Well, here it is, the end of the Serie A season. Although there is nothing at stake in this match, it just wouldn't be Roma if it wasn't draped in drama. The real money will be made next week in the Coppa Italia final against Lazio, but Roma's future might be sitting on the opposing touchline Sunday afternoon, while its present comes to a merciful and sputtering end.
Usually this fixture is fraught with concern over how one contains Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik, but those questions, and really the match in general, are immaterial to the affairs of the day. With all the rumors surrounding Aurelio Andreazzoli's replacement (never mind the fact that he hasn't been officially dismissed yet), anyone and everyone connected with or following Roma are really only concerned with one thing: will he or won't he?
The 'he' in this instance is, of course, Walter Mazzarri. Napoli's current manager has been the name most consistently connected to Roma's not yet vacant spot on the bench. So, if you find yourself more worried about Mazzarri's future than the outcome of this match, you're not alone, especially with rumors that Roma's next manager will be named before next week's Coppa Italia final and Mazzarri's own admission that his future will be announced following this match.
While none of us can predict the collective fates of Andreazzoli, Roma, and Mazzarri, we can shift our undoubtedly divided attention towards the pitch. The season is 38 weeks long for a reason, so let's discuss the distraction of the day.
It was ugly.
This also happened:
If you didn't pick up on the theme, Edinson Cavani eviscerated Roma to the tune of three goals. The day was Napoli's as they crushed Zeman's men 4-1, the only saving grace being an Osvaldo goal in the 72nd minute. Unfortunately, that's been par for the course, as Roma have only one victory in their past six matches against Napoli.
With a nine point advantage over third place Milan, Napoli, much like Roma, enter this match with little to play for other than pride, making any lineup predictions an exercise in futility. Instead, let's take a look at how and why Napoli finished a distant second to Juve.
Though you may have guessed that our Giallorossi or the Old Lady of Turin were leading the league in scoring, it's the boys from Naples who have paced Serie A, finding the back of the net 72 times through 37 matches. As you would expect, Cavani leads the way with 28 goals, two shy of the magical 30, which hasn't been touched since Luca Toni's 31 in 2005-2006-you have to go back to the late 50's to find another 30+ goal scorer...I don't know, something about Serie A being defensive comes to mind.
While Cavani has the Capocannoniere all but sewn up, the man trailing him for the club lead, Marek Hamsik, has put together a downright Totti-esque season. Hamsik, along with Totti, are the only two men in Serie A to crack double digits in scoring and assists, with Hamsik totaling 11 goals and a league leading 14 assists. Hamsik's 100 key passes trail only Totti's 102 for the league lead; indeed, the two men are within arm's reach of one another in most offensive categories. Any way you slice it, Hamsik is one of Serie A's best players, offering the same blend of scoring, creativity and playmaking as Totti. Of course, we'll see how he stacks up after 20 years in the league. Nevertheless, Hamsik has been one of the league's most durable players this season, appearing in all 37 matches, logging nearly 3,200 minutes and going the full 90 on 25 occasions.
Napoli is no slouch defensively either, as their 34 goals allowed trails only Juventus' infinitesimal 21 goals conceded. The Partenopei rank in the top 10 in both shots conceded and tackles per game, statistics which usually work in concert with one another. Point being, it's awfully tough to mount a sustained attack against these guys. If you were to pick out one Napoli player to heap praise upon, it would be Valon Behrami, as much as it pains me to do so. The former Lazio defender's 155 tackles leads the league by a narrow margin. Although he didn't play last week against Siena, he's been a rock in the center of Napoli's midfield, tackling with aplomb and dolling out passes in both number (over 1,200) and precision (91%).
So by now you're sort of getting the point, right? Napoli is led by a phenomenally talented tandem in Cavani and Hamsik, but it's the supporting cast, comprised of solid and versatile veterans-your Behrami's, Maggio's, Campagnaro's, Pandev's, Cannavaro's-that has allowed those two to flourish and the club to secure their second top-three finish in the past three seasons.
Now, let your mind wander to next season and imagine what Mazzarri could do with Totti & Co. What sort of performance could he elicit from Erik Lamela? From Mattia Destro? From Totti himself? Could he reinvigorate Daniele De Rossi? What stratosphere could he take Marquinhos to?
While it's not yet tangible, it is certainly tantalizing.
But before we put the Andreazzoli era to rest, Roma's interim man gets one last shot at redemption. In the broadest sense, the deck always seemed to be stacked against AA, as the rumors of his replacement started churning before his first match in charge, all while attempting to establish his own managerial identity. Those odds should come home to roost in a much smaller and more immediate sense on Sunday. What am I talking about? What is this poorly structured bit of folksy wisdom leading towards?
Why, No Totti, No Party, of course.
His absence should/would/can/has/always will impact the team, even in the most meaningless of matches. Without Totti to lean on, not to mention no discernible future of his own in sight, Andreazzoli's approach to this match really is anyone's guess. He literally could go in any direction-four man backline, three man backline, one up top, two up top, three up top, two keepers, blondes only....he's just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose, the world is his oyster.
Last week's 4-2-3-1, head-manned by Osvaldo, resulted in a 0-0 draw, so it should come as little surprise that the earliest indications point towards a change in formation, albeit a subtle one. A switch to the 4-3-2-1, affectionately referred to as the ‘Christmas Tree' formation, might be in order, with Lamela, Destro and Marquinho operating at its vanguard, the latter being Totti's replacement in that scenario-you know how that usually works out.
However, given the disappointing circumstances in which Roma find themselves, predictions are pointless. At this point, it's really an academic debate; guessing the formation of a lame duck interim manager, in the last match of the season with nothing on the line, is bound to leave one frustrated and looking a fool.
The best we can (and should) hope for is that the team escapes this match relatively unscathed; fit, furious, and fanatical for next week's Triple Derby/Coppa Championship/Ticket to Europe. Against Lazio. At the Olimpico. Opened by Mr. Gagnam Style himself.