With the players returning from all corners of the globe, the chase for Europe starts anew, as Roma travel south to western Sicily to take on 20th place Palermo. With Palermo running out of chances to save their season and Roma in a three way chase for Europa League qualification, the tension should be palpable, as both sides have ample motivation.
Despite being on the losing end of the possession battle, Roma cruised to an easy 4-1 victory at the Olimpico. While it was a relatively lopsided victory, the manner in which Roma scored was somewhat interesting.
Francesco Totti got the party started in the 11th minute, as his initial header struck the post and found its way back to his magical forehead, where Er Purpone calmly guided it back into the net. Not to be out done, Pablo Osvaldo scored his own somewhat serendipitous goal, picking up a loose ball following an ill-fated collision between the Samir Ukjani and Ezequiel Munoz, then sliding it home past the two confused Rosanero.
Erik Lamela was involved in Roma's final two goals, tapping in a gimme off a Panagiotis Tachtsidis cross to put Roma up 3-0. The Apple later beautifully fed Mattia Destro for #22's first Roma goal. Josip Illic later stole one back for Palermo, making the final mark 4-1.
The aim of this match is simple: focus on Palermo and ignore next week's potential six point derby with Lazio. Aurelio Andreazzoli, ever the pragmatist, has not lost sight of this, saying:
If you look at the table then you'd say we're better than the Rosanero. But since I'm old, I know that it is not always easy to play against the side at the bottom of the standings Given how my players have conducted themselves this week, I don't think there's any danger of us underestimating the opposition. We need to approach Palermo as if they were top of the table
While Andreazzoli is still very much an unknown commodity, who may or may not be given the grace of taking a full turn through Serie A, we know one thing for certain-he is very measured, both in terms of his football and his speech; thus far, he has said all the right things, not giving into hyperbole in either direction.
For their part, Palermo has every reason in the world to get up for this match. Sitting dead last in 20th place, it might appear as though the die has been cast for the Rosanero, but math is on their side; with nine matches remaining, Palermo is a mere five points behind 17th place Genoa. As Andrea Dossena said this week, "There are two months of the season left. We have to play for ourselves, for the club and for the city."
So how exactly will Dossena and company attempt to salvage the pride of La Città di Palermo?
Well, being dead last as they are, it should come as no surprise that Palermo have been in a bit of a funk, taking only two points from their last six matches. Overall Palermo's offense has been anemic and their defense atrocious, as witnessed by their -20 goal differential, though that's still 17 better than Pescara.
Despite their bleak win-loss record, the statistics show Palermo isn't nearly as bad as their 20th place in the standings would suggest. Palermo sits middle of the pack in terms of possession, passing percentage, shots per game, tackles per game and interceptions per game. Looking at the timing of their goals scored and conceded offers a bit of insight into their plight. Palermo has allowed an astounding 14 goals between the 76th and 90th minute, while only scoring six in that same interval; taking that a step further, Palermo has lost seven matches by one goal, while winning zero matches by that same margin. So you might say Palermo have been their own worst enemy.
So who has been the best of that worst? With their meager goal totals (23), Josip Illicic and Fabrizio Miccoli lead the way with a whopping five goals apiece. In terms of playmaking, Palermo have really suffered, as they've only managed 263 chances created, some 80 behind Roma, so it should come as no surprise that Franco Brieza leads the club with only five assists.
You're getting the picture, Palermo struggles to create and finish chances and they often leave the door wide open for their opponent's to capitalize late in matches.
So what of our club?
Well the big news on this week's squad list is the return of Mattia Destro, though it remains to be seen how and to what extent he'll be utilized by Andreazzoli, who hasn't had the young Italian at his disposal during his brief tenure.
While Simone Perrotta and Miralem Pjanic were included in the squad list, there is some doubt to their actual levels of fitness, while Marquinhos remains absent from the squad, leaving the defensive onus on Leandro Castan, Nicolas Burdisso and Ivan Piris.
The surprise of the Parma match was the resurgence of Panagiotis Tachtsidis, who hadn't played in nearly a month, providing me with a much needed reprieve from spelling his name from memory, which I had gotten quite good at, incidentally. The giant Greek did not disappoint, however, going the full 90, making 51 touches, two successful dribbles, three tackles and two interceptions. So don't be surprised if he gets the starting nod once again.
Alongside the man sometimes known as Copy & Paste will be Daniele De Rossi, who once again turned in a solid performance for Gli Azzurri, helping La Nazionale draw with Brazil and defeat Malta over the break. Rounding out the midfield should be Vasilis Torosidis and Marquinho, each of whom has been solid under Andreazzoli's stewardship.
Leading the attack will be trio of Francesco Totti, Erik Lamela and Alessandro Florenzi. Totti, fresh off goal number 226 and hankering for a new contract, will look to continue his fine form, which has seen him contribute three goals and two assists over his past four matches. Not to be outdone, Lamela is also on his own hot streak, scoring in consecutive matches, while Florenzi has turned in consecutive match ratings of 7+.
There can be little doubt that Andreazzoli has captured some sort of unique chemistry among these three, Totti's creativity and vision has meshed quite well with Lamela and Florenzi's off the ball runs. With the return of Destro, it remains to be seen how AA will (if at all) adjust the forward prong of the Roman attack, but it appears as though one of PDO or Destro will be relegated to the role of late match sub.
Roma is currently in a three way Europa League log jam, even with both Lazio and Inter on 47 points, both of whom have tough tilts this week, facing Catania and Juventus, respectively. So if ever there were a chance for Roma to gain an advantage, this week is surely it, but as Andreazzoli aptly pointed out, overlooking a bottom of table team often comes at one's own peril.
With one club striving for Europe and the other scratching for survival, there may not be a more important 90 minutes of football played all year.
*On a personal note, I'd like to echo Jonas' sentiments marking our first year on board here. I'd obviously be remiss if I didn't thank Chris for the opportunity to write for CdT, and the same goes to everyone for reading/commenting and just making this such a vibrant place to discuss all matters A.S. Roma. It's been a fun year and I look forward to many more (hopefully successful) years to come.