daniele De Rossi leading them into battle, Catania does not. The man cares more than any of us could imagine. That is your difference maker.
God help us all.
Score: 1-0 Roma
Goals: Vucinic (34)
When: 1500 CET, 0900 EST
Where: Stadio Angelo Massimino
Forecast: Sunny, 25°C.