Roma and Udinese, both desperately chasing Europa League qualification, are separated by only three points. The last match was decided on an 88th minute penalty. This one should be just as tense.
As we just discussed the ramifications, near and far, of Roma's remaining fixtures, we'll keep this preview relatively brief. All you really need to know is that Udinese is hot on Roma's heels, trailing by only three points, and are in their own desperate chase for European qualification.
We initially billed the first fixture between these two as possibly one of the last great Toto v Totti duels, but it turned out to be Toto v Coco, as our young Argentine went toe-to-toe with one of Italy's finest scorers.
First, Erik Lamela did this:
Then two minutes later, he did this:
Maurizio Domizzi found this eight minutes later:
Antonio DiNatale did this:
Then this happened:
It was yet another example of Roma squandering a lead, which seemed to happen quite a bit in the season first few months. Needless to say, some of those points, whether they were blown leads or comebacks cut just short, have left Roma in its current predicament. All of that is hindsight, of course, but it still smarts.
Roma enter the match, as you all well know, as Italy's hottest team, taking the full nine points from their last three matches, while Udinese has run the gamut the past three weeks (LDW).
Roma regains one, in the form of Leandro Castan, but loses two to injury (Miralem Pjanic, Marquinhos) and one to the red (Michael Bradley), which will force Aurelio Andreazzoli to make a few moves in his midfield.
Defensively, while Castan is on the squad list, it may be a bit early to throw him back into the fray, so a back line (right-to-left) of Ivan Piris, Nicolas Burdisso, and Alessio Romagnoli is certainly a possibility.
The midfield offers more uncertainties due to the absence of Pjanic and Bradley. Thus far, AA hasn't shown the same fondness for Panagiotis Tachtsidis or Alessandro Florenzi as his predecessor, so there is a possibility, however slim it might be, that Simone Perrotta will crack the first XI alongside Daniele De Rossi, Vasilis Torosidis, and Federico Balzaretti. Perrotta has made the most of his few appearances, scoring two goals in just over 170 minutes of action spread across nine matches.
Erik Lamela and Francesco Totti, Roma's best players this season, will continue their partnership in support of Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, who, at this point, is really only the starter by default. With reports of
his storming off the field (something seemed amiss with his departing the pitch, 'storming off' may have been a bit harsh) and increasing rumors of his summer departure, PDO might not be long for Roma.
Udinese, meanwhile, feature a 3-5-1-1, somewhat similar to Andreazzoli's 3-4-1-2, spearheaded by, you guessed it, Toto DiNatale. Toto's 15 goals leads his squad by a country mile and place him third in Serie A behind only Edinson Cavani and Stephan El Sharaawy. DiNatale's goal total accounts for roughly 42% of Udinese's offense.
Udinese's +2 goal differential places them firmly in the middle of the pack, while their possession is mediocre and their passing atrocious (second worst in the league). They're also in the lower 50% of league in terms of shots, shots on target and dribbles per game. Essentially, it's Toto or bust at this point. Although, they do an excellent job of creating chances in the six yard box, with 7% of their shots coming within the closest reaches of the net, good for second in the league.
The last match was really a tale of Toto vs Coco, DiNatale vs Lamela, and there's a very good reason to suspect this match will follow the same formula. In the first encounter, those two accounted for 14 shots, 7 of which were on target, while Lamela added six successful dribbles and three chances created. Toto wrought all that damage against a four man backline of Dodo, Castan, Marquinhos and Piris, so it will be interesting to see how his performance differs against a more congested midfield and a narrower defense.
It goes without saying, but we'll say it anyway, every single match from here on out is a matter of European life or death. So whatever Andreazzoli has been doing to conjure up this run of form, whether it's been the change in formation/personnel or just plan luck, if he truly believes he's deserving of a full-time post, qualification for Europe would go a long way to making that a reality.