All is right with the world again: Francesco Totti has been called up. And oh how that changes the complexion of this game. A very good squad turns into a great one and that is that. Guns ablazin', they march on to Udine.
Still no definitive word on how he'll be involved, if even at all, but that lone remaining brain cell I have says that he wouldn't be flown up if he's not available to make a significant contribution. It's simply the Spalletti way. Best guess is he'll start and see an hour at least, and then he'll dictate how long he can play. Even though the Coppa semis are nice, this one's well more important (even before considering opponent) and it won't be the end of the world if he's forced to sit in the stands on Wednesday and be fanned by dudes and fed grapes by scantily clad women.
Of course, last time Il Capitano was rather unexpectedly added to the squad list after an injury was the last Udinese game, but that one was at home, and he was in the vicinity anyway (unless he has a long commute). Longish travel is mighty different than taking a taxi to the game. But who the hell knows. I know nothing, I just think he plays.
Aside from Jesus, Alberto Aquilani has gone fron "hopeful" to "ain't happenin'", and he's been left to hangout at home with Marco Cassetti and watch the big screen. So yes, this means you can now get mortified over the thought of David Pizarro kickstarting the Udinese counter, something they're mighty, mighty good at. Aside from that it's all the familiar faces - including the trio of Mirko Van Basten, Rodrigo Today, and Ludovicious Giulius - ready for battle at the Fruili.
So what do we have? A potentially epic game which could decide the season. Personally, I was hoping Udinese would thrash Catania in the semi-finals because I love the matchup of Bianconeri #12 v I Giallorossi and I'd love to see them in an arena where it's not the absolute death of all things good and righteous if Roma falls (which would be the case this game, should the thinkably unthinkable happen). Alas, we'll have to settle for a decisive Serie A fixture.
And more than this game, we have Inter minus Ibra v Fiorentina later in the day. Even though Udinese is a very good team, this is one of the better chances Roma is going to have to make up points with only 6 games left. Time for the big guns to show up.
Last Five: DWWWD
Against the big fellers at home:
Fior: 3-1 W
Juve: 1-2 L
Milan: 0-1 L
Inter: 0-0 D
Basically what that says to me is.....nothing. (I was hoping a revelation would come out of this before I began, not to be.)
If anything, it's more indicative of their form at the time than anything, plus the fact that they're Inter's bogey team. They didn't lose the entire month of March, and rounded off the month with a commanding performance against the Viola. During the run where they were felled by Juve & Milan, they were getting crushed by the likes of Catania, Napoli, Parma and Genoa. Having extreme difficulties scoring goals during the same spell, too. And the one game they could score goals (aside from a victory against Reggina), against Genoa, their three were met with a Borriello hat trick and a 5 spot from Genoa.
What's their form like right now? Good, so not good for Roma. I suppose the great hope is that last week's draw at Siena is an indicator of things to come. Then again, both Roma and Fiorentina lost at Siena. The Other Other Bianconeri could just be a giant killer at home.
I guess what this means is: Roma's going to have to bring its A++ game. And some extra credit. And Totti, which they did.
De Rossi Daniele
PORTIERI: 22 Handanovic, 71 Paroni, 1 Saulo;
DIFENSORI: 17 Colombo, 32 Ferronetti, 6 Coda, 24 Lukovic, 99 Moreno, 2 Zapata, 21 Zapotocny;
CENTROCAMPISTI: 4 D'Agostino, 8 Dossena, 23 Eremenko, 88 Inler, 15 Isla, 11 Pinzi, 86 Siqueira;
ATTACCANTI: 14 Candreva, 10 Di Natale, 83 Floro Flores, 7 Pepe, 27 Quagliarella.
Marco Cassett, Berto & Matteo Ferrari, who's at home realizing he's not worth nearly what he thought he was (or what his agent had been whispering into his ear).
For Udinese it's two big losses in Felipe and Giandomenico Mesto. Whether they're injured or not I haven't the faintest, but it doesn't really matter; just as long as they're watching from the Fruili grandstands, not the pitch.
Cicinho, Juan, Mexes, Tonetto;
Taddei, Perrotta, Vucinic;
Feel free to blow this one up now that Jesus is along for the ride. Hell, I could even see a wing combo of Vuci plus Amantino and Totti up top. Or Giuly and OMR on the right. Or Taddei and OMR. Or pretty much anything. The expected XI won't matter until we see the actual XI, and whether or not Totti will walk on Fruili water.
Ferronetti, Zapata, Lukovic;
Zapotocny, D'Agostino, Inler, Dossena;
Pepe, Quagliarella, Di Natale.
Feel free to tweak that back and RB/WB spot accordingly, but the rest seems pretty probable.
Roma's Identity Crisis v Udinese's Counter: I'm sure most of you know this, but Udinese can be absolutely lethal beyond lethal on the counter attack. Not helping matters is that Fabio Quagliarella's range starts once he enters the opposition's half. With Crockett & Tubbs, two centerbacks who sometimes fancy themselves strikers, this can become dangerous. Methinks this would be a good game to play it safe.
Simone's Stamina v Inler & D'Agostino: If little birdies are any indication, Gokhan Inler has been gawgious on the ball lately (haven't seen Udinese play in quite a bit). Plus they've got Old Boy Gaetano. Basically, Simone has to run back, do his pinballing thing, and disrupt any sense of continuity and flow from one or both. Don't give them time. Buzz around constantly, be a nuisance.
Handcuffs v Fabio Quagliarella: The below highlight reel will suffice for explanation, but even still, remember last game? Good christ. Slap the handcuffs on him as soon as he gets even a whiff of the ball.
Francesco v Health: Self-explanatory. Rome is an infinitely better team with than without.
There are honestly so many great matchups I can't name them all, and most are individual. Such as if Cicinho starts and Dossena is patrolling that wing and they play body tennis for 90 minutes. Or Simone Pepe, who in my short viewing has looked pretty damn good for the zebras this year, finding space on the right to whip some dicey balls in. Or Pizaman finding an opening over the top after Udinese gets a little too aggressive with its attacking. Or Doni and whether or not he remembered to pack his brain for the flight. Or how many meters DDR will have to run trying to hoover everything in sight. Or, if Totti plays, whether or not the wily veteran will show young gun Zapata a thing or two. Then there's The Grand Imperial Poobah v Pasquale Marino, earning a nice little reputation himself.
This is a huge game with big implications, but this will be a very enjoyable game to watch going in. There are so many nuances which could blow this game open. Exciting stuff.
I've picked a draw one other time this season, and Roma won rather convincingly. Here's hoping.
Goals: Quagliarella (19), Vucinic (27), Juan (61), Pepe (68)
Mancini Give-A-Shit Factor: 3
When: 1500 CET, 0900 EST
Where: Stadio Fruili
Forecast: 9°C, 60% chance of rain.