There will be no Papal postponement on this one, as Roma welcomes Parma to the Olimpico in dire need of three points.
Despite last weekend's disappointing draw with Udinese, Roma is still in fine form, taking 10 points from their last four matches to remain in the thick of the European chase. Sitting a mere three points out of Europa League qualification, Roma has already staved off a papal postponement and must do the same to a Parma side fresh off a 4-1 thrashing of Torino if it hopes to keep pace with Inter and Lazio.
Parma took the full three points on a rain soaked pitched at the Tardini, coming from behind to defeat Roma 3-2. Erik Lamela got things started early, scoring in the 8th minute, so I'd hesitate to call it a blown lead, but it wasn't pretty.
Parma leveled the match in the 34th minute, as Ishak Belfodil was able to get behind the defense and slip one past Maarten Stekelenburg. Three minutes later, Marco Parolo beat Stekelenburg from the left side, putting Parma ahead before half time.
This match was also noteworthy because it marked the first appearance of Mauro Goicoechea, who came on for Stekelenburg in the second half. Mauro didn't have much better luck, however, as Cristian Zaccardo was able to corral a sopping wet rebound off the feet of Goicoechea, making it 3-1.
Then Francesco Totti did this:
While it's not every day you see a player score off his own missed penalty, it was all the good fortune Roma could muster, even after going up a man in the 84th minute. Roma would go on to win five out of their next six matches, however, in a patented end-of-the-year Roman run.
It was an exciting week in the Eternal City, to say the least; the football team got new threads and the Vatican got a new Vicar of Christ. Argentines have a long record of success in Rome, so I'm sure Pope Francis will settle in just fine.
New pontiffs notwithstanding, there is a football match to be played and no scheduling conflicts betwixt the twain. Now that we've got the Old English out of the way, let's focus on the concerns of our chiesa.
Parma enters the match in 10th place, winners of one of their past six matches, having been blanked in half those affairs. Taking it a step further, Parma has only defeated Roma once in their past six encounters. So the odds, both historic and contemporary, aren't in Parma's favor.
Despite all that, Parma is a fairly solid team, ranking 10th in both goals scored and conceded (-1 differential), so it should come as no surprise that their defense is surprisingly effective. Parma's 11.8 shots conceded per game is fifth best (or least, to be more accurate) in the league, while their 25.3 tackles per game is third most in Italy; granted this last stat can be misleading, but they are middle of the pack in terms of possession, so they're not constantly defending, which lends some credence to their tackling rate.
Offensively, Parma's 14 shots per match is good for 7th in Serie A, their 4.3 shots on target per match ranks 10th and their 11.1 dribbles per contest ranks 3rd in Italy. All in all, Parma is a pretty solid team who have endured a number of close defeats; in their past four matches alone, they've suffered three losses by one goal apiece.
Parma is led by our old buddy and former Roma rumor alumnus, Amauri. The 32-year old Italian-Brazilian hybrid has nine goals in only 16 appearances, including a hat trick last week against Torino, giving him four goals in his past three matches. Parma appears to have captured lightning in a bottle with the newfound pairing of Amauri and Jonathan Biabiany, with the latter tallying two assists over his past four matches, playing to the right of Amauri.
So if there's a Parma pair to keep your eye on, surely it's these two, especially if your name is Nicolas Burdisso. However, there is the off chance that Nicola Sansone gets the nod next to Amauri, although Biabiany has been Parma's best player this season and, along with Amauri, Parma's most effective players over the past month.
Our old pal Aleandro Rosi is still employed by Parma and has managed two goals, five yellows and one red this season, and little else. Interestingly enough, Parma as a whole has been booked nearly 90 times this season. Parma don't play nice.
As for Roma, there isn't much by way of lineup debates, with Miralem Pjanic being the only name of note on the injured list, which may pave the way for Michael Bradley to reappear in the starting XI. Although, Simone Perrotta was remarkably solid in last week's draw, going the full 90, making five tackles, three interceptions, two clearances and completing 82% of his passes; evidently there's still some life left in those 35-year old legs.
Other than Perrotta's mini-resurgence, the twist of the week against Udinese was the subtle tweak in Andreazzoli's 3-4-2-1. Rather than Pablo Osvaldo being supported by Lamela and Totti, PDO was scrapped altogether in favor of a staggered Lamela-Totti duo, centrally supported by a more advanced Alessandro Florenzi. Although it was a new role for Florenzi, he adapted quite well, ripping off three shots, drawing three fouls and completing four successful dribbles, which was a team high, so don't be surprised if he reprises that role on Sunday.
While their actual arrangement might differ slightly, it appears as though the forward third of the Roman lineup will be once again be composed of Lamela, Florenzi and Totti, with Er Purpone being the most forward of the three. Although if AA has learned anything, he should realize that when you take the big baby off the pitch, bad things happen.
With Burdisso, Marquinhos and Leandro Castan reunited at the back and Marquinho and Vasilis Torosidis cementing their place in AA's side, the only ambiguity remains in which of Perrotta or Bradley will get the nod, though that role is largely defensive, so either man should suffice.
It's been written many times, you've read it many times, and it's probably kept you up at nights, but Europe is still within reach. With Inter and Lazio both three points ahead of Roma, and each on the road against middling sides, the Giallorossi will once again need some assistance to climb the table.
The Pope may have granted Roma a logistical reprieve, but with new clothes and a new home on the horizon, as well as a few healthy pay raises looming, Roma needs to start making her own luck, no better time than the present.*
*I've noticed I refer to the club collectively as 'her', I have no idea if it's correct to refer to a football team in nautical terms or not.