Most days, any type of result coming out of the San Siro is a wonderful thing, followed by unicorns and a Barry Manilow impromptu mini-concert and a releasing of doves and more unicorns. These days, not so much. Milan is in the midst of a serious identity crisis, and seems to be suffering from a touch of calcio-induced multiple-personality disorder. One day, they look like the champions of Europe (which they are...somehow). Other days, they look like the runners-up in a local 30 & over co-ed league, with Gilardino often pulling up his skirt before going to ground without a defender in the same half (Pippo taught him that).
They've looked great twice in the Champions League, and pretty pedestrian the other time (although everyone seems to be looking pretty pedestrian against Scottish teams these days). Domestically, they've looked fairly mediocre. To the point where they currently sit 11th in the table, and they lost their last Serie A game at home to perennial European powerhouses Empoli. Oh, and then had a massive collective explosion in Ukraine, albeit without the presence of the boys from Sunderland, all of 3 days later. Nostradamus himself couldn't read the tea leaves for the performance Milan is going to throw out on Sunday. Therefore, all you can do is prepare for the worst and pray for Pippo.
Roma's game can be summed up quite succinctly: In Vucigol we trust. Il Capitano is out, which sends this game up another notch of difficulty, and allows for he of 5 goals in his last 6 games as a striker to take to the pitch and send in another goal for the good guys. Or so we hope. And for comparison purposes, Totti also has 5 in his last 6. Oh how we need thee.
Aside from Him, most of the other injury news is unsatisfying, though Simone Perrotta will likely be back. Taddei is out as is King Alberto. Therefore, Roma goes into this game needing to play as one helluva cohesive unit, and use the strength of the system and a few individual plays here or there. And with all that done, I'm not sure how confident they should be. The loss of Totti made me go from thinking "I think they could take 3 from this game" to "I hope they get a point". No offense to Mirko, but there is no substitute for Francesco. The best we can hope for is that Vucigol does enough to both take point(s) and force TGIP into playing a two striker system one of these days (mmmm....two players with a 0.83 goal per game ration...mmmmmm).
Same number of points, vastly different performances and methods of getting there.
Roma: Antunes, Barusso, Bertagnoli, Brighi, Cassetti, Curci, Cicinho, De Rossi, Doni, Esposito, Ferrari, Giuly, Juan, Mancini, Mexes, Panucci, Perrotta, Pit, Pizarro, Tonetto, Vucinic.
Milan: Portieri: Dida, Kalac, Offredi; Difensori: Bonera, Cafu, Favalli, Kaladze, Maldini, Nesta, Serginho; Centrocampisti: Ambrosini, Brocchi, Gattuso, Gourcuff, Kaka', Pirlo, Seedorf; Attaccanti: Gilardino, Inzaghi.
No King Alberto, which sucks because his rabonas would be greatly appreciated, along with the usual suspects (Taddei and Andreolli). Oh, and Totti. Bollocks. (You know, the more I think about it the more I'm realizing how thrilled we should be that Roma has lost 2 of their 5 best players - plus Taddei - and they're going into the San Siro with a very real chance at taking the whole kit n' kaboodle.)
Milan: Ronaldo (The Real One) is still hurt, and probably getting fatter by not training or something, but it's cool because he has a medical condition. Marek Jankulovski is out for a couple months after knee surgery, which is a small victory, but not a game changer. Massimo Oddo has a muscle "twinge" and is out now, which means Milan might have a prayer of keeping crosses in the stadium.
Panucci, Mexes, Juan, Tonetto;
Cicinho, Perrotta, Mancini;
Might see a RB at RW, but at this point it's likely Lulu will get the start if Simone is ready and able. I'd love to see Matteo Brighi get the start over David, as he will once again get eaten alive, and Milan is not a team that you can hand possession to often. Who the hell knows. The injuries have turned this into complete guesswork. Also, I'm setting the over/under for games started by Max this year at 45. I'm tempted to take the over.
Also, I'm gonna say it (while knocking on wood profusely), what happens if Mirko goes down? Considering Roma's injury concerns thus far this year it's not exactly a stretch. Lulu Gulu is a likely replacement, but I'm not sure he's ideal as the guy playing furthest up the field unless somebody's lofting passes over the top continuously. Then there's Mancini, who has played a full 90 all of once this season, and if the Sporting game is any indication, I'm not sure he gives a shit. Totti going down is a crisis. Mirko going down means pandemonium.
Oddo, Nesta, Bonera, Kaladze;
Ivan, Pirlo, Ambrosini;
I feel like I'm writing an Azzurri preview. Fucking Donadoni....
Philou & J-Smooth v Alberto Gilardino: In 2 out of the last 3 games, Gila bagged an impressive two goals, all while looking like Parma Gila. In the other one, he looked like Milan Gila, so not all that wonderful. And those 4 goals account for all the goals he's scored for the entire season. I have no idea what Gila will show up, I just know if Parma Gila shows up then Mexes and Juan will have to bring their A++ games. If not, give him space and let him earn his yellows for simulation.
Kaka v Dear Christ Help Us All: Outside of Roma, Milan is the team I've seen the most of this season. That is before I either a) fall asleep, or b) change the channels and try to find something exciting to watch, like paint dry. However, Kaka has looked like a Golden Ball winner, especially in that game against Lazio (though who doesn't against the baby blues), even though Totti deserves it for last season (I suppose if the Golden Ball was termed "Most Valuable Player", there would be no argument).
Anyway, Kaka doesn't have a position. He doesn't play in any one spot on the field, although I suppose he does lean to the right hand side a little more, and thus the job of defending him falls upon all XI Romans on the field, all of whom he is probably more athletically gifted than. You can't take DDR and put him on his hip because Kaka will out run him. You can't give him space in a zone because he'll drop the perfect pass to someone on a run. You can switch off coverage, but eventually he'll find a mismatch on the field and expose it. In short, he's probably the hardest person to make a gameplan for in Serie A.
So here's what I'd do: clog the center of the pitch. Make him drift out wide, and force him to take to the touchline. If Pirlo or Seedorf are going to sit on the ball and wait for him to make a run, make him run through the trenches, and give him a little nudge and extra shoulder every time he tries. He's not overly physical, so wear him down, and continually frustrate him. This means Simone will have to play further back, and we have to pray that Brighi gets the start.
* - I would pay about 6 billion euros to have someone like, say, Lulu Gulu or Simone score a goal and rip off their shirt to reveal a white t-shirt underneath reading "I Belong To Francesco". Food for thought, Lulu.
Milan v Roma's Love Of Milan: In the last calendar year, Roma has played at the San Siro 5 times, going 3-1-1, with that one "loss" the second leg of the Coppa Italia final against Inter, where Roma went in with a 4 goal lead on aggregate (not exactly a "must win"). So it's like playing at home, and they all know this. For a team in need of some kind of mental pick-me-up, this trip should help quite a bit, and may be enough to make it 4-1-1. Any kind of edge going in will be magnified by Milan's highly unpredictable form and Roma's need for a emotional boost.
Mancini v Oddo: No matter how much Milan has blown at times, going up against a center stacked with Ivan The Lunatic, Ambro, Nesta and whoever the hell else starts at CB is a tough task 8 days a week. Therefore, one of the keys will be exposing the wings, and creating chances from width. I have a feeling a RB will be starting on the right wing and a center back-ish defender at LB for Milan - so that matchup will be like watching a guy suffering from priapism continually attempt to hump a coffee table. Lots of nothin'. That leaves the LW, where Mancini may or may not be inspired enough to show up. If he is, Oddo will have his hands full. if Mancini can open enough space for himself and get into the box, Roma's chances of scoring increase exponentially.
* - Oddo's out, so, uh, old boy Cafu slots in here I guess? Can he still play a full 90? Who backs him up in case he can't? Is he going to be the first person to go directly from the pitch to a retirement home? Does he need to take tapioca pudding breaks during the game? I need these questions answered.
Roma v Set Pieces: This one's huge, because Roma has shown a propensity for allowing goals off free kicks, and especially those in the air. Milan has a couple bodies that can get up, and they'll undoubtedly take full advantage of the danger Pirlo provides. Roma, quite simply, needs to be more physical and first to the ball. More easily said than done.
I don't expect this to be a pretty game whatsoever. I expect it to be a grind, despite the fact that both teams will field a combined Selecao squad (with not one but TWO! Brazilian goalies, enjoy). Roma may have pretty footy at their disposal, but putting passes through that Milan back middle is always tough, no matter which senior citizen they pair with Nesta. The loss of Totti changes the complete dynamic of this team, unfortunately, and the unique 4-2-3-1 turns into a more normal 4-2-3-1, with a true striker playing up top. Luckily enough, Mirko proved he doesn't need perfect service to create his own goals already once this week, and he can rely on individual moments of brilliance to fill in.
I'm confident enough that Vucigol will be fine and fairly effective, it's behind him that I worry about. If we're talking Mancini and Gulu on the wings, you can throw shit up and see how much sticks to get a more accurate reading on what those two will provide. (Though I still recall the trio of LG, Amantino and Mirko worrking well together against Viola - take anything we can get.) Simone should be typical Simone, and if he could borrow Francesco's finishing boots for the game that'd be fantastic. DDR will be typical DDR, but will probably spend a lot of time following around Kaka like a drunk freshman at a sorority party. My hope is that Brighi will get the start, and Roma can have Simone, DDR and Brighi in the middle of the pitch just in front of the back four when Milan is on thee attack, closing down the scallywags.
My feeling is if Roma can spread the field on the attack and then compact themselves on defense they'll be most effective this way. Getting the ball on the foot of your most skilled players while allowing Mirko, Simone, DDR or anyone else running into the box to receive crisp, quick passes should allow for enough space to put shots on Dida. However, much easier said than done, and Milan have the talent to render this difficult.
Milan, on the other hand, will rely on Seedorf, Kaka and Pirlo to sit on the ball and create. All of which they can probably do, whether or not they can put the ball in the net is the question. I really don't know right now, and neither will anyone else until 15 minutes have passed in the game. Otherwise, you know exactly what you're getting from Milan, with a very good back four, a great midfield and your proverbial shit against the wall up top. Roma's defense is talented enough that I suspect Milan will see a resurgence of those finishing issues (they're no Shakhtar or Lazyo). In fact, i suspect both defenses to perform exceptionally well, cleaning up the midfield and allowing for a few decent chances on goal, but little, if any, open nets.
Lots of shit going up against the wall, and I see a fairly low-scoring draw. You take that coming out of the San Siro, most years....
Score: 1-1 (It pains me, it really does)
Goals: Vucigol (41), Pirlo (68)
Milan Dives: 7,129
When: 1600 CET, 1000 US EST
Where: San Siro, Milan
Forecast: 20°C with a 20% chance of rain.
US TV: FSC Live @ 10AM Sunday.