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Roma v Cagliari Preview: Football Behind Closed Doors

Paolo Bruno - Getty Images

As you could tell by taking a look at our comments section, last week's debacle was a real litmus test for Zemanphiles the world over. Either you understand the peaks and valleys of Zeman's brand of football and realize that his unbridled and unpredictable style produces cycles of binging and purging (and really, when you think about it, Zeman is a lot like a supermodel, right down to the chain smoking) or you question his in-match management and wonder if he can ever win Roma a trophy.

Whatever your opinion may be, there are still 35 GAMES LEFT! Zeman deserves every bit of patience that his predecessors received. The problem is that our collective patience will be tested without Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi on Sunday.

So will No Totti, No Party plus No De Rossi, No Dice equal no problem on Sunday?

Roma have finished far ahead of Cagliari the past few seasons, but the head-to-head results haven't been quite as glowing. In fact, Cagliari has won three of the past four matches, including a clean sweep of last year's fixtures. Our dear friend Daniele Conti has scored three goals in the last six league matches against Roma as yeah, add him to the list of players who consistently and inexplicably stick it to Roma. It's not as if we've ever needed him on our team, but he should respect his father more than that, shouldn't he?

Cagliari enters this match 16th on the table, having lost to Genoa and drawn both Atalanta and Palermo. To go along with their two points, Cagliari have managed only two goals, while maintaining 61% possession and completing 85% of their passes (pointless possession, anyone?).

Our Sardinian friends feature a wide attacking 4-3-3 that, despite their paucity of goals so far, loves to attack down the left flanks (here's looking at you, Ivan Piris). Here is where I'd say "we have nothing to worry about, look who they've played so far" but since you're reading this, I'm pretty sure you're familiar with our defense.

There is also the added twist that this match might be played behind closed doors, as Cagliari's new Is Arenas is apparently not fit for human inhabitation. I'm not sure who this will benefit more, its certainly no distraction to Roma, but it will make for an interesting viewing experience, if nothing else. But there's something quintessentially Italian about a brand new stadium being mysteriously deemed "non compliant" to safety standards.

Zeman is committed to his all-out attack, but if Roma jump out to an early lead, particularly a multi-goal lead, it will be interesting to see if he takes his foot off the gas to aid an already poor defense. Although, after last week's match he cited complacency in the attack, not a porous defense, as the culprit for the second half collapse. So while I doubt he'll relent even slightly, without Totti and DDR there won't exactly be a calming veteran presence in the lineup to ensure the game plan remains in tact.

About that lineup; without Totti and Pablo Osvaldo, ZZ will most likely feature the enormously talented but inexperienced trio of Mattia Destro, Erik Lamela and Nico Lopez. You could make a fair argument that Lamela was last week's man of the match (for Roma anyway) and Destro, despite looking a bit out of sorts against Bologna, should still be riding the high of scoring for the Azzurri and will be in his more familiar central role, while Lopez has looked dangerous in his limited minutes. If this trio is the future of the Roman attack, matches like this will go a long way to forming a lasting chemistry and feel for one another's tendencies.

The midfield, still without De Rossi and Michael Bradley, will most likely feature Alessandro Florenzi, Miralem Pjanic and Panagiotis Tachtsidis (I didn't copy and paste this time, but it still took a few tries). While I'm among the most ardent of Bradley supporters you'll ever come across here, I'm afraid he might find himself on the outside looking in when he does return.

Over the summer, Zeman promised that he could turn Tachtsidis into a star. While I was skeptical, mostly due to my ignorance of Greek football, Zeman's boast is appearing remarkably prescient. Tachtsidis has a feel for the game that belies his goon-like stature, which should pay huge dividends as his game matures. So with the emergence of our giant Greek, as well as Florenzi, it will be interesting to see how Zeman manages his midfield rotation once De Rossi and Bradley are fully fit. But, unlike our fullback situation, having too many quality players is a good problem to have.

After the Bologna match, I'm cautious to make any more bold proclamations, but if you'll permit me to unleash my inner Ray Hudson, Cagliari doesn't appear to have what it takes to run with the wolves.

Squad list