I feel like I've been saying this since I started writing here in 2012, but, with their advancing age and declining returns (at least in goals), the opportunities to see Antonio Di Natale and Francesco Totti share the pitch are nearly gone, and with Totti remaining sidelined, there may be only one shot remaining, so let's hope the Totti and Toto can say their final goodbyes in the spring. In the here and now, first place Roma welcomes 14th place Udinese to the Olimpico in what will be their first chance to extend their Serie A lead.
As always, Roma is in the midst of a brutal stretch of matches with several key players banged up or simply exhausted. While Udinese aren't a threat on paper, Di Natale and Cyril Thereau are more than capable of catching Roma off guard and making life miserable for the Giallorossi.
So, how can Rudi Garcia and amis avoid this fate? Let's take a quick look.
I have no idea if people hunt Zebra or if it's just a "sport" reserved for dentists, but Roma has snagged their fair share of Equus quagga in recent years, ripping off five victories in their past six encounters, including four straight.
Because Udinese isn't that interesting and I don't have much to say about them, here's Michael Bradley's game winner from two years ago.
Amazing what a healthy Kevin Strootman can do for lesser players, isn't it?
Anyway, back to Udine. The Zebras are a positively putrid attacking side, mustering only nine goals through nine matches, fourth worst in the league. The underlying offensive statistics are pretty much in line with Udine's spot in the table, as they generally fall somewhere between 10th and 15th in shots per match, chances created and shot accuracy. The problem, as one would expect, is that they're horribly inefficient in those shots/chances, converting roughly 7% of their shots into goals.
In many ways, they're a curious case study. Despite their inaccurate passing, inefficient dribbling and paltry possession, they take a good amount of shots, and from decent areas of the pitch, too. 67 of Udinese's 114 shot attempts have come inside the area, sixth most in the league; they're simply not putting enough of those on target, and they're certainly not converting enough of those into goals.
This is where we have to be wary of Di Natale and Thereau, who combined for 24 goals last season. They are exactly the type of players who can cost Roma two and possibly three points in a flash.
Roma: Wash, Rinse, Repeat
While there are still some wrinkles in dire need of ironing, Roma is on a roll at the moment, winning four straight matches in convincing fashion, including Sunday's top of the table clash with Fiorentina.
Many of us are waiting for the other shoe to drop, desperately fearing the moment when Roma's inefficiencies will be horrifically exposed, but for the moment, the restrained defensive chaos and Gervinho's tunnel vision are paying dividends; exciting and anxiety inducing dividends.
However, with a harrowing Halloween trip to the San Siro waiting on Sunday, we really have to wonder who Garcia will lean on the hardest tomorrow. With Daniele De Rossi and Mohamed Salah running afoul of the referee last week, and with Seydou Keita and Totti remaining sidelined, odds are we're going to see some important legs taxed between now and next week.
At this point in time, that's really all there is to it; now is the time for Roma to prove that first place truly belongs to them. Yes, the looming Inter match is enticing and incredibly important, but if they overlook Udinese, all their hardwork this month will disappear.
Champions rise to the occasion against larger clubs, but they also make quick work of clubs like Udinese. If Roma want to be considered title favorites, they've got to accomplish both those feats in a matter of days.