Now that the festival of goals is somewhat behind us, it's time to move on to bigger pastures, namely the Champions League with Sporting, aka Sporting Lisbon, aka Sporting Clube de Portugal, aka Joao Moutinho & Friends. So, Those Portuguese Guys come to the Olimpico, where - at least recently - goalkeepers and defenses come to die. Enjoy your stay.
Roma's last few games have been a mix of contentment, complacency and utter disappointment. They performed well in the haunted hallows of Old Trafford despite losing (when ManYoo players admit you deserved points, you deserved points), then grabbed a quality 3-0 victory away from home against Parma going into the break, which had everyone's spirits high. Unfortunately, Napoli was a mix of frustration and ecstasy. Four goals is awesome any day of the week. Giving up four goals? Not so much. More of the same with Roma failing to go for the kill when they had their bleeding opponent on the ground in front of them. With a Sporting team which has shown little success on foreign soil and against Italian teams, now is their chance to right their wrongs and go looking for blood.
ManYoo 6pts (+2)
Roma 3pts (+1)
Sporting 3pts (0)
Dynamo Kyiv 0pts (-3)
All teams have played two games, all have played one at home and one away. It's early yet, but Roma is in good position with even as little as a draw, because they still have Dynamo Kyiv to look forward to and ManYoo will be traveling to Rome - and the difference between OT and home cannot be emphasized enough (notably the refereeing). However, we're still factoring this under should win.
Roma: Antunes, Barusso, Bertagnoli, Brighi, Cassetti, Curci, Cicinho, De Rossi, Doni, Ferrari, Giuly, Juan, Mancini, Mexes, Panucci, Perrotta, Pit, Pizarro, Tonetto, Totti, Vucinic.
Sporting: Keepers: Rui Patrício e Tiago;
Defenders: Had, Polga, Ronny, Tonel, Gladstone e Abel;
Midfielders: Paredes, Adrien Silva, Izmailov, Vukcevic, Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho, Romagnoli e Celsinho;
orwards: Purovic, Yannick e Liedson
Panucci, Mexees, Juan, Tonetto;
De Rossi, Pizarro;
Mancini, Perrotta, Vucinic;
I really think Vucigol will get the start here, especially if Spalletti watched any of Ludovic Giuly's game tape from Napoli. Other than that, a bunch of the usual suspects, though we may have a Matteo Brighi or Ahmed Barusso sighting at some point.
Abel, Polga, Tonel, Ronny;
Vukcevic, Moutinho, Romagnoli;
Rumor has it they like the 4-1-3-2.
I can't find the words to properly convey how badly this team needs Alberto Aquilani back, so I'll let the numbers do it. Goals conceded with each player on the pitch:
Aquilani: Three in 647 minutes (A goal every 215 mins or nearly 2.5 games)
Pizarro: ELEVEN in 404 minutes (A goal every 36 mins or nearly 3 per game)
They were on the pitch together for one goal, the second Viola goal where David threaded a pass to a purple shirt which started the counter attack that ended in the penalty. Feel free to factor that in (or not factor that in) to Alberto's total - which would make that roughly a goal every 3 games. Concrete numbers only, Pizarro & Friends concede 6 goals for every goal Alberto's XI concedes.
That's not a coincidence. The disparity is far too wide to just ignore it at this point. Pizarro should not be seeing meaningful pitch time when Alberto comes back. Stop with the "tempo slowing, time consuming, pretty passing, long ball dropping, swell turning, game organizing" arguments and start...watching..off...the...ball (welcome to Scouting 101). He shouldn't be playing against any team above 12th on the table. I'd rather see Matteo Brighi get Alberto's starting spot for now.
* - No, they aren't all David's fault, but his play has a major impact in the massive chasm between his and Aquilani's number, and the impact is also indirect. There is no counter argument against those numbers, don't try. It's done. And this isn't about me winning the argument - there is no winner here.
As for the other injuries, Marco Andreolli is still nursing something and he hopes to be ready in time for the knockout rounds in 2010, and Taddei will be in the stands, still licking his wounds. Same for Mauro Esposito, while Simone Perrotta tweaked an ankle, but should still be ready to go.
(Feel free to rip me apart or discuss in the comment thread, but I'm still alarmed by those numbers. When I first added the totals I just stared at the screen attempting comprehension, and I still haven't managed to wrap my mind around them.)
Sporting v The Long And Lonely Italian Road: In their last 7 away games in the group stages of the CL in the last 3 years, Sporting has one win, one draw and 5 losses. Methinks they don't like leaving home. Add that to the fact that Sporting have won once in their last twelve games against Italian squads (1-0 over Inter last year - nice job, Mancio, real nice) and this game is being put up on a pedestal for the Romans to take. The fans can buoy Roma and put Sporting out of their element, and hopefully the game, early with some swift, hard and efficient attacking.
(Also, on Saturday Sporting lost to a second division team at home in their domestic cup. To say that they probably won't have a positive outlook going into this game is an understatement. However, to keep it fair, they may have been resting the big players in anticipation of tomorrow's game...confirmed, per Greg at the Portugal Offside. Check his page tomorrow for the Sporting preview, and also more of my home movies)
Roma v Back-Up Keeps: This is where a team which has scored 7 goals in their last two games starts licking their lips, especially considering a couple of boys found their finishing boots over the international siesta. Sporting's starter, Vladimir Stojkovic, is being left at home, and it will be up to Tiago to stop one of the most potent attacks in Europe - even if they can't hold a lead. This is the type of gift a team like Roma needs to take and use to their advantage. Score a few goals, go into full on preserve lead mode and build up some confidence for the weekend seance with Milan.
Roma's Rather Porous D Of Late v Sporting's 97-Headed Attack: Or so it seems. Despite losing "I'm Hot. I'm Hot. I'm Hot" Nani over the winter, the attack still remains pretty good in Portugal, spearheaded by wunderkid Joao Moutinho (and their 21 year old captain). First of all, if you're wondering who Moutinho is, think Diego, but younger and more mature. So, he's decent. Then add in Izmailov, Romagnoli, Liedson, Djalo and Vukcevic and you have the makings of a dangerous attack. Luckily, some have not exactly been up to par or on form thus far, which is always nice. On the other side, the Roman defense will want to have a little bit of pride after giving up 8 goals at home in the last 2 games. If Max can get back to his old self, the return of Panucci and Juan should bolster the team immensely, with always reliable Philou locking down the middle. Keeping Sporting from starting up a fluid attack should be priority numero uno. Now, the remainder will rely upon DDR in midfield, which brings up this...
Daniele De Rossi v Sporting: Goals will be nice, the defense needs to perform well, but the undoubted key to this game is the performance of Daniele De Rossi. Not only does he have to fulfill his own duties on both offense (less) and defense (more), but he'll also have to take on Little David's defensive duties, because DP is going to get absolutely eaten alive by Sporting's attack. Too many individually talented players capable of making runs and one-two touch passes exposing any weakness in the middle. DDR needs to own the midfield, which he is more than capable of, but it will nevertheless be a large task for Rome's Other Chosen One. If DDR can sit back a little more and Pac-Man any balls coming through the center of the pitch the game should run smoothly.
I feel like I could just cut and paste this section every game. Roma will attack, maybe score a couple goals, look susceptible on the counter-attack, have their play and concentration drop off in the final quarter and leave us all disappointed in the end. Let's hope things start to change. Unfortunately, I don't think there's a sense of urgency from TGIP when this team is showing something much more dangerous than poor form or inability to finish: mental indifference. It's been mentioned time and time again, but much has to do with TGIP and his in-game damage control, which, in the last few years, we have yet to see much or any of. The team needs to hit out on the attack early and take Sporting out of the game mentally. They need to control possession, keep the ball off the foot of Sporting's young guns and not allow them to get one ounce of confidence or momentum, which is ultimately the first nail in Roma's coffin. No more late game back-peddling, and no more late drops in focus. Otherwise, qualification comes into jeopardy.
As far as the actual on the field stuff, it will be interesting to see the pairing of Mancini and Vucinic rather than just one or the other. Amantino's ability to take defenders on himself, hold up the ball a bit and allow others to get in position or make runs may give Mirko a little help in catching balls on the fly (provided he stays onside). If you remember the Fiorentina game, the trio of Lulu Gulu, Mirko and Mancini played exceptionally well off each other. Substitute that Totti guy for Giuly and they could very well dazzle on the way to a few early goals. Look for this trio to get Sporting on their heels early and often.
Outside of that it should be more of the same. Slick passing, consistent buildup and many chances on goals. Sporting, on the other land, will look to try to find some space in the midfield to get its attackers through, and Velose, a DM, has some pretty slick passing skills to boot. The key here is to continually keep Sporting's midfielders out of their ideal attacking positions and consistently force them to give some defensive help. David holding up the ball may help here, but once the ball winds up on the foot of a green and white striped shirt it's good night nurse and God help us all as we await the counter attack - you know, that thing which every Roma opponent relies on because it remains the great Achilles heel when Alberto is up in the stands.
I dare say if Good Roma shows up, the game should be won and with a little bit of oomph and that 'middle fingers to the world' mentality (not necessarily in the same fashion as a Belichick "Fuck You" TD, but close). If Bad Roma shows up, especially after the 70th minute, it becomes a difficult game and a draw is a very real possibility. As usual, Roma's biggest opponent will be themselves and the key will be keeping things calm, controlled, fluid and focused for a full 90. With the inclusion of both Old Man River and J-Smoth to the back line, I think we can feel confident that Good Roma will show up - both on the pitch at the same time should be enough to keep the back solid and they can build from there.
Score: 3-1 Roma
Goals: Totti (21), Vucigol (38), Liedson (52), Totti (77)
MOTM: DDR, and he needs to be. (Yeah, I know I predicted 2 Totti goals, but regardless, it needs to be DDR)
When: 2050 CET, 2:50 US EST
Where: Stadio Olimpico, La Citta Eterna
Forecast: 17°, partly cloudy with a 20% chance of rain. Now back to Jim with the news.
US TV: No ESPN, typical. But you can watch it on uefa.com for a small fee. The quality is supposedly an improvement over many streams, but the jury is still our regarding whether or not it's just better to use the just-this-side-of-legal streaming or pay for uefa.