While I'm quite enjoying the early returns on Roma 2.0, there is a small part of me that will miss that feeling of disregard to which we've grown so accustomed over the past decade. Sure, the rest of the peninsula respected us, but it wasn't a genuine bond forged out of mutual admiration; Roma's existence was tolerated and their legitimacy treated with a not so subtle sense of ambivalence. But, in case last year's 102 point campaign didn't clue you in, there is still one side against which we can appease our righteous indignation, Juventus.
Of course, it's still far too early to call tomorrow's titanic six pointer a title decider, but if we consider Roma and Juve to be the Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic of Italian football, then they've been locked at deuce since week one, making this early match the all-important advantage point.
Apropos of nothing, Pete Sampras is the best tennis player ever. End of story. To win as many Grand Slams as he did while carrying those eyebrows all over the baseline, no less, was nothing short of miraculous. I also like Ana Ivanovic for completely different and unrelated reasons.
What? Oh, yeah, football.
The Injured Incarnate
For Roma fans, the barrage of early season muscular injuries has brought back visions of Luciano Spalletti, back when players were felled with great regularity due either to his Spartan training regimen or simple medical malfeasance. We're five weeks in and we've yet to see or even hear a peep from Leandro Castan, while Daniele De Rossi has been held out of action in recent weeks due to calf issues. The latest man to enlist in Roma's M*A*S*H* unit is none other than Morgan De Sanctis, the drunk uncle of this squad. Ole MDS has come down with the ever-popular "muscular injury" and should once again make way for Lukasz Skorupski. You may remember young Lukasz's stellar performance against this very same Old Lady last season, so at least he won't be shell shocked.
There is some good news on the injury front, however, the return of Juan Iturbe. Manu, who couldn't have had a better start to his Roma career, recovered in time from his own muscular issues to make a brief cameo during Tuesday's match against Manchester City and appears ready to resume his full time duties.
Roma are not alone in lamenting their walking wounded, however. Juventus may be missing several key players tomorrow, including Andrea Barzagli, Alvaro Morata, Andrea Pirlo and possibly Martin Caceres. Serie A may indeed be a two horse race this season, but they're both limping through the first turn.
The Width vs The Wedge
And I ain't talking about shoes here, either. With the sheer amount of defensive players on each side watching from the stands, this could be an ugly match from a purist's perspective--expect some missed assignments, blown positions and piss poor tackling--but will either side actually take advantage of this sudden defensive duress?
With players like Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal at his disposal, it's no secret that Max Allegri and Juve find much of their success through the middle, quickly shuffling the ball from the back three to the midfield to maintain their league best 63% possession, thereby allowing Carlos Tevez to slide back and wreak havoc in his own version of the false nine. Tevez's combo of scoring and playmaking has earned full marks through the season's first five weeks, where he not only has four goals to his credit, but has averaged 4.5 shots and 3.5 key passes per match. Somehow, someway, he remains overlooked in the mainstream, but there aren't many players that share his combination of scoring and playmaking.
Maintaining possession, giving Tevez a crevice (say that three times fast) to slip into to catch Pogba and Vidal as they burst forth from the midfield is job numero uno for Juve, and it all starts with that compact midfield.
Roma, as well all know, makes their bank on the flank. Now that Iturbe has been deemed fit, Juve will get plenty of looks at what they missed out on this summer, while Gervinho should assume his normal role, toying with our emotions and testing the limits of modern hypertension medicines. The concern here, as far as Roma's ability to break Juve's ranks and exploit the wing, is the contributions of Maicon and Ashley Cole, neither of whom has looked terribly impressive thus far. Their ability to press the issue will go a long way in determining how much space Iturbe and Gervinho are allowed, particularly with Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah pressing from the other side.
The sheer amount of injuries in the respective defenses could make tomorrow a balls-to-the-wall thriller or a 0-0 snooze fest, it's simply a matter of whose reserves are more up to the task.
Roma can't seize the title tomorrow, of course, but they can fire a shot across the Old Lady's nose, or at the very least, put a run in her stocking. By opening up a three point gap over Juve, particularly in the wake of their injury crises and group of death duties, Roma can make a definitive statement; that this Roma is not to be trifled with, that the righteous indignation to which we clung so dearly in the past is slowly ceding way to manifest destiny.
After all, if you ain't first, you're last.