In the spring of 2008, Roma and Inter Milan met in the Coppa Italia Finale for the fourth consecutive season, a feat rare enough in itself, but one that added fresh blood to a somewhat dormant rivalry. On this afternoon, Roma, thanks to goals from Philippe Mexes and Simone Perrotta, emerged victorious, walking off the pitch of the Stadio Olimpico clutching their second straight Coppa Italia title, their ninth overall.
While that was the high water mark in recent Roman history, it has ushered in a yearly rite of passage, one that has become especially loathsome in the wake of May 26, 2013. I am speaking, of course, about Roma's now perpetual quest to become Italy's first ten-time winner of the Coppa Italia. While this brings little more than bragging rights and a shiny silver accoutrement, you hang your hat where you can.
So, before we tackle their first opponent in this latest quest, let's take a quick look at last year's trek.
Coppa Chronicles: 2013
Roma jumped in to last year's fray in the Round of 16, thrashing Atalanta 3-0, thanks to a trio goals from Pablo Osvaldo, Mattia Destro and Miralem Pjanic. From there, the Giallorossi dispatched The Viola 1-0, with Destro playing the role of 97th minute hero.
The semi-finals of the Coppa Italia, as you may know, are, for some reason, the only bipedal round of this tournament. In the first leg, Mr. Right would appear once again, scoring the eventual game winner in the 33rd minute. But Destro wasn't done yet. Fast forward three months to April 17, 2013, and Destro put the wood to the Nerazzurri, scoring twice within 15 minutes to level the match at 2-2, while Vasilis Torosidis' 74th minute goal would eventually seal the deal.
Then, well, you know what happened. But, it must be said, Roma's run through to the Finale was really the only bright spot in an otherwise dreary season, highlighted by Mattia Destro's tournament leading five goals.
With that in mind, let's take a hasty look at the first club standing in the way of Roma's latest quest for ten.
Sizing up Sampdoria
Sampdoria, owners of one of the league's best crests, sit at a healthy enough 14th place on the Serie A table, four points clear of the relegation zone and winners of two of their past four league matches. In terms of the Coppa Italia, however, Thursday's trip to the Olimpico will be their third tilt in this year's tournament, having already bested Benevento and Hellas Verona by a collective 6-1.
One of the unforeseen effects of Roma's ten match winning streak will probably be that, in the longview, it won't really allow us to draw many conclusions; it was just so unprecedented, so unexpected, and way too luxurious to be dissected. And so it goes with Sampdoria, the fifth victim in Roma's autumn ascendancy, who fell to Garcia's squad 2-0 on September 25th, thanks to goals from Gervinho and Mehdi Benatia.
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Rather than utter dominance, Roma won this particular day by displaying extreme efficiency. The Giallorossi put 40% of their shots on target, converting half of those into goals, blocked seven shots on goal, and completed 69% of their tackles, well above their season mark.
Through the season's first turn, the statistics suggest that Sampdoria are right where they deserve to be, just a step behind the league mean. Beyond Eder's seven league goals, as far as Samp is concerned, there isn't much to write home about, so let's take a look at Radja Nainggolan's newest employer.
Despite the shellacking on Sunday, it's safe to say Rudi Garcia has risen to nearly every challenge he's faced in his brief tenure in Roma, but this one is a bit different. Perhaps it's because they're gunning for history, or perhaps it's because the victor is crowned on their own turf, whatever the reason may be, the Coppa Italia means just a bit more to Roma than other clubs.
So, though this particular quest isn't exactly Link-esque (think ‘80s, gold cartridge, a system that, despite never working, was immensely popular), there are several questions we must ask of Rudi Garcia and Roma as a whole.
First and foremost, what's sort of a state are they in? Losing 3-0 is bad enough, but to do so as spectacularly and as red hued as they did takes the embarrassment, the frustration, and the potential for disturbance to an entirely different level.
In the broader sense, we have to ask to what extent does Rudi Garcia care about the Coppa Italia? Will Garcia commit his usual charges to this match, or is this midweek dust up a mere petri dish for tactical experimentation? At least at the tail end of the tournament last year, we knew Roma's headman, Aurelio Andreazzoli, was going all-out, as capturing number 10 may have been his only shot at even landing an interview for what would become Garcia's gig.
But, now? We just won't know until tomorrow.
Depression and distractions aside, with Sabatini season in swing, Roma suddenly has some positive diversions in the form of Radja Nainggolan and Leandro Paredes; well, one now, one later...like a pack of Mounds, if you're resolute, that is. Oh, no, wait, not Mounds. These.
Just don't sleep on Sampdoria, no matter what you do; they've taken three of the past six league matchups against Roma, after all. But with such a bitter taste in their mouths, you can bet Roma is anxious to take pitch, regardless of the competition.