More developments in the Roma-Napoli away fan ban: Everyone but season ticket holders have been banned, which is exactly how you want to renew a classic rivalry after so many years of dormancy. As I've said before: if it's going to curb violence, I'm all for it, and that is that. Moving on.
Roma - Napoli: Welcome Back
After the six month layoff that was the international break, it's back to calcio business with the boys in yellow & red, and awaiting them is a nice stiff introduction from the new boys. First of all, let me get this out of the way. Early in the season - when I predicted the Serie A final table - I threw out this little gem:
Surprises of the year will be Udinese growing up, Lazio struggling (bitches) and Napoli sucking a lot worse than people think.
Sincere apologies to Joe at the Napoli Offside and Napoli fans across the globe, because, well, Napoli hasn't really been sucking. In fact, they've been alright, with 10 points on a 3-3-1 record. So, as you know, I'm an idiot. (Although the first two are looking pretty good right now, so who knows what the future holds.) Now that that's done, onto the game.
The game may start off with a gift to the visitors, as our Francesco has a touch of "muscle fatigue" (let's hope it's not the dreaded "fatigued right groin" just with a more vague description, which we presume happens when your clubhouse is full of this) and might need a spot in the stands before the Sporting, Milan and Lazio mini-gauntlet. Regardless, Roma will throw a very good or great striker at Napoli, whether Totti or Mirko Vucinic plays - at this point, with Totti practicing, we can assume it's His Francesconess.
Whoever plays around that striker will be ready and rested for full 90 of non-stop running, passing, overlapping and clusterfucking. Hopefully a few of those will wind up in the back of the net and we'll have some thumb-sucking to look forward to. Some goal celebrations, too. The biggest aspect of this game is obviously the fresh legs after what must have been a wonderful two weeks, ending with some being wheelchaired out of the locker room at Old Trafford because their legs simply wouldn't work anymore. Napoli is in the same boat, but they would much rather see a tired Roma than a fresh Roma.
Roma: Antunes, Barusso, Bertagnoli, Brighi, Cassetti, Curci, Cicinho, De Rossi, Esposito, Ferrari, Giuly, Juan, Mancini, Marangon, Mexes, Panucci, Perrotta, Pit, Pizarro, Taddei, Tonetto, Totti, Vucinic.
Napoli: Iezzo, Gianello, Contini, Cupi, Garics, Grava, Rullo, Domizzi, Cannavaro, Savini, Blasi, Dalla Bona, Capparella, Bogliacino, Hamsik, Gargano, Montervino, Calaio’, De Zerbi, Lavezzi, Sosa, Zalayeta.
King Alberto is still nursing his groin...or, uh, hurt. Two wings have been clipped (awful, I know, but I couldn't stop myself) in Taddei and Mauro Esposito, who are both listed as "doubtful" (but as we all know, "doubtful" is the new "almost definitely playing"). And Marco Andreolli is somewhere, doing something, but all while being hurt. Though he's been speaking to the media as of late, which is good, because now we know he's at least still hanging around the locker room and possibly on this team.
Panucci, Mexes, Juan, Tonetto;
De Rossi, Pizarro;
Lulu Gulu, Perrotta, Mancini;
I'd actually like to see Gianluca Curci get the nod in this game, but I doubt that'll be the case. I suspect we'll see Lulu Gulu get the start and Rodrigo may get some late substitute minutes if he is capable - or Mirko, as he just cannot stop scoring goals for his country (that's a big old "Hey Spal, two striker system! Two striker system!"). Outside of that, it should be pretty standard.
Cupi, Cannavaro, Domizzi;
Grava, Dalla Bona, Bogliacino, Hamsik, Savini;
Not only am I going to thieve Joe's formation, I'm going to let him explain it to you: "Reja lives and dies with a 3-5-2…which is really more of a 5-3-2 as the wingers Reja usually employs (Savini and Grava) can’t push up worth a damn. If you replace Grava and Savini with Garics and Rullo, Napoli could actually be a threat down the flanks. However, Reja really loves his battlehorses."
* - Joe's own Napoli preview here.
Tired Legs v Supersub Roberto Sosa: This one is fairly self-explanatory: Sosa has started 0 games, has been subbed in during 4 games, played a whopping 78 minutes, yet still scored a team leading 3 goals. That's an average of nearly 4 goals per 90 minutes for those scoring at home (well, more like 3.5). Luckily, the international break (and Raymond Domenech) gave some of those Roman defensive legs a breather, because they'll need them for the full 90 if he comes on late in the game as 2007-08's Julio Cruz (that is if he doesn't start).
Napoli v "Muscle Fatigue": Francesco at 75% is better than nearly everyone else on the planet at 110% - Napoli will find that out on Saturday. What Napoli will hope for is that Totti isn't ready to give a full 90 (he probably can) and that they can keep him in check until he needs to be subbed off. They can't, but it won't stop them from trying.
Roman CBs & DMs v Ezequiel Lavezzi & Marek Hamsik: Here's the deal, if you don't know who these two diaper dandies are, you will soon. Lavezzi is compared to that other Argentine guy who played for Napoli in the 80's and the simple fact that Hamsik is even at Napoli is quite shocking (he's G14 lottery material). Here's the other thing: both can be one man shows, and are capable of being exceptionally dangerous all by their lonesomes (and together, this is some nice play by all and evidence enough). The two silver linings are Lavezzi hasn't exactly been in top form and Hamsik has played a bajillion games in the last month (that's an exact number), hopefully making him quite tired. Of course, either having a breakout game bumps the difficulty on this game up a few notches. If the boys can lock down the middle, namely DDR, the game should should run much more smoothly.
Napoli v Napoli: I think it's fair to say on paper Roma is the better side, and even Napoli fans will admit such. Which means that Napoli either must get some stellar individual performances or play exceptionally well as a cohesive unit. The latter? Doesn't look good heading into the game. Sosa and Maurizio Domizzi recreated Hagler - Hearns in practice last week, which, while surely entertaining, isn't always a good thing for team unity. Lavezzi got in trouble, for ummm, getting downright indignant about a traffic accident that was actually his fault? Yeah, that:
The Argentine star was stuck in traffic in the early hours of Saturday morning in one of Napoli's most fashionable districts. Just after midnight the 22-year-old lost concentration and went into the back of a car carrying two passengers.
The two occupants then got out of their vehicle to try and resolve things and asked Lavezzi for compensation for the damages. The ex-San Lorenzo man then lost his head and reportedly starting furiously waving his hands around repeatedly.
Lavezzi, who had consumed some alcohol during the night, was then joined at the scene by his girlfriend, who it seems has just as short a temper. She took off a belt from her trousers and then whipped a nearby person around the head.
I've dated a lot of lemons in my day (I seem to attract the completely sane on the outside, Virginia Woolf on the inside - it's a gift), but Lavezzi's senorita takes the cake. Nothing turns a guy on like a broad willing to whip off her belt and start to hand out some whoop ass. Sexy.
Anyway, those types of distractions aren't going to help any when going to Rome for a game against a side who was hitting on top Euro cylinders, then got tired, but now is ready and rested.
* - Can I just throw this in here, would somebody please, for the love of God, fire Theo Epstein. Pleeeeeeeease. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's not worth it. (And if you do know what I'm talking about, will you also kill Julio Lugo? Thanks.)
I really don't know what to expect, I really don't. I will say a large part has to do with the fact that I haven't seen Napoli play yet this year more than about 10 minutes. We all know what Roma is going to bring to the table tactically, no matter who is on the pitch. Napoli appears to have good and bad sides: the 5-0 win over a good Udinese side and 2-0 victory over a still-finding-their-feet Sampdoria side, while still losing 2-0 to probably the least skilled team in Serie A, Cagliari, and drawing with Empoli, while also drawing with Livorno in the first leg of the Coppa Italia (Livorno's baaaaaaaad). So I have no idea what Napoli will bring to the table with their grinders, especially after all the recent turmoil.
What we do know is this: Roma's on rested legs, and that will be the biggest factor entering this game. After 47 games in a week, seemingly, the two weeks off for all but a few choice internationals were well deserved and very welcome. For a team which relies on quick hitting runs and reflexes, their muscles could be near optimal for this game, making defending hell on earth for Napoli. A wing pairing of Mancini and Lulu Gulu would probably be ideal to throw Napoli off kilter early in the game and keep them back pedaling, along with Simone Perrotta's back and forth runs through Napoli's clogged midfield.
Whatever happens, expect Roma's start to resemble the beginning of the Palermo game, firing on all cylinders, getting up and down the pitch like rabid animals and probably slotting in an early goal. In the end I think things will settle down to a relatively normal pace and become a game of pushing against one another. I'll predict a comfortable 2-0 victory for Roma, with lotsa shots on goals and lotsa poor finishing (big stretch, I know).
Score: 2-0 Giallorossi
Goals: Perrotta (20), Totti (51)
MOTM: The Azzurri's latest captain, Daniele De Rossi (It's almost like cheating, but he's a logical choice about half the time)
I honestly wanted to pick David Pizarro but I really think Hamsik is going to give him fits during the game.
When: 1800 CET, Noon US EST
Where: Stadio Olimpico, La Citta Eterna
Forecast: 12-15°C and windy (as the season progresses into winter I figured this will be a nice little addition - that and I've had to transition to checking the weather everyday and I figured why the hell not go one more click)
US TV: RAI International live and Fox Soccer at 8p on tape delay, so if you're waiting for that broadcast, avoid this page like the plague.