Quick turnarounds are...well, quickly becoming the norm around here. So it is in that vein that we move our discussion from Roma's midweek victory over Cesena to Saturday's Derby del Sole against Napoli, the 144th such occurrence. Napoli was lucky to steal a point back against Atalanta on Wednesday, and though they're currently mired in seventh place, any team that can throw Marek Hamsik and Gonzalo Higuain at you has to be considered a threat regardless of their current form.
Roma and Napoli have split the past six matchups in this derby, though the most recent renditions weren't so kind to the Giallorossi as they were swept aside by their southern counterparts, being outscored 4-1 in their last two matches (one cup, one league).
So, just how will Roma right the ship as they travel south to Napoli? Let's take a look.
Getting to Know Napoli
This is usually the part where I try to shed some light on our current opponent: how they stack up to Roma and the rest of the league, where they excel, where they falter, yadda, yadda, yadda. Instead, let's just turn to the experts:
Tere's no skating around this topic: this season for Napoli has been bad. It's been brutal. It's been tough to take. Right from the very get-go, Napoli have disappointed far more often than they've amazed. To some extent, you can blame poor luck, but eventually, you've got to start pointing fingers, and when it comes to Napoli, most of those fingers are pointed at manager Rafa Benitez.
Recently, we got a report that Aurelio De Laurentiis had decided he'd had just about enough, and that comes in the form of the ultimatum delivered last weekend: win the next three matches or else. The first match after that declaration went brilliantly, with Napoli pounding Hellas Verona by a 6-2 scoreline that easily could have been even more tilted. On Wednesday, though, the inevitable happened: Napoli dropped points, only managing a draw against Atalanta despite dominating the flow of the match.
So now Napoli fans are faced with a pair of questions: will De Laurentiis fire Rafa before the Roma match this weekend? Does Rafa deserve to be fired?
First of all, thank you, Conor, for saving me some time. Napoli's start to the season has been a shock to the entire league, and while our partners at The Siren's Song are perhaps being a touch dramatic, Napoli is currently rotting away in seventh place. I say dramatic simply because Rafa Benitez's men have scored 17 goals so far, good for second in the league; so the cupboard isn't exactly bare, but Benitez hasn't exactly lived up to expectations, either.
And unlike last season, Napoli has benefitted from an in-form Marek Hamsik, who is back to contributing in all facets of the game, reclaiming his spot as one of the game's most complete attacking players. Hamsik has two goals, two assists and has averaged two key passes per match through is first seven appearances. Higuain, meanwhile, has been his usual self, scoring four goals and contributing two assists thus far.
However, Jose Callejon has been the real star in the Benitez galaxy. You may remember Callejon from last spring's fixture when he scored the game winning goal in the 81st minute The 27-year-old Spaniard has thrived on the right flank of his countryman's formation, knocking home a club leading seven goals while average three shots and two key passes per match, both second on the club. Beyond being a threat to score, Callejon has been prolific from the wing, leading the club with 1.7 crosses per match.
The interplay between Callejon on the right, Hamsik in the hole, Lorenzo Insigne on the left, and Higuain up top is a sight to behold, so, whether Benitez's job is truly on the line or not, this quartet is more than enough to give Roma's still mending defense headaches for days.
The Attacking Conundrum
There isn't much else we can say about Roma's attack that hasn't already been said; it includes nearly every variant of offensive football and is truly two-deep at every position. Sure, they haven't steamrolled opponents in quite the same fashion they did last season, but Rudi Garcia's men have forced 16 goals through nine matches, the league's third best mark. So, while there are no real complaints in total, in terms of who actually starts in the middle, Francesco Totti or Mattia Destro, there are acres of space left for debate; a debate which exists solely due to Destro's phenomenal scoring rate because, I mean, come on, Totti.
It would be one thing if this were a 1 and 1a scenario, but they're such drastically different players, that the form, shape and flow of Garcia's offense naturally changes when the Totti-Destro dynamic is a zero-sum game. We've discussed it numerous times in this space and on the board, but it's essentially a debate between creativity and directness; Totti finds the seams and pulls the strings, while Destro gets to the six and puts it home; separately, they're fantastic, but getting them together has been a bit of a challenge, resulting in two parallel offenses, one that flows, as it always has, through Totti's playmaking, and the other that, although it meanders around the perimeter, ultimately finds its way to Destro in the middle.
In terms of this specific matchup, facing a side with a predilection for wing play, Roma should look to exploit the space left behind Napoli's wide players and their defense; a scheme which would seem to scream for Totti's incisive playmaking rather than Destro's uncanny movement towards the middle. For both their parts, each man has had goal scoring success against Napoli, with Totti bagging seven in 21 matches while Destro has two goals in only nine appearances in the Derby del Sole, so, once again, we can't really go wrong.
Beyond that bit of attacking uncertainty, Roma are left, as always, with questions in defense. Wednesday marked the welcome return of Kostas Manolas following a two match suspension for a straight red, and, well, wouldn't you know it, he got hurt. While it appears that Manolas should be good to go, albeit a bit hampered, the same cannot be said of Davide Astori, who pulled up limp during the midweek victory over Cesena, meaning we'll get a taste of the Manolas and Mapou Yanga Mbiwa in the center of defense.
There was some good news on the defensive front, however. Denying rumors of a cancer diagnosis, Leandro Castan shed some light on his extended stay on the sideline. Rather than any sort of malignancy, Castan has been held out due to a variety of maladies, ranging from testicular inflammation to a stomach virus. While he won't play this weekend, Castan's much awaited return doesn't seem too far off.
A Decisive Derby
While Saturday's matchup doesn't quite have the juice of the real derby, it's a bitter and important rival no less. While Roma doesn't stand to fall any further than second place, with Juventus taking on lowly Empoli, the Giallorossi shouldn't count on any midweek fortunes repeating themselves, making this derby as important as any.
If Francesco Totti (you know he's starting, let's be real) and Miralem Pjanic can exploit the space left open by Napoli's attack, Roma should be able to puncture the Napoli defense once more, one which has already conceded 12 goals. But make no mistake, Higuain, Hamsik and Callejon can do the exact same thing to Roma; Callejon and Higuain accounted for half of Napoli's goals against Roma last year.
Over their past six encounters, dating back to 2013, Roma and Napoli have found the back of the net 19 times, including nine in three meetings last year alone. With Napoli's defense leaking goals this season, and with Roma's perpetually infirmed, not to mention the sheer amount of attacking talent on either side, this could be a hell of a match, you won't want to miss a minute.