With this being the third match in seven days, the issues Roma faced against Udinese and Chievo still linger as they travel north to Torino. There are still the injuries to Francesco Totti and Gervinho to wrestle with, Leandro Castan is suspended, while Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Florenzi, and Mehdi Benatia are a step away from joining him, and Roma's opponent this week, while seemingly mediocre, features a supremely gifted attacking talent that is sure to test the resolve of Roma's short manned defense.
So, in addition to dealing with their former farm hand, Roma will be looking to prove that they can, indeed, go to eleven.
Torino: A Team of Two Halves
The tale for Torino in the fall of 2013 is twofold by twofold. What do I mean by this, exactly? Well, there are two dichotomies at play here, the disparity between which has left Torino in the middle of the pack; excelling in one facet, only to be dragged down by the other....times two.
In the broader sense, Torino, much like Roma, has been a team of halves, saving their best work for the second 45 minutes, where their nine goals scored is the fifth highest mark in Serie A. Unfortunately for Torino, they've also saved their worst for last, as their ten goals conceded in the second half is third worst in the league. To put this particular phenomenon into perspective, consider this: 62.5% of Torino's goals scored have given them the lead--highest in the league by far--but 44.4% of the goals they've conceded have allowed their opponents to level the score, which is among the worst in the league.
When you couple these numbers with their performance on the table (five draws, two victories,three losses), Torino's problem becomes patently obvious; whatever measure of success they achieve is often undone by lax performances in the second half.
In case you were curious, Roma's 17 second half goals are a league best, while they've yet to concede a goal in the second half. So, if you're up for a nap, or you've gotta change the laundry during the first half, don't sweat it, with these two teams, you might not miss much.
In the more immediate sense, the real disparity that's done Torino in has been their woeful defense. Led by Alessio Cerci and Ciro Immobile, Torino's offense has surged to 16 goals, good for fifth in the league, while generally being among the league leaders in passing and possession. But, as great a foundation as these two ascending stars have built, it's been torn asunder more often than not by that shaky defense, which has allowed 18 goals, third most in the league, and surrenders nearly 14 shots per match, also among the league's lower third.
And, to bring things full circle, Torino's defensive struggles often come home to roost in the second half.
So, at least in black and white, this match sets up perfectly for Roma. Here we have a woeful defensive team, one prone to second half breakdowns, versus the most prolific side in Italy, one who has scored 71% of their goals in the second half.
But, as we witnessed in each of the past two matches, all it takes is an instant to undue 89 minutes of intransigence. Whether that divine spark comes from a Bald Beauty or a married man's worst nightmare, few things on the pitch are preordained.
With that in mind, let's take a quick and glaringly obviously look at the two men capable of putting the kibosh on Roma's quest for eleven.
Who knew? Making a club debut at 16-years old--for one's hometown club, no less--can really only go two ways: the Totti way and the other way.
For Cerci, it was the other way, as it seemed that all that glittered wasn't really gold. His adolescent debut wasn't the first step towards stardom. In fact, it would be a matter of five years before Cerci saw the inside of the Olimpico again, seemingly incapable of gaining the traction necessary to crack Spalletti's rotation. Another Roman destiny unfulfilled.
The ensuing years saw Cerci ply his trade in the minors, honing his craft for Brescia, Pisa and Atalanta, before resurfacing in Fiorentina. While he would bag a dozen goals across three years in Firenze, last season at Torino was truly his coming out party, as the mop topped winger ran his way to eight goals and eight assists.
Fast forward to this year, and he's already driven home seven goals and doled out three assists, while keeping himself in the conversation among Italy's leaders in shooting and dribbling. At long last, it appears as though Cerci has molded his combination of speed, technique and finishing into a complete product. Given his ability to run roughshod over a right flank, and his preference to cut inside, he should present quite a challenge for Federico Balzaretti and whoever starts in Castan's stead.
Not to be outdone, Torino features another once highly touted offensive product that appears to be figuring out his life as a professional.
After coming up through the Juve ranks, Immobile burst into the national consciousness with his prolific 28 goal campaign for Zeman's Pescara side in 2012. Although he doesn't feature a dynamic skill set like Cerci, with three goals and two assists through ten matches, he's nearly eclipsed his 2012 totals already. Immobile is the right footed, stay-at-home true number nine to Cerci's left footed, free wheeling winger. You'll often see him mirroring Cerci's movements, finding space to get on the end of a cross or set up a one-two, or drawing defenders away, giving Cerci freedom to operate.
He's only 23, so he's got room yet to grow, but 2013 may be the first step in a productive career. But, given his youth and inexperience, you'd have to favor Benatia in this matchup.
Life Without Leandro
For as solid a player as he is, the press surrounding Leandro Castan is pretty disparate; he's either been a beneficiary of his more talented teammates, who mask his supposed shortcomings, or a solemn stalwart of Roma's defense, whose size and positioning belie his lack of highlight worthy snuff outs.
So, whether you praise or ignore him, his loss will surely be felt Sunday evening. The question, as we mentioned earlier this week, is who fills his fluorescent colored shoes? Will Torino be the first stop in the Nicolas Burdisso farewell tour, or the latest installment in DDR: Centerback Come Lately?
Either way, you really can't go wrong. Burdisso has always been a capable defender, and one would think, given his love for the club and his uncertain future, he'd give his all to be a part of this historic start. And, as the past two summers have proved, De Rossi is more than capable of playing centerback. So, while it's not as dire as it initially seemed, the decision hangs on one thing; is Garcia more comfortable deploying the seldom used Burdisso or shifting De Rossi into a more unfamiliar role?
Forging Ahead Without Francesco
Earlier this week the focus was on how would Rudi Garcia, in the face of injury, suspensions and a compacted schedule, manage his rotation, particularly the attacking portion. Garcia's initial gambit featured Marco Borriello flanked by Marquinho and Adem Ljajic. Despite Borriello's heroics, you may have noticed Roma's attack seemed a bit stilted, though, as always, they picked things up in the second half.
The selection of Marquinho was probably Garcia's nod to fatigue, keeping Florenzi on the bench until the 59th minute. Although no one can replicate the Totti Effect, the mixture of Florenzi's work rate and efficiency, Borriello's positioning and strength, and Ljajic's attacking and creativity makes for a pretty formidable forward three, so don't be shocked to see Marquinho relegated to the role of substitute once more.
In the midfield, the only equivocation revolves around DDR. If De Rossi reprises his role as a makeshift centerback, one would think Michael Bradley would get the nod, occupying De Rossi's usual role as the defensive safety valve. If this is indeed the case, it will certainly be a situation to monitor, as Bradley hasn't logged any significant minutes since opening day.
Edging Towards Eleven
If Roma are to extend their record setting start to the season, they would be best served by capitalizing on early chances. Given Torino's offensive capabilities in general, this would seem like an obvious conclusion to draw, but the Toros are among the league's best second half teams, so if ever there was a side that could crack Roma's second half spell, surely it's Torino. Roma can't simply coast through the first 45 minutes and expect a cake walk in the second half, Alessio Cerci and friends are simply too potent.
Roma may have broken the record for victories to start a season, but one doesn't simply waltz their way to ten straight. While Roma ran roughshod over their early opponents, the Udinese and Chievo matches have shown that Roma can win the dirty way; plodding along, waiting for their moment to pounce, some sort of last minute miracle to keep this train rolling.
While that isn't really a smart business plan, per se, it's often part and parcel of a successful season. No one is going to roll over simply at the sight of Rudi Garcia's mocknecks (which, honestly, I don't think he's worn yet), so there will be moments when his best laid plans falter and he has to be rescued by a glancing header, a fortunate bounce, or lapse in defensive judgment.
So what will Sunday hold? On paper, it looks like Roma could and should steamroll Torino, but Alessio Cerci and Ciro Immobile present the type of attacking tandem Roma hasn't had to deal with the past two matches, one that is prone to scoring at the most opportune of times.
On Sunday, the quest for eleven may come down to a mere 45 minutes.