While the rest of the world is busy talking about Katniss, we'll shift our focus to Cagliari. While not nearly as attractive, they've been just as lethal to Roma's fight for survival the past few years. Were it not for last year's make believe game in which Roma won 3-0, Cagliari would be riding a four match winning streak against Roma.
Thanks to that engineering snafu/presidential impudence, Roma were spared the indignity of being swept by Massimino Cellino's boys. However, as far as actual, earned victories against the Sardinians, you have to go back to 2011 when Francesco Totti, Simone Perrotta and Jeremy Menez toppled the Islanders 3-0.
What I've learned from doing these previews for the past two seasons is this, making predictions in the wake of an international break is a fool's errand, so, instead, let's take a quick look at the factors influencing this match.
As in, the Olimpico is being used for this rough-on-grass sport two days before first place Roma takes on Cagliari. To the quotes:
We are playing against a strong side who play good football. We want to win and will do everything to achieve this result. The pitch will certainly be in worse condition on Monday, as it has been raining for three days and there will be a rugby match on the same turf. I can only hope the rugby teams play with their hands and try to avoid too many scrums
Oh, Rudi. You so crazy
I don't really follow Rugby, though I'm told there are two different kinds, so I can't really say how common an occurrence this truly is, but something about it smacks as unmistakably Italian, and quite fitting that it comes in the Cagliari fixture.
But how much damage could possibly be wrought by 22 brick shithouses stampeding up and down the pitch for an afternoon?
That new stadium can't come soon enough.
As in, Roman players were used quite a bit during this two week stretch. Kevin Strootman, Michael Bradley, Miralem Pjanic, and Maicon all saw significant minutes the past two weeks, while Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi were called up but didn't feature for Italy, but still, jet lag and stuff.
While this is just the price you pay for having quality players, with squad depth already a concern, added minutes become worrisome, all the more so when playing on a sloppy pitch.
Though I suppose these could be considered Outside-Inside factors, as in the outside of Roma's formation, the fullbacks, is suddenly in dire straits. With Maicon featuring in both of Brazil's fixtures over the break, fatigue is suddenly a factor and his place in the XI for Monday night is in doubt. Ditto for Federico Balzaretti, while Vasilis Torosidis might be out for two to three weeks with a right hip injury, leaving the only nominal fullback 100% available for Monday....drum roll, please...Dodo!
I suppose there may be an actual fullback buried beneath that mop top or lost amidst his dizzying runs, but we haven't seen much of it yet. Through his first year in a Roma shirt, Dodo has tantalized with his speed and dribbling abilities, but little else, which should help explain why he's only gotten off the bench 16 times in 15 months since coming to Roma.
Without the services of Balzaretti and Torosidis, and with the remaining options being either younger and less experienced or simply too sexy to take serious as a fullback, appearance number 17 for Dodo has been settled by default. So, on this evening, Roma's fullback pairing will have a decidedly Brazilian feel; one fatigued, the other forgotten. In that vain, I suppose it was fitting that we discussed fullbacks at length this week, and with sloppy pitches on tap, their contributions should be even more critical on Monday.
There is some good news, however, the return of Gervinho. There's no secret to what he brings to the table, speed, speed and more speed, was missing the past few weeks. Teaming up with Adem Ljajic and Alessandro Florenzi should bring back some of the attacking verve we saw for much of this season. With Florenzi's ability to operate in space, Ljajic's creativity, and Gervinho's pace, the Roman attack should be swarming all over the rugby sodden pitch, hopefully embarrassing Davide Astori to the point Cagliari will feel the need to unload him in a few weeks' time.
Keeping The Old Lady at Bay
Granted, it's only because this is the last fixture of week 13, but Roma will enter this match one point adrift of Juventus for the Serie A lead. While Antonio Cassano gave Roma a helping hand by downing Napoli, if Roma stumbles in this match, their once magical start to the season will suddenly be in free fall; a matter made worse when you consider that both Juve and Inter are rounding into form. While Rudi Garcia has successfully navigated life in Rome thus far, he's yet to see how quickly things in the Eternal City can fly off the rails. Dropping points in three straight matches against three inferior opponents, while squandering the Serie A lead in the process, might give Garcia his first real taste of what life in Rome is like.
But, as seemed to be the case through much of the fall, fortune seems to be bowing at Roma's feet. Cagliari, though they sit a respectable enough 14th on the table, are the second worst road team in Serie A this season. Through six matches on the mainland and/or Sicily this season, Cagliari has found the back of the net only four times, while conceding 11, resulting in a paltry two points. For comparisons sake, Serie A teams have won 25.8% percent of their away matches this season, while averaging roughly 1.2 goals per match. So, in nearly every way, shape, and form, Cagliari is the league's worst road side. For Roma's part, they've scored 14 goals at the Olimpico this season, while conceding only one and taking 16 of 18 possible points.
After the past two matches, I'm hesitant to say that the road is unfolding in front of Roma, but Cagliari, despite their recent success against Roma (you know, when they actually deem it necessary to play), represent the perfect foe for the Wolves; a deplorable road team without its best player, Radja Nainggolan, entering one of Italy's most inhospitable environments.