Roma's annual trip to Siena comes, as always, at a critical juncture. Sitting three points out of a European place and with a tough Fiorentina fixture waiting, Roma would be wise not to overlook Siena's stout defense, as these three points mean as much as any.
This week's opponent is A.C. Siena, the ‘AC' standing for, of course, ‘always cheating'. Unfortunately for Siena, however, they are not as successful at cheating as that other black and white vertical striped team. Siena, if you're going to fudge the books, go big!
Roma enter the Artemio Franchi-Montepaschi Arena riding a modest two game winning streak, fresh off victories over Torino and Pescara. Much like Torino, Siena, despite their modest point total, has a pretty solid defense. In Siena's case, their 14 goals allowed is good for fourth in Serie A, while they rank fourth and ninth, respectively, in interceptions and shots conceded per game. But if ever there were a team who could bust that last stat, surely it's Roma.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Siena's top rated players are all defenders. First and foremost among the Bianconeri defenders is Brazilian Neto, who ranks in the top 20 in tackles per game and leads all of Europe in interceptions per game. Massimo Paci (who also has 2 goals to his name), Felipe, and Matteo Contini have also contributed to Siena's stout backline, helping Gianluco Pegolo keep six clean sheets.
Ushering Siena's sad offense is Emanuele Calaiò, who has amassed four of the club's thirteen goals, while also chipping in two assists. The Bianconeri, simply put, struggle to muster up any sort of consistent attack, averaging a meager 8.6 shots per game, last in the league; making matters worse, only 2.6 of those shots are on target. For comparison's sake, Francesco Totti and Pablo Osvaldo combine for 7.6 shots per game themselves.
Perhaps it's their reliance on attacking down the right flank that has stagnated their offense, as 41% of their attack runs down that side of the pitch. Which might not seem odd, but teams rarely skew over 40% on any side of the field, Siena's 41% makes them the most right-centric team in the league.
Whatever the case maybe, their 3-5-2, though all the rage nowadays, doesn't seem to be working.
As for Roma, this marks the second of hopefully only three matches without Erik Lamela. Last week against Pescara, Mattia Destro ably filled his shoes, scoring a goal, ripping off six shots (three on target), and dribbling past six defenders. Granted, that was against Pescara, but at first blush, Destro delivered a strong performance while playing out of position, hopefully earning another start against his former club.
With a late week injury scare behind him, Pablo Osvaldo should assume his customary central role, flanked by Francesco Totti and presumably Destro. Whatever quibbles some of us may have about the Destro-Osvaldo dynamics, this threesome gelled fairly well last week. When you consider how seldom they've shared the pitch together, the interchange and overlapping between them was relatively flawless, with Destro and Totti both turning in match ratings near or over eight, each unleashing 3 shots on target, and Totti amassing an incredible 11 long balls, 9 of which were deemed to be accurate.
The lesson, as always, Francesco Totti is a master craftsman, capable of creating magic from mere dust.
At the back, Federico Balzaretti and Ivan Piris will man their usual flank positions, with the Brazilian duo of Leandro Castan and Marquinhos looking to further solidify their place among the league's best duos.
You really just can't say enough about how seamless a transition Marquinhos is making to life in Italy. Our requisite statistical supplier has even named him one of Europe's top rated young center backs.
Mauro Goicoechea makes another start between the sticks, with Maarten Stekelenburg still out injured. While he's done an admirable job in Stek's stead, I hesitate to say he's created any sort of controversy for Zeman, unless ZZ's ambivalence for Stekelenburg proves to be true, then it's anybody's guess. Maarten's salary and Mauro's ability to provide a reasonable facsimile of a steady keeper will be the determining factors.
Roma sit three points out of a precious European spot and with a mini Roma reunion waiting next week against a tough Fiorentina side, these three points will go a long way to easing any difficulty next week's encounter may bring.