The funny thing about winning streaks is that they require some modicum of consistency, an axiom not typically associated with Roma. The latest break came with the news that Federico Balzaretti will be sidelined for at least 15 days with a thigh strain, which may or may not pave the way for the debut of Dodo. Although without the services of Balzaretti, Rodrigo Taddei and the walking ambiguity that is Nicolas Burdisso, the burden will fall on some combination of Leandro Castan, Marquinhos, Dodo, Ivan Piris and possibly Alessio Romagnoli.
Like I said, consistency is not a Roman virtue.
Fortunately, the forward two-thirds of the Roman lineup remain (relatively) intact, as Daniele De Rossi, Panagiotis Tachtsidis and Alessandro Florenzi are all tentatively slated to start in the same place as last week, imagine that. Although with a cameo appearance last week, Miralem Pjanic reminded everyone that he is indeed still gainfully employed by Associazione Sportiva Roma. However, with every passing minute he remains on the bench, the whispers of his impending departure grow louder and louder, made worse following his fine performance with Bosnia-Herzegovina. Scoring a goal and playing nearly 70 minutes against Lithuania should have erased any doubts about his fitness, but his absence from the Roma lineup persists, causing many to fret about his long term future with the club.
As for the attack, you can pencil in Francesco Totti and Erik Lamela for the outside roles for the remainder of the season, but it's that middle piece that will be interesting to watch. Following his stellar performance against Genoa, Zeman will be hard pressed to keep Pablo Osvaldo out of the lineup. In all honesty, PDO's performances haven't warranted his removal anyway, but folks around the peninsula are starting to take note of Mattia Destro's monumental upside, so how ZZ balances Osvaldo's current run of form with Destro's need for development will be an interesting dynamic to watch throughout the season
So what of this week's opponent?
Udinese enters the Olimpico sitting in 12th place with a -3 goal differential, looking a far cry from the team that finished 3rd last season. As is always the case with Udinese, the man to watch is Antonio Di Natale who, at age 35, still leads the Zebrette in goals with two through his first five appearances, matched by 26 year old Brazilian midfielder Maicosuel.
Despite Di Natale's stalling of father time, history and logistics do not appear to be on Udinese's side. Sunday's encounter will be the third match in seven days for Toto's crew, following a league victory versus Pescara and a Europa League loss to Young Boys. Making matters worse (for them), they have lost four of the past six matches against Roma, having been outscored 11-7.
Udinese largely feature a 3-5-1-1 that, despite their measly 8 goals, likes to run roughshod on the flanks and stretch the opposition. The Udinese defense, however, is a different story. The Zebrette have allowed the 4th most goals in the league and will be without the services of key defenders Danilo and Mehdi Benatia, as well as midfielders Giampiero Pinzi and Giovanni Pasquale.
While I shy away from actual predictions, the path to consistency and an actual winning streak is laid out before Roma, provided their patchwork defense can corral Toto and Maicosuel. While it's never wise to look past an opponent, the immediate schedule may provide ample opportunity for Roma to climb the ranks, with eminently winnable matches against Parma, Palermo, Torino, Pescara, and Siena looming ahead, along with tougher tilts against Lazio and Fiorentina.
It's nearly November, the path is unfolding and things are starting to coalesce...the road is rising up to meet Roma.
All it takes is some consistency.