There was a time when AC Milan was one of the most feared team's in Italy, if not the world. This, however, is not that time. Despite their 18 Scudettos and seven Champions League titles, not to mention the fact that they've won nearly 45% of their matches against Roma since 1929, this Milan hasn't quite been that Milan over the past decade or so. Having said that, they've still won two Scudetti and two Champions League titles in the 21st century, so the fact that they've been relatively anonymous the past three-to-four seasons is testament to their lustrous history.
The current incarnation of the Rossoneri marches into Rome Saturday evening desperately clawing at the heels of Sampdoria for a shot at third place.
My, how times have changed.
Pippo Inzaghi leads his charges against a depleted Roma squad, one missing several key players and perhaps even a manager, as Rudi Garcia may be barred from the touchline due to a dust up with a steward last week in Genoa.
Roma, god love her, nothing is ever simple.
The Giallorossi and the Rossoneri have gone an even two wins, two losses and two draws over their past six, so which side will get off the schnide Saturday?
Clearly I Remember...
Picking on the boy. Get it, it's a Jeremy reference, like, from Pearl Jam. Aside from the historical implications of this rivalry, the big story of the day is the return of Jeremy Menez, who is, somehow, second in the league in goals scored. Menez, you might recall, arrived in Roma riding the crest of a YouTube fueled wave back in 2008. Yeremy, as he came to be known, was supposed to be the perfect complement to Francesco Totti and Mirko Vucinic, providing the flare and killer dribbling Roma's resident forwards couldn't provide.
While Menez struggled to find consistent playing time under Luciano Spalletti, he finally made his mark in the Spring of 2009, scoring the go-ahead goal against this very Milan side in May of that year, a feat he followed up the very next week in Roma's 3-2 victory over Torino. It was a slow start, sure, but the end of his maiden season showed promise.
Despite his speed, flair and adolescent attempts at facial hair, Menez's Roma career amounted to little more than a handful of goals and heaps of frustration, as he failed, for a variety of reasons, to gain traction under Spalletti, Claudio Ranieri and even Vincenzo Montella.
But here we are, nearly at the dawn of 2015, and Menez already has eight goals in 15 appearances. In and of itself that doesn't mean much, but consider that he only scored 14 goals in three seasons with PSG, and Menez's rebirth as a center forward seems miraculous.
Enough about Yeremy, what about the rest of Milan, what sort of threat do they pose?
Beyond Menez's eight goals, Milan have received a hefty dose of Keisuke Honda, as the Japanese midfielders six goals trails only Yeremy, while his three assists lead the way. Throw all that together and Milan presents one of the more potent peninsular attacks, as their 25 goals are fourth best in Italy, while their +7 differential is the league's fifth best mark.
Pippo's posse is a top ten team in most regards, one that relies on a wide-attacking 4-3-3. Fueled by Menez, Honda and Giacomo Bonaventura, Inzaghi's attack is equally adept on either flank and loves to press high up the pitch.
So, how will Roma's red-card depleted squad counter that attack?
You Wouldn't Like Rudi When He's Angry
It's times like these that I wished I followed other domestic leagues, for no other reason than to gain some sort of insight into standard practices, or even a simple frame of reference. Do managers in other leagues normally get suspended for baseless accusations made by stewards? Do said stewards normally ask visiting players for IDs before providing them cover from a hailstorm of foreign objects hurled from the stands? And if that is indeed common place, does it always result in two-match suspensions?
Italian football is a magnificent beast, that's for sure.
Provided Garcia wins his appeal and is available for Saturday's match, Roma's disciplinary record will still bite them in the ass. Garcia or no Garcia, Roma will have to make do without the suspended Davide Astori, Miralem Pjanic and Jose Cholebas, meaning we'll be treated to an interesting midfield concoction tomorrow, the trio of Seydou Keita, Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan.
Ordinarily we'd worry about a Mira-less midfield, but (and I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here) one can't help but marvel at the offensive transformation undertaken by Nainggolan this season. No more is he simply a motor; a hard tackler gifted with stamina for days, The Ninja is now a fully formed footballing force, so Roma shouldn't want for creativity or momentum on Saturday.
And, to top it all off, Nainggolan effectively pledge his undying fealty to Roma this week, saying that he can't imagine finishing his career elsewhere. So, if ever you find yourself looking for a new player to cradle your hopes and dreams, to remind you why Roma is special, look no further.
Hey, speaking of running things into the ground, Roma's defense is once again in a spot of trouble. Without Cholebas (and that statement alone speaks volumes), Garcia or Garcia-by-proxy will have to rely on Ashley Cole, whose career may come full circle if his rumored move to Crystal Palace comes to fruition. Fortunately for Roma, Maicon has been on fire since returning in late November, with two particularly performances against Manchester City and Genoa last week, so there has been some semblance of service from the wings, but with each passing week, the prospect of paying €15m or so for Matteo Darmian looks better and better.
Without Astori in tow, look for Kostas Manolas and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to continue their cosmopolitan partnership. Up front, the continued befuddlement of Mattia Destro should continue, with Totti presumably being flanked by Gervinho and Adem Ljajic once again; this isn't a bad choice, mind you, but this season has done nothing to quell the Destro transfer rumors.
Closing Out the Calendar Year
Despite ultimately falling short last spring and despite crashing out of the Champions League group stage, 2014 was a roaring success for Roma. With Juventus facing the always uncertain prospect of taking on Zeman and Cagliari on the road, if the Old Lady stumbles, Roma have an opportunity to prime themselves for 2015 in the best possible way, sitting atop the Serie A table.