I don't know how often other Serie A clubs are forced to replay or reschedule matches due to inclement weather, but it seems to happen to Roma on a regular basis. But here we are, Roma has another midweek match, a replay of the rained out Parma affair from early February.
While Napoli's victory over Juventus has suddenly resurrected the Scudetto race, albeit in a purely mathematical sense, Roma must first tackle Antonio Cassano and the rest of The Crusaders at the Olimpico tomorrow.
I can't lie, I'm ripping this part from our original preview, but here's how the reverse fixture went down.
September 16, 2013: Roma 3, Parma 1
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Roma's perfect run through the first quarter of the Serie A season nearly came to a crashing halt in only its third week. As the first half was about to close, Jonathan Biabiany put his bleached blonde head on the end of a wonderfully chipped ball from nearly 25-yards out, driving a textbook header past a lunging Morgan De Sanctis. Little did they know that this would be the last goal Roma would concede for another eight weeks.
Roma would level matters a mere two minutes into the second half, following a strange set of circumstances. Looking at the replay, we can see a beautiful, albeit elongated, triangle set up between Adem Ljajic, Miralem Pjanic and Alessandro Florenzi. With Ljajic frantically trying to keep his balance and maintain possession, it was actually the Parma defender, in an attempt to strip Ljajic, who inadvertently played the ball straight to the welcoming feet of Pjanic, who quickly chipped it to Florenzi, who then caught it on the first bounce, calmly guiding it into the upper right hand corner, 1-1.
Not to be outdone, Francesco Totti opened his 2013 account in the 70th minute. In a bit of delayed play from Garcia's men, the ball soon found Kevin Strootman on the left side of the pitch, and with ample time and space, Strootman delicately chipped a ball from some 40-yards out to a streaking Totti, who, as one would expect, made the perfect first touch, glanced at the keeper while weighing and measuring his soul, then proceeded to slot one into the short side of the goal. 2-0, game over. Strootman would bag the rigore 15 minutes later to seal the 3-1 victory; three relatively easy points in one of the league's toughest venues. Job well done, one and all.
Parma: Part II, Take II
The first thing to remember about this match is that we're picking up right where we left off, in the 12th minute, with the line-ups as they were when the deluge began, injuries being the lone exception.
So, in case you forgot, which you probably did, here's how they lined ‘em up back in January:
A.S. ROMA Starting XI: De Sanctis; Maicon, Benatia, Castan, Torosidis; Pjanic, De Rossi, Strootman; Florenzi, Totti, Gervinho
PARMA F.C Starting XI: Mirante; Cassani, Paletta, Lucarelli, Gobbi; Gargano, Marchionni, Parolo; Biabiany, Amauri, Cassano
We'll start with Parma since they'll have more upheaval in their squad. Both Gabriel Paletta and Walter Gargano are injured, so they'll most likely be replaced with Cristian Molinaro and Afriyie Acquah, respectively. On the flipside of this unique equation, Amauri and Alessandro Lucarelli are both on red cards in the present tense, but since Wednesday's match is still technically week 22, they should be expected to suit up; we'll chalk that up as some calendar clemency.
From the Roman perspective, the change is obvious; there is no Kevin Strootman for the foreseeable future. But, that's no problem; we can just throw Radja Nainggolan in there, right? Well, not so fast. Though he's available in the here and now, he was actually suspended in week 22, so he won't be available tomorrow.
So, now that we've heard from Doc, Marty and Huey, let's take a look at the teams as they currently stand.
Something to Play For
Prior to consecutive losses to Juventus and Lazio, Parma was arguably the hottest non-Juve team in the league, winning eight of eleven matches, while remaining unbeaten for 17 straight. Despite their recent two week dip, The Crusaders were absolutely giftwrapped a point from the football gods on Monday, as Livorno overcame a 2-0 deficit to draw Inter Milan in the 85th minute.
Inter's mistake puts Parma one point out of fifth, one point away from Europa League qualification, giving them ample motivation for tomorrow's replay. A win over Roma would allow Parma to leapfrog Inter into fifth place, putting them one step closer to a return to European play, a vantage point they have not seen since 2006.
As De La Soul once sang, Stakes is High. If you're keeping track at home, I've dropped Huey Lewis & The News, and De La Soul on you. I defy you to find that anywhere else.
We talked enough about Antonio Cassano yesterday, but how else have The Crusaders brought themselves to the verge of Europe?
Parma's offense is undoubtedly their calling card, their 49 goals is tied for fourth most in the league, level with Fiorentina and Inter. While Cassano's 11 goals lead the way, Parma has gotten decent contributions from Marco Parolo (7 goals) the inimitable Amauri (6 goals) and the always dangerous Jonathan Biabiany (4 goals).
While Roberto Donadoni's men fall just outside the top ten in shots per match, they are among Italy's leaders in possession, passing and shots-on-target. As we mentioned back in January, Parma's offense, despite their lack of flair, is purposeful, efficient and effective. They really have all one could ask for in terms of an attack: Cassano's limitless skills, Amauri's size and Biabiany's athleticism. You really cannot sleep on this team.
But, of course, now that Cassano has been deemed unfit for this match, Parma's task is just a bit tougher; a situation Donadoni addressed earlier today:
We will try to have an idea of the situation. I believe though that even the difficulties or sudden needs can help to bring out something different, we can also evaluate players in roles that are not regular
This is a moment where we need the contribution of everyone, even if we know we can rely on our own strength, everyone needs to give a little bit more. I am convinced that we can give the best we can, because I know the players. I expect a Roma side to play like Roma. They are second in the table, we will look to give the best of ourselves in our current condition.
The lords of the fixture list also smiled upon Roma, delivering a Juventus defeat over the weekend, shrinking the Scudetto gap to eleven points. If Roma are able to corral the Parma attack and close that gap to a more manageable eight points, what then? Is the Scudetto race more realistic? Does that change the manner in which Roma approaches their remaining seven matches?
Probably not, but as long as there is math, there is hope. However, one look at each club's respective remaining fixtures should dampen the spirits of even the most optimistic Scudetto dreamers.
Of Juve's remaining seven opponents (outside of Roma), none rank higher than seventh place Atalanta, so the chances of Juventus slipping up is extremely thin, while Napoli still has to face tough fixtures against Parma, Lazio and Inter; the three contenders for Italy's final Europa League spot.
For the Giallorossi, the biggest hurdles will be the semi-six pointer against Juve, Atalanta on April 12th and Fiorentina on April 19th, while we shouldn't overlook Milan the last week of April. Despite that trio of hot spots, Roma should be able to at least maintain their six point gap over Napoli and secure Champions League Qualification, which has been the goal all along.
Even without Antonio Cassano (ankle injury), Parma must not be overlooked. With Amauri and the always explosive Biabiany in tow, the Crusaders are more than capable of conquering Roma's holy land tomorrow.