Hopefully the remainder of the work week was sufficient enough for you to deal with your anxieties and frustrations from Tuesday's embarrassing display. Fortunately for Roma, their return to league play brings with it a crucial match; Saturday's away to trip to Sampdoria, who are perhaps Italy's most surprising team, sitting in third place thanks to an unexpectedly stingy defense.
Whether their hot start is real or a mirage, Samp sits only three points behind Roma, so any screw up tomorrow would only ratchet up the pressure in the Eternal City, and we all know what that can do to even the strongest men. However, rather than fretting about our collective psyches, we should look at this match as a blessing; the very fact that Sampdoria is a credible opponent, not to mention a threat to Roma's current spot in the table, should remove all lethargy from Roma's legs and anxiety from their minds.
So, what about Sampdoria, how have they managed to stay a step ahead of the likes of AC Milan, Napoli anyway?
Samp, much like Roma, has relied on a forward leaning 4-3-3, however, as the more detailed statistics prove, they're very much living life on a razor's edge; nothing about their first seven matches suggest this Sampdoria is a legitimate and sustainable entity. Through the season's first 630 minutes, Samp has averaged only 12 shots per match, maintained 49% possession, put 41% of their shots on target, completed only 78% of their passes and ranks 16th in chances created. Each of those stats generally fall between 10th and 15th league wide, confirming what we already really knew about Sampdoria, that, despite their 15 points, they're very much the midtable team we've grown to love. Of course, I could've saved a few seconds of your life and just said this: they've scored nine goals in seven matches, or the same as 17th place Cagliari, so there isn't much bloom on this rose after all.
However, a team out kicking their coverage, to borrow an American football term, is nothing new. When your offense is as relatively feeble as Sampdoria's, the boys at the back are generally responsible for any measure of success your club attains, which is certainly the case for Roma's neighbors to the north this season. Sampdoria has conceded only four times since the season began, even with Roma, and one behind Juventus.
It goes beyond mere goals surrendered, too; Sampdoria has been nearly unbreakable through seven weeks. Samp's 9.1 shots per match trails only Juve for the fewest shots surrendered in the league, while they crack the top ten in defensive actions per match, which can sometimes be more a testament to a poor offense, but since Samp ranks 12th in possession and 13th in shots per match, we can give them a bit more credit for defensive acuity than, say, Cesena or Sassuolo, who pace the league in defensive actions per match.
Of course, when you consider that Samp's toughest opponent to start the season has been 10th place Genoa, their hot start tends to make sense. However, these are precisely the types of breaks you need to begin to ascend the Serie A later; a sentiment I'm sure many of us would agree with, right?
Then there is, of course, the presence of Alessio Romagnoli, CdT's 10th rated youth prospect. Romagnoli has made five appearances thus far, certainly more than he would've made here, and has looked pretty solid for a 19-year-old starting centerback. Romagnoli is currently averaging 1.6 tackles, 1.2 interceptions and 5.4 clearances per match, while also chipping in one goal and one assist and completing 79% of his passes. He's nowhere near being ready to take over the reins for anyone at Roma, but, as far as loan spells are concerned, we should be pleased with the extremely early returns on this one.
Moving Past Munich
We mentioned it at the outset, but it bears repeating; Roma must, in every sense of the word, move past Tuesday's debacle and live in the here and now. So, just like that ex who tells you they don't want a relationship anymore then moves in with some dude six weeks later, you gotta move on; get yourself tested, throw out their shit and rejoice in the present; there's plenty to enjoy.
Roma remain hot on Juventus' heels, who are, coincidentally, recovering from their own European nightmare, so coming out sharp, focused, fast and furious will only serve to benefit Roma's broader aims; the _ _ _ _etto.
Roma's assault on the top of the table will not, for the time being, be abetted by Maicon. Due to some lingering inflammation in his knee ligaments, Big Doug is set to miss at least the next two fixtures, Sampdoria and next week's home match against Cesena. With Vasilis Torosidis going the full 90 against Bayern on Tuesday, and with such a short turn around, who exactly fills Dougie's shoes this week is a matter of concern.
The remainder of the defense is anything but certain, either. With each man coming off putrid performances earlier this week, what can we expect from Ashley Cole and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa? With Davide Astori ready to return to action, one has to wonder if MB will sit this one out, ceding to the Astori-Manolas combo we witnessed earlier this season (Manolas remains suspended. My bad). As far as Ca$hley is concerned, well, his saving grace might simply be the mediocrity of Urby Emanuelson.
This is really just a circuitous way of saying what we already knew; Roma needs Leandro Castan back tout de suite, the defense just isn't the same without his calming presence and decisive play. Meanwhile, Roma's perpetual plight at fullback rages on.
Offensively speaking, given the glut of minutes given to Francesco Totti over the past week or so, perhaps we'll see Gervinho and Juan Iturbe flanking Mattia Destro tomorrow. Each of Adem Ljajic, Alessandro Florenzi, Gervinho and Iturbe featured midweek, so this might be a prime opportunity to give Destro center stage; he's certainly more than capable of making his former teammate look like a fool and might prove to be all that Roma needs to grab three points on the road.
Show ‘Em Who's Boss
While it's nice that Roma has in important match to shake off Tuesday's embarrassment, this match is, in its own right, as much of a statement game as Tuesday's could have been. Roma needs to come out and absolutely obliterate Sampdoria, not only to put the Munich loss behind them once and for all, but to remind the rest of the league that Roma are serious in their ambitions. And I'm not talking about some piddling 1-0 victory, either. Garcia needs to nip this thing in the bud; let the forwards run wild, let the midfielders dance circles around Sampdoria and knock these clowns on their asses from the jump.
Anything short of domination will allow doubt to creep in, and that's the last thing this team needs at this point.