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Roma v Empoli: Redemption

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1206163788_0607romaascoli_e.jpgRoma v Empoli

Before I checked this weekend's schedule, I was reflecting back on the derby that wasn't, and why the loss didn't sting like a derby should. Sure, it was a loss, but the Roma that showed up was not the Roma that we know. Their minds were off dreaming of dancing sugar fairies and whatever magic Genoa could possibly conjure up against the Nerazzurri. Because they certainly weren't focused on Lazio at the starting whistle.

And then it hit me, while looking at this weekend's impending game. The way this loss felt is the exact same way it felt after Sebastian Giovinco scored, at 20, the luckiest goal he'll score in his entire life. It felt like the 3-0 steam rolling from Siena, a team seemingly destined for Serie B. Luciano Spalletti's squad was unfit to play in a Primavera game that day, they were so overmatched. It felt like watching Livorno drop an entire cavalry into the box and take a deserved point off the Giallorossi because they were unable to break through their impenetrable wall. It felt like a game against a mid-to-lower table club which Roma should have walked all over but didn't. Because they were already looking beyond to the next challenge, one which would undoubtedly be more daunting, regardless of the immediate outcome.

My heart wasn't racing like it was against Milan, nor Real Madrid, nor Inter. When they lost, I wasn't crushed. Maybe I should've been, but I wasn't. I wanted to be, honestly. But I wasn't. It just didn't feel like a derby. From the start of the game, it never felt like a derby and it never felt like a derby loss should. And maybe that's because it shouldn't have.

The derby may be a one off game, it may mean bragging rights in Rome, and it may mean a great amount to the players, but it's different now. It's not the be all and end all. It's different with Roma in the Champions League, fighting vigorously for the continental spoils. It's different with Roma fighting for a scudetto to the bitter end (the difference was always three games....it's still three games, don't let that confuse you). It's different with Roma fighting to defend their Coppa Italia title. And it's different when it's late March and Roma still has a realistic chance to win four trophies.

Read that over again:

it's late March and Roma still has a chance to win four trophies.

When was the last time you could say that?

Would you trade a derby win for even one trophy? A few months ago I might have said yes. Not now. Not after Real Madrid. Not after the Roma that showed up in Milan against the team that was supposedly the best in Serie A. Not after the Roma that, against all logic, fought for and won one of the greatest games I have ever witnessed in my rather short life just last weekend. Maybe it's the same old Roma mentally, looking past the smaller hills onto higher peaks, but this is not the same old Roma.

For me, there is one overwhelming thought which comes to describe this entire week: tell me that one single Lazio player - screw the fans, think about the people involved intimately, whose opinions are the only ones which truly matter - would not trade their derby win for the position that Roma is in right now and I'd call you a liar. It's simply not true. Lazio can hope for, at best, a mid table position. Roma still has a fighter's chance at being, as many have said recently, the greatest team in the world. In the end, you can't fill trophy cabinets with derby wins.

But you can fill the trophy cabinets by picking yourself up when you stumble, starting this weekend. Lazio and its fans can wave their flags, sing their songs, live for another 6 months off their spoils, but tomorrow, Roma has a meaningful game to play. Wednesday is long gone for our fair Giallorossi. The march continues.

Squads


Roma:

ANTUNES Gabriel
BERTAGNOLI J.Sergio
BRIGHI Matteo
CASSETTI Marco
CICINHO
CURCI Gianluca
DE ROSSI Daniele
DONI
ESPOSITO Mauro
FERRARI Matteo
GIULY Ludovic
MANCINI Alessandro
PANUCCI Christian
PERROTTA Simone
PIZARRO David
TADDEI Rodrigo
TONETTO Max
TOTTI Francesco
VUCINIC Mirko

Empoli:
TBA.

Key Injuries

Between injuries and suspensions, not good. The entire back line is sent into disarray with the loss of Crockett & Tubbs and the maybe kinda sorta injury Marco Cassetti sustained at the end of the game. Supposedly training and fine, but it's a we shall see.

Also King 'Berto was finally shone his yellow and will miss the game. Not a bad occasion for that, I gather.

Probable XIs

Doni;
Cicinho, Ferrari, OMR, Tonetto;
DDR, Pizarro;
Taddei, Perrotta, Mancini;
Totti.

I could see Giuly in for either Simone or Rodrigo. What I can't see is anyone but Max Tonetto playing left back again this season. (Alright, maybe a brief cameo from Mark Cass or iTunes - but that's it.) Also, I can see myself throwing up if Taddei plays like he did on Wednesday. (Apart from that whole ball-to-face thing. That was nice.)

Empoli:


Bassi;
Buscè, Marzoratti, Piccolo, Antonini;
Abate, Moro, Musacci, Marchisio, Vannucchi;
Volpato.

I copied this from a certain craptastic journalistic venture which shall go unnamed. Fuck it. If Empoli's going to beat Roma, it's not going to matter who plays. What's going to matter is who from Roma didn't show up.

Key Matchups

Roma v Set Pieces: Watching Roma defend a set piece is like a 16 year old walking into an abortion clinic...scary. Now that Juan and Philou have been ruled out, it's like, uh, a 15 year old girl walking into an abortion clinic? Whatever, it's frightening. Real frightening. And this is all before we see if The Grand Imperial Poobah unleashes the Oompa Loompa Brigade on us. Unfortunately, as y'all know, set pieces can be a great equalizer for a lesser squad - as is was in Toscana last fall. They can't allow that to happen again.

Cicinho v Runways:
Given that Marco was out injured and then seemed to get real banged up at the end of the derby, also throwing in the fact that he's probably the third CB (what's Rodrigo Defendi doing these days? he available?) and ONLY reliable back up defender on the roster for the game (minus any DDR experimentation), logic says it's going to be Cicinho. If you recall the game against Empoli way back when, you could've cleared a runaway to land commercial jets with the amount of space Cicinho was giving on that right hand side (I believe that was one of the early experiments which determined "Cicinho + Giuly = No No"). Flash back to Wednesday and it was more of the same, even if he was out on the left. Bad Cicinho. Quite frankly, dude can sit back in Roma's third for the entire game for all I care, just at least defend somebody, anybody.

* - Also, you know how it works, feel free on betting the deed to your house that Cassetti starts.

Doni v Doni:
I was too elated after the Milan game to say anything, but he looked awfully somewhere else during the duration of the game. I assumed the mid-game Maalox might have had something to do with it, so I just wrote it off. Then, on Wednesday....oof. Doni had an unbelievably spectacular run there for a couple months, but it seems Heart Attack Alex is back in the house for Empoli. You know, which is nice, considering Giovinco put a freakin' cross behind him into the back of the net. This back line is not allowing for much, if any, confidence. Doni isn't helping matters. Let's hope he gets back on track. Or the frontline puts up an American football score. (I'm not picky - I'll take either one.)

Empoli v DDR: There was something missing in that last game. His name is Daniele De Rossi. This is an entirely different fixture. End of.

Roma v Mentality: I suppose this is the big one, because as Spal has said, "morale is different to how it would have been had we won". Well, most people would assume that to mean it's about losing the derby, which is surely part of it. But the other aspect is that Roma threw out a huge chance to make up ground against Inter, who had dropped points as well. A scudetto means an awful lot more than the derby.

I saw two things during one occasion on Wednesday which makes me think this team will alright, and they'll go into Saturday's game against Empoli looking for redemption against the Tuscans, against Wedneday's loss and the dropped points when Inter had slipped. It was after Simone Perrotta's goal, when instead of celebrating, as one is allowed to do in the derby when the game is drawn even, he picked the ball out of the back of the net and ran it straight to the half to get back to the grind. In the background they showed Juan, who was egregiously called for that penalty against Rolando Bianchi, in a full-on embrace with Marco Cassetti. One can only assume this was a showing of great relief after his rigore had taken Lazyo ahead. What it shows is how much the players want this, how much the shirt means to them, and that their hearts are in the right places.

They're going to be fine. They'll want revenge. Revenge for it all. I tend to think they might get it.

Predictions

Everybody knows about The Curse of Tuscany. On the other hand, neither Tuscan team which has come to the Olimpico has taken a point. The trend continues.

Score:
2-0
Goals: Totti (20), Giuly (68)
MOTM: Totti


When:
1600 CET, 1000 EST
Where: Stadio Olimpico
Forecast: 12°C, rain.

Streaming:
Here.



FORZA ROMA