Beyond extending their club record for points in a season, and I suppose achieving the rare feat of having separate ten game winning streaks in a single season, Sunday's trip to Catania isn't exactly dripping with intrigue. Catania is the gum on the bottom of the Serie A shoe, or boot, as it were, and beyond Nicolas Spolli (who I still maintain is a good buy) and Gino Peruzzi, we may never see any of these particular elephants in Rome any time soon.
But, we're all in love with this team and this game, are we not? So, for the sake of that romance, let's see if we can conjure up some clever angle for this meaningless match.
December 22, 2013: Roma 4, Catania 0
This one...uh, this one was a laugher. Roma held possession for 67% of the match and bombarded Catania with 21 shots. Looking back on it now, this may have been Mehdi Benatia's best performance under the Roman sun. In the 20th minute, Benatia scored on a rare head-to-head goal, picking Mattia Destro's dying header out of the air with his own dome to give Roma the early lead. While Destro and Gervinho would pick up their own goals in the second half, this match was all about Mehdi. Not only did Benatia score two goals on this afternoon, but he picked off four Catania passes and made six clearances; pretty impressive given how little Catania actually saw of the ball.
This 4-0 victory was a fitting end to Roma's calendar year as they jumped out to 12-5-0 record.
You wouldn't know it from their performances this season, but prior to that holiday thrashing, Roma hadn't tamed these particular Elephants in over three years, due largely to Roma's previous penchant for playing down to the level of their opponent. But, in some ways, this 4-0 undressing was a microcosm of each club's season. For Catania, this was but one of five matches in which they've conceded 4+ goals; there is a reason they've been trampled underfoot this season--they're streets behind nearly every league measure: points per match, % of defeats, goals scored, goals conceded...you get the picture. While Roma, through execution and simple focus, have been able reverse their historic trend, defeating the opponents they should defeat, and with relative ease, I might add.
I'm under a bit of a time crunch and, really, barring any miracle or some rising tide of apathy, Roma should be well suited to storm out of Sicily with three points, so let's jump right into...
Keep An Eye On
The Central Defense
What was yesterday's speculation is today's reality; Mehdi Benatia is fit and available for service. However, with the suddenly in-form Rafael Toloi scratched from the squad list today, the issue of who lines up next to Leandro Castan is suddenly an issue. With little beyond pride and benchmarks to play for, will Rudi Garcia test the limits of Benatia's tender hamstrings? While he may have always figured into the plans for this match, Toloi's absence suddenly makes this a 90 minute affair for Benatia.
So, will this be a case of too much too soon, or might we see Alessio Romagnoli's first start at his natural position?
2014 has certainly been a love affair for Taddei and the Roman faithful, as everyone's favorite jack of all trades midfielder has seemingly found the cure for aging, running off a string of solid performances beginning in late February, even scoring two goals in the process. And, wouldn't you know it, thanks to Radja Nainggolan's suspension, we may be treated to another taste of Taddei.
For much of this season we've fretted about the status of Miralem Pjanic's contract extension, but precious little has been said of Taddei's uncertain future. Despite his forestalling of father time, we may be looking at the final six weeks of Taddei's Roma career. Has he done enough to warrant a short-term extension? Absolutely, but one can never tell how these things will work out, so be sure to savor every minute of one of Roma's finest adopted sons; there may not be many more.
Catania's 21-year-old Argentine full back is sure to be a hot commodity on this summer's transfer market, with Roma and Milan, among others, hot on his trail, and with good reason; 2014 has been very kind to young Peruzzi. In 20 appearances, all but four of which have come since January, Peruzzi is averaging 2.7 tackles and 2.7 interceptions per match; those are Castan and Benatia numbers we're talking about folks, and miles ahead of Roma's own right back, Maicon.
Speaking of which, despite Maicon's fine season and Dodo's emergence, fullback is sure to be a focal point of the transfer market, and given his performance, don't be surprised if Peruzzi raises to the top of Sabatini's shopping list. He is young and South American, after all.
Ninety Points Would Be Nice
Away to Catania, home against Juventus, and away to Genoa. That's it, y'all, that's all that's left of this fantastic season. If Roma can, at the very least, manage a win and two draws, they would reach and/or eclipse the 90 point mark for the first time in club history; a mark good enough to win the Scudetto in each of the past six seasons.
Ugh, fuckin' Juve.