Date: Sunday, April 21, 2013
Time: 15:00 CET, 09:00 EDT
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Roma
Even though we're all still riding the high of Wednesday's Coppa victory over Inter Milan, Roma's place in Europe is anything but assured. With six matches remaining and the club still tied with Lazio, Roma must overtake their city rivals and hope that neither Inter Milan nor Udinese gain any ground.
As we discussed a few weeks ago, the fixture list won't be kind to Roma in the month of May, with matches against Fiorentina, AC Milan and Napoli looming. So it's imperative that Roma takes six points from their next two opponents, Pescara and Siena.
The beauty of advancing to the Coppa Italia Finals is that it gives Roma a failsafe of sorts, no matter how they play out the string this season, the club will have one last shot at European qualification-but to have so much at stake in one match, particularly when you have six weeks to avoid that fate, is far from ideal.
The first of those six is against Pescara and we start, as always, by looking backwards.
Roma's first trip to Abruzzo since 1993 was a triumphant one, though not as resounding as you would've expected. As luck would have it, Wednesday's hero was also the savior on this November day. A mere five minutes into the match, Mattia Destro pounced on a rebound following a free kick from Francesco Totti, scoring the eventual game winner 85 minutes before the final whistle.
That was really about it, going into that match you might have expected at least a two or three goal victory, as Roma scored 12 goals over their previous five matches alone, but Roma's trip to the Adriatic coast, though not spectacular, was successful nonetheless.
As much as it pains my Abruzzo heart to say it, Pescara is awful: awful at offense, awful at defense, they're just awful at a cellular level. Pescara boasts, though I suppose that should be "boasts", the league's worst offense and defense. Their anemic offense has managed only 24 goals this season...Edinson Cavani has 22. Their 46.2% possession is sixth worse in Italy, their 10.3 shots/game is third worst and they've only managed 221 chances created, some 140 less than Roma. Though, if a bright spot must be found, they're surprisingly mediocre at passing and dribbling. So there's that
Defensively, Pescara is positively porous, bleeding goals to the tune of a -42 goal differential. Factoring in the worst goal differentials over the past five seasons (-36, -29, -34, -32, -25), and Pescara's remaining schedule (matches against Milan, Napoli, Catania and Fiorentina, all top five in fewest goals conceded), the Dolphins have a shot at making some recent history, with Ancona's 2003-2004 mark of -49 within their reach. However, Serie A's all-time worst goal differential was set by Bari in 1940-1941, with that year's Biancorossi finishing with a -53 mark. So barring a string of shutouts, Pescara should avoid that ignominious record.
Individually, there isn't really anyone worth acclaim on Pescara's roster, though they've been getting a decent defensive performance from Antonio Balzano, whose 3.5 tackles/match is good for 19th in the league. Goalkeeper Ivan Pelizzoli has put in some decent performances over the past month as well, including a stellar performance in a 2-1 defeat to Juventus, where he made over 10 saves.
For Roma, the story of this match is also defensive-namely, who is going to play? With Nicolas Burdisso and the newly rejuvenated Federico Balzaretti suspended, and makeshift defender Marquinho in doubt, not to mention Dodo, the question of who plays where becomes more pronounced.
Ivan Piris and Leandro Castan should assume their usual roles, though who their respective partners will be remains in doubt. Now here's where the versatility of Marquinhos makes things interesting; Andreazzoli can keep Plural in his usual central role and utilize Vasilis Torosidis on the other flank, or push Marquinos out wide and give the rare start to Alessio Romagnoli.
So, Roma fan, the question you have to ask yourself is, which are you more comfortable with: Torosidis out wide or Romagnoli in the middle?
Of course that question (and the entire preceding paragraph) could be moot if AA simply opts for a three man backline of Piris, Castan and Marquinhos. Although, we haven't seen that particular combination yet and AA even started Romagnoli out wide against Genoa...so, as always, its anyones guess.
As for the rest of the squad, the lineup is really only impacted by the minutes played on Wednesday.
While tests didn't show any ligament damage to his ankle, Alessandro Florenzi remains doubtful for this match. Also with lingering doubts, though not quite as severe, are Miralem Pjanic and Daniele De Rossi. Even without the benefit of the squad list, I'd put my money on those two giving it a go. But if the shadow of doubt casts itself over DDR, Pjanic and Marquinho, expect a spot start from Simone Perrotta.
The midfield rotation is really academic compared to the suddenly resurrected striker debate. Mattia Destro left the Meazza as Roma's latest hero, a distinction magnified with Pablo Osvaldo sitting helplessly suspended in the stands--as in not playing due to suspension, not dangling from the railings. While we'll have more on this debate in the coming days, with Destro playing 70 minutes on Wednesday and having only recently returned from a lengthy absence, Osvaldo getting the start wouldn't be a total shock, despite Destro's midweek master stroke.
Several weeks ago when we looked ahead at the remaining fixtures, we pointed to this spell as the one in which Roma could gain the most ground in the table. So far the results have been mixed, with points being dropped to lowly Palermo and a failure to overcome a 10-man Lazio, followed by last weekend's victory over Torino. If Roma are to break this tie with Lazio, while also fending off Inter, they must emerge victorious against the likes of Pescara and next week's opponent, Siena-there's simply no way around it, these are teams Roma should beat, a matter made more drastic given what little reprieve May's fixtures will offer.