Roma make the short trip east to Abruzzo to take on Pescara for the first time in nearly 20 years. With Roma chasing Europe and Pescara fighting to stay in Serie A, expect an intense match, as both clubs have much to fight for even at this early stage.
Last season, buoyed by their own version of Zemanlandia, Pescara held Serie B defenses hostage. Led by likes of Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile, the Delfini eviscerated their opponents to the tune of an outrageous 90 goal campaign, propelling the club back to Serie A for the first time since 1993.
What a difference a year makes, Verratti is plying his very promising trade in Paris, Insigne took his talents slightly southwards to Napoli, Immobile found his way to Genoa and Zeman is currently attempting to rekindle his magic in Roma.
Sadly for Pescara, Zeman's magic has not lived on in his absence, as the 2012-2013 version of the Delfini is a far cry from the crew that ran roughshod over the lower ranks last season. Pescara currently sits 18th in the standings with a pitiful 9 goals scored and -15 goal differential.
These two sides have not met in a league encounter since March 31, 1993, which was probably about the time the Dolphin-Safe Tuna craze was sweeping the world, in case you didn't appreciate my subtle title pun.
If the internet existed in 1993, beyond looking for spoilers for Jurassic Park, downloading illegal copies of "Whoomp! (There It Is)", and trolling message boards to debate the relative merits of NAFTA, you probably would've spent most of your time kvetching about a Roma squad that finished in 10th place.
Fortunately, the ensuing decades have been kinder to Roma than they have Pescara. With Roma chasing Europe and Pescara merely trying to survive, let's take a look behind the scenes of Sunday's showdown in Pescara.
For the Abruzzesi among us, this match brings mixed feelings, as the Adriatic province seldom hosts Serie A action. The results for Pescara thus far indicate a brief stay in the top flight too, due to both their anemic offense and deplorable defense.
From a pure football perspective, it would've been interesting to see how Zeman would've managed Pescara in Serie A with the likes of Insigne, Verratti and Immobile still at Pescara's disposal. But Serie B is where young players cut their teeth, so the Delfini are left to fight Siena, Genoa and Chievo, among others for Serie A Survival; a task made much tougher without last year's young guns.
Beyond the two degrees of Zemanation, Pescara has further Roma connections, as they feature Roman farmhands Gianluca Caprari and Alessandro Crescenzi. Though Crescenzi has yet to feature, Caprari has made six appearances, scoring one goal.
Leading the way for Pescara's pitiful offense is Slovakian midfielder Vladimir Weiss, who has tallied three out of the club's nine goals. Beyond that, the only other noteworthy performer for the Dolphins has been the young Columbian, Juan Quintero, who has managed a goal and two assists while completing 87% of his passes.
So what about Roma?
For once, the issue is not the midfield. Well, I may have spoken to soon, with Daniele De Rossi still out on suspension, Zeman will once again have to decide between Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Michael Bradley, Miralem Pjanic and Alessandro Florenzi for the starting nod.
Miralem The Maligned has found himself on the outside looking in far too often this season, but our Bosnian boy has managed goals in successive matches and has seen his match ratings steadily increase over the past six weeks. Positional uncertainty aside, Pjanic has shown flashes of what led Francesco Totti, of all people, to anoint him as one of the club's best. Add him to the growing of young players seemingly not quite fit for this system, yet far too talented to dispose of or simply write off.
In the defense, the fearsome foursome of Leandro Castan, Marquinho To The Second Power, Federico Balzaretti, and Ivan Piris figure to get the nod. It's somewhat surprising (and perhaps telling) that the youngest of this group has been the most consistent, but Marquinhos is quickly making us all dream of better defensive days ahead.
Behind these four will be Mauro Goicoechea (as much fun to spell from memory as it is to say) because Maarten Stekelenburg is still "injured". Though not without his faults, the Uruguayan is at least muddying the goal keeping waters for Zeman.
The Roman debate du jour, however, rests up front. With the worrisome-but-hopefully-not-devastating news that Erik Lamela is out three weeks, Zeman has another problematic three-fourths fiasco on his hands.
So with four attackers and three slots, does he give Nico Lopez a cameo? Does he leave Pablo Osvaldo in the center and put Mattia Destro in his admittedly weaker position on the outside? Does he follow the spirit of Vincent Candela's advice and slot Destro into the center of the attack?
At 21-years old and coming with a potential €15M price tag, there can be little doubt that Destro, along with Lamela, is the future of the Roman attack. But, whatever quibbles you have with PDO's skill set, he has a knack for, as Tommy Smyth would say, budging the old onion bag, accruing seven goals in nine matches, good for a share of third place in the Serie A scoring race.
While PDO isn't exactly ready to cash in his pension, he will be 27 years old in January and has most likely peaked as a player, a talented score for sure, but not likely to exhibit any further growth. When you take a closer look at his scoring numbers, you find further reason to give Destro his due.
Osvaldo's seven goals have come in only nine matches, during which he is averaging a league high 4.4 shots per game. So, doing some simple math, his success rate, rounded up, is only 18%.
To put that in perspective, here are the figures for the rest of the league's top 5 scorers. Stephan El Shaarawy 22%, Antonio DiNatale 21%, Edinson Cavani 22%, Erik Lamela 20% and Miroslave Klose 35%. Looking a few spots below PDO, we find that Fabio Quagliarella and Alberto Gilardino are hitting on 20% and 24% of their shots, respectively.
While this is admittedly a cursory look at offensive statistics, they do show that, for the amount of shots PDO gets, he is not a terribly effective goal scorer, at least compared to the league's other top hit men. But coming at a cost of nearly €18M, it might be hard for Roma to recoup any of that price tag, further complicating any potential sale.
Not that he has even been implicated in a sale, but financially and statistically speaking, PDO's juice hasn't been worth the squeeze.
But, with the news that PDO is experiencing some gastrointestinal distress, perhaps Destro will get the central role by default.
As we discussed earlier this week, weathering the storm without Lamela won't be easy, but Pescara might be the perfect foil for a team without its top performer.
Hey! Here's some good news, it's supposed to be sunny and dry in Pescara on Sunday