Saturday's match against Bologna is a study in contrasts, not so much in form or function, but in results. Roma has won four of their past five league matches, while Bologna has won four. Four matches. All season. That's not a misprint, four. If you need further proof of this disparity, take a look at the balance sheets. Goals scored: Roma 48, Bologna 22. Goals conceded: Roma 11, Bologna 40. Losses: Roma 1, Bologna 11.
Bologna isn't good at this thing we call calcio, and their one traditional point of interest, Alessandro Diamanti, is in China, so, trust me when I tell you this will be a Roma centric preview.
You know how it goes, before we look forward, let's look backwards.
September 29, 2013: Roma 5, Bologna 0
This one was a laugher, that's for sure.
Roma's most lopsided victory of the season began in only the eighth minute, following a beautifully struck free kick by Miralem Pjanic. Quite frankly, the parry by Gianluca Curci wasn't that bad; he covered a decent amount of ground and made solid contact, but it almost looked like it careened off the bottom of his palms, falling downwards rather than truly being parried to the side. While it may have been a minor error, that's really all it took for Alessandro Florenzi to seize the moment. Credit to Ale, though; not only did he managed to escape Cristaldo's barely legal arm bar, he blew past several other Bologna players to find himself in the right place at the right time.
The next goal, well, that was just a world class display of a cohesive counter attack. Following a Bologna corner kick, Kevin Strootman planted his forehead on the arrant corner, blasting it more than 20-yards up the pitch. Strootman's clearance confounded the closest Bologna attackers, who were unable to make a play on the loose ball, which eventually found its way to Gervinho, who quickly tapped it back to Stroot, who then proceeded to boot it nearly half way up the pitch to a streaking Florenzi.
Let's take a break here for a second and admire that counter attack.
Watch that again and notice how, as Gervinho moves towards the loose ball, Florenzi immediately makes a break towards the sideline, and then dashes up field, as if he knew exactly when and where Strootman would play the ball. While this seamless transition from defense to attack is impressive for any team, think about this for a minute. Between Strootman, Gervinho and Florenzi, we're talking three different languages, three men who played in three different leagues last year, and three men who had only been together for, what, six weeks at that point? Simply stunning.
But the intuitive play didn't stop there. Florenzi, seemingly aware that his mad dash had run out, held up play, tapped it back to Totti, who quickly found the still moving Gervinho, who took on two admittedly lax defenders and beat Curci on the near post.
While the goal itself may not be burned into your memory, you'll seldom see a better build up than that. Counter attacking football can be both effective and aesthetically pleasing, and with players like Strootman, who can dispossess and pass with equal ability, linking up with racehorses like Florenzi and Gervinho, few sides can rival the sight of Roma on the counter.
Roma would go on to score three more, belittling Bologna and testing the limits of Carlo Zampa's larynx in the process.
Battle in Bologna
I use the term ‘battle' loosely, of course. As we mentioned, Bologna is a barely passable Serie A side these days, one who has struggled mightily against Roma in the 21st century. Don't believe me? Well, try this on for size; Bologna has only defeated Roma four times since the dawn of Y2K. With such paucity in overall wins, would it surprise you if I told you that Bologna has only beaten Roma at the Renato Dall'Ara twice since 2002? This matchup has been about as one sided as they come, especially when you consider how poorly Bologna has defended their home ground.
Honestly, there isn't much more the pen can muster about Bologna, particularly now that Diamanti has been banished down the Silk Road. Their offense is impotent, that much we know, but you have to look past their feeble scoring tally to understand why. Diamanti's five goals still leads the club, but when we consider that Mattia Destro leads Roma with only six, there isn't a whole lot to hang your hat on there, but the manner of those goals is the real tell.
While more than 50% of their goals have come during the run of play, Bologna has only tallied a collective nine assists, suggesting that their offense is prone to breaking down, lacks creativity, or was simply too reliant upon the man with the magnificent mane and random assortment of arm art.
I may be selectively applying statistics here, but Bologna does not have much going for them this season, especially not without Diamanti in their ranks, and they're a mere two points above the drop zone. Heaping further pressure upon the Rossoblu, Catania and Chievo-the league's 18th and 19th place sides, respectively-square off on Sunday, meaning Davide Ballardini's squad could find themselves in even more dire straits on Monday morning, particularly if Livorno can upset Verona.
While Roma will still be without Totti tomorrow, the biggest Roman story heading to this match is undoubtedly the lack of options at leftback, so let's take a closer look at Rudi Garcia's choices for Saturday.
With so few legitimate options left in-house, let's take a look at the most popular names floating around the ether as of Friday morning, starting from least-likely-to-start to most-likely-to-start:
I mean, the word ‘Roma' is right there in his surname, so at some point, he figures to be a prominent figure within this club, but not just yet. But at only 19 years old, though local his roots may be, his Roman legacy is only 135 minutes long, so I wouldn't hold your breath on this one. Having said that, the fact that he's remained with the senior squad for two seasons now is testament to their faith in his future, but Romagnoli has next to no experience as a centerback, let alone a fullback.
By my count, everyone's favorite Willem Dafoe look alike has made 13 starting appearances as either a right or left back in his career, dating back to the Luis Enrique era. So, once again, although he's far from ideal, he's filled those shoes on several occasions. However, to say that Taddei has been used sparingly this season would be putting in kindly. It's nearly March and the 33-year-old now jack of all trades reserve has made only seven appearances this season, totaling only two hours of match time. Honestly, we have little idea what he's still capable of, much less when forced to play out of position. But, with Roma already down to their third choice leftback, Taddei may get minutes in some shape or form.
Bastos' Roma career is barely a blip on the radar at this point, but he was deployed as a makeshift leftback during his days at Lille, Lyon and even, get this, during the last World Cup. So, while he won't make anyone forget about Philip Lahm, leftback is not exactly a foreign concept to Bastos, which would probably explain why Garcia has already utilized him as such. The benefits he brings to the position are purely offensive, as we'd most likely see him bounding up the flank to linkup with Gervinho. In fact, through his first 35 minutes as a Roma player, Bastos has one clearance, zero interceptions, and has attempted only one tackle; an active defender he is not. However, against a side as inept as Bologna, Roma can probably manage his defensive inefficiencies for one match.
We've harped on it enough this year, but Roma's transformation under Rudi Garcia really has been a sight to behold. That doesn't mean, however, that we should simply dismiss Bologna out of hand; three points are never assured, no matter how bad you need them.
In order to brush off Bologna, not only must Roma contend with a depleted backline and a distinct lack of Totti, there is still some lingering doubt about the health of Vasilis Torosidis and Mattia Destro as we head into this match. Not only would this leave the flanks an utter wreck, it would rob Roma its leading scorer to boot.
So, for Roma's sake, we better hope Rudi's 50th birthday present came wrapped in ingenuity.