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Roma v. Livorno Preview

While never short on drama, Roma has decided to stir the pot a bit earlier this season. With their leading scorer reportedly heading to London, Roma begin their life without Erik Lamela against the newly promoted Livorno. Can they turn a blind eye to the controversy and walk away with three points?

Paolo Bruno

Swaddling: The age old practice of wrapping infants in blankets so the movement of limbs is restricted.

Roman Swaddling: A 21st century practice of wrapping adults in football scarves so that the movement of limbs is restricted from self-harm or felonious assault on club officials.

In the wake of recent events, to say that the good people of Roma are merely wringing their hands would do their frustration a great disservice. Instead, let's just say that simple clenched fists are probably on the lighter side of the fan reaction spectrum. Things are tense, to say the least. So, whether you simply forgot or conveniently ignored it, there is an actual Roma match tomorrow. One that counts.

Believe it or not, August is all but through and the Serie A season starts anew (that rhyme wasn't intentional, honest). And while Roma may no longer have a Lamela, they've got a Livorno--the season's first opponent and historic bane of Roma's existence.

Despite their frequent trips between Serie A and Serie B the past several years, Livorno has been a thorn in the Giallorossi crown. Well, that might be a bit strong, let's just call them a pebble stuck in your shoe, only imagine you're being dragged by your significant other on an all-day jaunt through (insert your vision of shopping hell), without so much as a lunch break.

Enough analogies, let's get down to brass tacks.

Roma hasn't defeated Livorno since 2006....2006!

Granted, there are giant flaws in that logic, given Livorno's top flight inconsistency over the past several years, but the fact remains. Over their past six encounters, dating back to that elusive Roman victory, Livorno have captured one victory of their own, while the two near neighbors have played to four draws. You might remember the last one from March 2010.

Just in case your brain is clouded, here are the Cristiano Lucarelli-infused highlights:

Those were the semi-glory days, huh? David Pizarro, Luca Toni, John Arne Riise, Philippe Mexes, and jerseys better suited for a trip down the Champs-Élysées. Memories. Misty, water-colored memories.

Given the deluge of rumors, fabrications, and misdirections over the past week or so, Roma isn't exactly dripping in lucidity. Throw in a match against a newly promoted opponent against whom Roma have struggled, and you've got a perfect storm of distraction.

Misery may love company, but chaos is ingrained in the Roman DNA.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the first tango on Roma's 2013-2014 dance card.

Looking at Livorno

Livorno earned promotion to Serie A on the back of their prolific offense. Davide Nicola's 3-4-1-2 tallied an impressive 77 goals last year, second only to Serie B Champions Sassuolo, while their +30 goal differential was third best in Italy's second division. So while they weren't quite Zeman's Pescara, Livorno knows their way around the pitch and ran through the lower ranks with relative ease.

It's a bit tough to provide a contextualized overview of a newly promoted team, so let's lean instead on what we do know about them.

You want familiar faces? Livorno's got ‘em!

Look no further than former Roma role player/perpetual loanee, Leandro Greco. Greco, fresh off a year in, ironically, Greece returns to Italian football. Presumably, this will be Greco's best chance to earn a pivotal role on a Serie A squad, as he figures to be the man pulling the strings in Nicola's offense.

Hmm, lets see, who else?

They've got Emerson. This one? No. This one? Close. How bout this one? Perhaps in a past life, but sadly, no.

It's this one!

Never heard of him? Me neither! Let's move on.

They've also got Paulinho. No, not Lamela's soon to be teammate, but this one. This Paulinho was Livorno's leading scorer last year, pacing the offense with 20 goals and 11 assists. So this Paulinho, while not the Paulinho (to the extent such a thing exists), is certainly someone with whom to reckon. He also bears a slight resemblance to Pablo Osvaldo.

Let's talk about Roma.

Post-Lamela Languishing?

Continuity, thy name is...well, not Roma, that's for sure. Thanks to the impending (clearance) sale of Erik Lamela (Its Romathon 2013, Everything Must Go!), the collective attention of Roma is focused squarely on James Pallotta and Walter Sabatini. Attention would be putting it nicely, let's call it ire. Yeah...ire, that works. People are mad, is what I'm getting at.

The lovely bit of irony here is, even with Lamela in the fold, the product on the field was miles away from consistency. Consider the following...

Mattia Destro remains injured, or hurt, or in traction. No one really knows. He's still got that head of hair and that girlfriend, though, so he's all aces. Francesco might be a centre forward age 37. Gervinho was apparently the covert Lamela replacement all along, Daniele De Rossi has barely featured this summer, Leandro Castan might be getting the heave-ho, Morgan De Sanctis is considered an upgrade at keeper (a statement in and of itself), and Maicon insists that he's not a gamble, which is kind of like saying a Whale Shark isn't a Shark, except that it is and everyone knows it, even if it really looks like a Whale (insert the Maicon BMI joke of your choice here).

The point being, Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi represent the only shred of continuity in this club, both upstairs and on the pitch.( How many executives are on this team now anyway? Twelve?) Even within those two beacons of hope, there lie seeds of doubt, with the former's contract extension sure to cast a pall over the entire season, while the latter is seemingly always a whisper away from London.

Your typical A.S. Roma season is always embroiled in controversy and wallowing in self-pity, but they usually have the good graces to lead on us on a bit, giving us a few weeks of glory before the eventual fall. But if the past 72 hours haven't been enough of a preview for you, allow me to play spoiler: this year, the anxiety begins in August.

But, in situations such as these, life, uh, uh finds a way.

Believe it or not, the time might be ripe for Rudi Garcia to place his imprint on this club and cement himself as a leader of the highest order. Given the tumult that has engulfed the team over the past week, not to mention the talent that does remain--and make no mistake, there is a lot of it--if Garcia can capture a few early victories and curry the favor of Totti and De Rossi, there is momentum to be had, particularly with the somewhat easy start to the fixture list (emphasis on somewhat). If he can manage this, sales of mock necks in the greater Roman metropolitan area will skyrocket.

Rudi Garcia is a football coach, we know this, but if the past two seasons have shown us anything, it's that a successful Roma manager is also a shrewd salesman, conveying his message early and often. Key to that sales pitch is getting Totti and DDR on board; hook, line, and sinker. Without their defacto seal of approval, life in Trigoria is awfully hard.

This thought just sprang to mind as well. Now that Simone Perrotta has retired and Nicolas Burdisso is about to be put to pasture, there exists a vacancy of sorts in Roma; that of third-in-command. With Totti and De Rossi the unquestioned chieftains of this club, there is a noticeable lack of a third voice, a third set of eyes to tend the flock, and a third being to cast their vengeance upon opponents and officials alike.

It was a passing thought, but it will surely be one of the storylines to watch over the next nine months, and an important role to boot. So who will it be? It might end up that the third in command is simply the third most prominent Roman in the squad, Alessandro Florenzi. It could be Mehdi Benatia, his years of Serie A experience would certainly give him credence, or Bradley could parlay some of that fan support into a more vocal role with the club.

As for the actual arrangement of Garcia's guys on Sunday, Kevin Strootman's debut on the sidelines should pave the way for Bradley to presume his always contentious role in the Starting XI, mostly likely flanking DDR on the left, balanced out by Miralem Pjanic on the right.

At the back, MDS looks to start the final stage of his career in style, most likely buttressed by Benatia, Castan, Federico Balzaretti and The Whale Shark, Maicon.

Up top? Well, that's where it should get interesting. With Lamela leaving for London, and Francesco doing what he does, it's really down to Gervinho and Florenzi. There's not much else, unless you want Junior Tallo out there, I do hear he's the next Drogba, however. With less than 24 hours to go, unless Walter pulls a Zlatan-sized surprise on us all, those figure to be your forward three until Destro is ready to return.

But I digress, with Roma heading into this match anything but focused, and with Livorno seemingly holding the psychic edge, there exists the possibility of something implausible, something upsetting, and something distinctly Roma coming down this Sunday evening.

So, leave your Lamela tears at the door, there's work to do.

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