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Roma v Hellas Verona Preview

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Roma's home opener features an unfamiliar foe with a familiar face. An extremely handsome face. Luca Toni leads the newly promoted Hellas Verona against Rudi Garcia's Roma squad. With each squad looking to start off the season with six points, this could be an exciting one.

Dino Panato

Luca Toni: Men want to be him, women want to be with him. Hell, men want to be with him and women want to be him, his appeal traverses all sexual orientations. Try and avoid him, you can't. It's science.

Fortunately for Mr. Toni, apart from being the creator's very template for masculinity, he's also strung together one hell of a career, driving home over 250 goals, scoring for everyone from Empoli, to Lodigiani, to Al Nasr, to Bayern Munich. From his earliest days at Modena, Toni's goal scoring prowess has belied his relative lack of mobility, but what he does have, size and strength, he uses in spades. Of course, when the opposition stands in awe of your Adonis-like aesthetic appeal, the goals come rather easily.

You might also remember that five of those goals came in a Roma shirt, the best of which drove both Carlo Zampa and Daniele De Rossi into hysterics.

That goal, Toni's trademark celebration--which, by the way, I do whenever anything positive happens to me: good grades, discount at the grocery store, lawn mower starting on the first pull, you name it--and De Rossi's unrestrained enthusiasm surmises everything I love about Roma, and it happened against the most loathsome of opponents, to boot.

Good times, why did we let him leave!? Why!? I say, Why!?

Spare me your talk of finances, Luca's face is worth its weight in gold.

Wait, there was something I was supposed to do here? A match preview of some sorts, right?

Too much Toni.

The Verona View

While you certainly can't and shouldn't over look any opponents, for a squad as perpetually keeled as Roma, the Serie A schedule makers couldn't have put the start of the season on a finer platter. Last week's 2-0 victory over Livorno is succeeded by a home match against Toni's newly promoted Hellas Verona.

Hellas Verona's rebirth into Serie A started in style, however, with a shocking, Toni-fueled, 2-1 victory of A.C. Milan. So let's take a look at how Garcia plans to stymie Serie A's newest contestant.

Hellas Verona, according to the world's most reliable and open sourced encyclopedia, was formed by a group of high school students who adopted the moniker Hellas (the Greek word for Greece, go figure) at the behest of their classics professor. There's something very Dead Poets Society about that,  but for me, a contemporary victim of Californication, Hellas, shortened in my brain to hella, makes me think of Eric Cartman.

Hellas Verona is certainly on their way to making a name for themselves after a decade out of the spotlight, and victories over Milan and Roma in successive weeks would certainly put them on the right path, but, realistically, how much longer can they keep this up?

Will they beat Milan again? I hope so. Will Toni beat out Mario Balotelli, Gonzalo Higuain or Toto for the goal scoring title? Doubtful.

But beyond Luca Toni and Bosko Jankovic, they're a little short on Serie A experience, let alone interesting stories; except, of course, Fabrizio Cacciatore, heir to the Chicken Cacciatore fortune. After all, Verona has been missing from the Serie A scene for quite some time.

So let's venture back to 2002, the Gialloblu's last season with the big boys. Despite a three year run in Serie A, that '02 squad, which included Adrian Mutu, Alberto Gilardino, Mauro Camoranesi, Massimo Oddo, and Marco Cassetti, couldn't forestall Verona's fall from grace. But, wow, that was quite a stable of talent, including three future World Cup winners. How did Roma fare that season, you ask? Two points away from defending the Scudetto, done in by 13 draws that season.

Like I said, beyond some nice kits, a bit of interesting history, and the always impressive Luca Toni, there isn't much else to say about Verona, so let's talk about the suddenly Lamela-less Roma.

Opening Day at The Olimpico

This was not your typical week around Trigoria, or maybe it was, you know how they are. Barely a breath passed between the sale of Erik Lamela to Tottenham and the purchase of Adem Ljajic from Fiorentina, but here we are, another proven goal scorer gone and another new face to integrate into chaos.

Despite the controversial and crushing sales of Lamela and Marquinhos, you'd have to give good marks to Walter Sabatini for getting Mehdi Benatia, Kevin Strootman and Ljajic. While the Stroot Fighting Man and we don't have nickname for him yet Adem Ljajic have been included on the squad list, the former is recovering from an injury, while the latter has been with the squad for all of 72 hours, so they're no guarantee to start or even feature on Sunday.

As you might recall (more likely, recoil in horror), the center of the park was quite the point of contention under Zeman and Andreazzoli. But, thanks in part to Walter's night moves (anytime you can combine Bob Seger and Serie A, you have to do it. It's in the Geneva Convention), last year's midfield miasma only figures to last as long as the ligaments in Kevin Strootman's ankles take to heal. In his stead, look for Michael Bradley to start alongside Miralem Pjanic and the Red Devil Rejector himself, Daniele De Rossi. Bradley wasn't horrible last week, apart from that headed pass back to Castan early in the first half that nearly gifted Livorno a goal, even the most strident of Bradley supporters were cringing at that one.

Speaking of Leandro Castan, his uncertain future in Roma has pushed Benatia into a prominent role within the Roman defense. Not that this wasn't the long term plan, but no one figured Benatia would have to be the leader after one week, but he is. And that's a good thing. As we discussed following last week's victory, the extremely early returns on Benatia are quite promising, as Mehdi looks every bit the player we'd grown to know at Udinese. Benatia, in what is sure to be the matchup of the evening, will have his hands full with Luca Toni. Size v. Size.

But, given the late week arrival of Ljajic, the real point of intrigue in this week's lineup should be who starts alongside Francesco Totti and Alessandro Florenzi. As you may recall, both Roma's most majestic and most recent local legends played pivotal roles in last week's victory, so whether it's Marco Borriello or Gervinho, the heavy lifting should be done by the local boys.

Even though it was lowly Livorno, last Sunday's 2-0 victory has given Roma a sudden rush of optimism, one they'll surely want to carry into this week's opener at the Olimpico. Having not faced Verona since 2002, there's not much we can lean on, in terms of how they play and what to look for, but we're intimately familiar with their totem, so the degree to which Benatia and Castan can put on a body on Toni and deny him service will determine the strength of Verona's vital signs.

When the history books talk about this week in Roman history--and they will, after all, what is a Roma fan if not obsessive--the tale told will be that of Erik Lamela. His rise to prominence, his practically limitless potential, and his seat at the right hand of the father, Francesco Totti, and that hair...oh, that hair, gelled to sheer perfection. But that tale, despite its grand trajectory, was not without its tremors. The sale of Lamela has been nothing if not divisive, leaving a trail of controversy in its wake.

But, here we are. It's the home opener, we've got some new, shiny, and expensive toys to play with, DDR told United to piss off, Maicon looks like a man reborn, Federico Balzaretti has the best moustache this side of 1987 Burt Reynolds, and Francesco Totti look as spry as he did when he was 35.

So stow away your talk of salaries, forget about the finances, and focus on the future, because it's still awfully bright.