When facing the juggernaut that is Genoa, there is only one name with which Roma must contend, Alberto Gilardino. While his suspension throws a monkey wrench into this rich literary tapestry, it is a boon to Roma's chances in this match, at least on the surface. The absence of Gilardino saps the Genoa Cricket and Football Club of 42% its league goals this season, which is, as you might have guessed since I'm mentioning it, the league's highest figure.
Spending your Friday evening writing about a midseason matchup is sad enough, but when the fates conspire against you like this, you really have to plumb the depths for a viable angle, making a sorry situation even worse.
Needless to say, there won't be much to say about Genoa, but let's take a look at what's left in Gila's wake.
Jumping In Without Gilardino
It wasn't that long ago that Gila was almost a Roma player, occupying one third of a rumored three-way summer swap between Roma, Juventus and Genoa that would have seen Gila, Fabio Quagliarella and Marco Borriello all switch places. Resting somewhere in the delicate spaces between those words is a glorious joke about Borriello's varied sexual dalliances. How much life that joke has is ultimately up to you.
Even with Gila in tow, Genoa's performance this season has been quite peculiar. The Grifone have somehow cracked the top 10 on the table despite being 15th in possession, 14th in passing precision and dead last in both shots attempted and conceded per match. And while we're heaping salt upon their wounds, don't forget they're the peninsula's worst tackling side. Despite rolling over and letting their opponents shoot at will, Genoa has actually been one of the league's better defensive sides, conceding 20 goals, tied for third fewest in the league.
So, what is it? How have they succeeded in spite of such depressing statistics? With only two victories in one goal matches, we can't even point to a strong record in tight matches as the source of their 23 points. Similarly, they're winning fewer points per match than league average, scoring fewer goals per match than the league average, and they've suffered a greater percentage of defeats than league average.
Whether they're fully staffed or not, nothing about Genoa--neither their performance nor the underlying statistical indicators--engenders any confidence, let alone suggests any possibility of sustained success. Even their lone bright spot, goals conceded, is teetering on the brink of disaster given the outrageous number of shots they concede per match. Simply put, nothing about their first 18 matches explains why or how they've reached eighth place.
Given this peculiar set of statistical circumstances, we can rightly say that Genoa has been extremely lucky this season, whether or not that luck runs out on Sunday depends on some new faces and some old legs...
Life Without Leandro
Roma's success this season has been built primarily on two pillars; a solid defense and a potent second half offense. Without the services of De Rossi, Leandro Castan and Adem Ljajic, Rudi Garcia is missing three key components to that paradigm.
Daniele De Rossi, when his passions aren't burning with the fury of a thousand microwaved pizzas, is a nearly incomparable player, and, when combined with the overlooked Leandro Castan, forms the spine of Garcia's defense. So, even though it may only be intermittent, we're still dealing with significant losses here.
Taking their respective places will be Radja Nainggolan and Nicolas Burdisso, the previously referenced new face and old legs. Ironically, it's the man to whom we've grown accustomed that casts a bigger pall over this match. Nico has been in Roma for years, but his recent history is so scattered, that we really don't know what he's got left, while Nainggolan, though his tenure is only a few days old, represents the more familiar and effective commodity. If any player can, on such short notice and with such unfamiliarity, step in and be a reasonable facsimile of De Rossi, its Nainggolan. For Radja, there is no rest for the wicked. Roma needs him, and they need him now.
But those were fairly obvious replacements, the question of how Garcia intends to swap Ljajic's super sub role isn't quite as lucid. In the immediate sense, the rotational questions, as always, revolve around whether or not Mattia Destro starts. If he does, the onus of instant second half offense falls to the feet of Alessandro Florenzi. For a player who hasn't scored since October, and hasn't even logged significant minutes since December, should Roma find themselves in a stalemate, this could be a cause for concern.
On the other hand, if AF-24 does indeed start, without Ljajic in his pocket, Garcia's second half options are somewhat restricted. One of the beautiful parts about Ljajic is that he can slide seamlessly into either of Garcia's nominal formations (4-3-3 or the seldom used 4-2-3-1), but if Florenzi starts, leaving Destro as the main offensive substitute, the options aren't quite as limitless, for, as much as we love Mr. Right, he's not quite as diverse as Ljajic.
Admittedly, with players as talented as these two, we're splitting hairs, but if it's a straight Destro-for-Florenzi second half swap, one of Totti, Destro or Gervinho will be placed in a less than optimal position. And with Federico Balzaretti's continued absence, we can't expect the rare Dodo-as-a-forward appearance either. So, in the event that Garcia has to dig deep into his reserves, he might find little more than Federico Ricci or Mr-I'm-Too-Good-For-Genoa, Marquinho staring sheepishly back at him.
Finishing Up The First Leg
Roma's first attempt at forgetting their trip to Turin was a mixed bag. Sure, they escaped with a mid-week victory over Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia, but it was far from convincing and with faces new and old to be integrated on Sunday against Genoa, Garcia has got his work cut out for him.
With a chance to make it 44 out of a possible 57 points, Roma's first trip through the fixture list has been a rousing success, but with Napoli breathing down their necks, Roma might need some luck of her own.