When Roma plays host to Parma tomorrow at the Olimpico, it will be a case of good news bad news. First, let's dispense with the negative; Roma will be without two of their most important and integral players, Francesco Totti and Maicon, both of whom join Roma's litany of injured players, while Jose Cholebas, important in his own right, is suspended for this match. The good news, however, is the return of several key players, none more so than Gervinho.
The Predator, one of the newly crowned kings of African football, returns to Roma after a nearly two-month spell at AFCON 2015. Aside from taking home the title and scoring two goals in the competition, Gervinho and the rest of The Elephants each received a free house valued at £34,000, as well as an equal cash payment, and a further £16,000 cash from the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, the team's sponsor.
Not bad for a month's work. In his absence, Roma, as you may recall, struggled mightily, winning only one of five matches and looking like a shell of their former dynamic selves. While Gervinho has fallen a bit from the highs of 2014, he is still, in presence alone, one of Roma's greatest threats, so don't be shocked if Rudi leans on him for the full 90 minutes tomorrow.
September 24, 2014: Roma 2, Parma 1
Roma's fourth straight win over Parma, and their fifth in six, required some last minute magic. Totti and Ljajic teamed up in the 27th minute to give Roma the early lead, but Parma would snatch one back shortly after the second 45 began thanks to a goal from Paolo De Ceglie. Miralem Pjanic would steal the show in the 88th minute with a sublimely bent free kick that dropped right into the upper corner of the goal, arching right over Parma's bewildered keeper.
The first of many last minute miracles we've seen this season.
Parma is rock bottom in the league, scraping out only three victories and one draw on the season, while posting up a pusillanimous -27 goal differential. But if you've been following the news, their inability to play football is the least of their concerns. New club President Giampietro Manenti, who only just took over control of the club this month from Tommaso Ghirardi and Rezart Taci, who themselves had only led the Crusaders since December, has inherited quite a mess.
Due to their insolvency and their reported €96m debt, the club has missed several wage payments to their players, a sin for which they have been docked one point. You may also remember that Parma was excluded from the Europa League this season for a failure to pay income tax on player's salaries. It's awfully tough to run a professional sports franchise when you can't pay your players.
Sitting firmly in 20th place, 12 points behind salvation, it looks as though next year's Crusades will be fought in Serie B. It's a sad state of affairs for one of Italy's most storied teams, a club that has played host to the likes of Dino Baggio, Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Lillian Thuram, Hernan Crespo and Gianfranco Zola among others.
As we discussed yesterday, in order for Italy to recoup a shred of her former dignity on the global stage, the top teams need to be fiscally sound and competitive in both the Champions League and on the international transfer market, but it we can also take it a step further. Having solid teams in the six through ten range--clubs like Parma, Sampdoria, Udinese etc--clubs who can keep the heat on the bigger domestic clubs while also thriving in the Europa League will make Serie A stronger from top to bottom, not to mention bumping up Italy's coefficient rankings.
God's speed, Parma. Hurry back, Italy needs you.
We'll skip the verbose narrative and tackle this with bullet points. Yes, Roma got off the schnide last week, but we're hardly out of the woods, so let's take a look at the key factors heading into this match.
No Totti, No...
Recovering from the flu, or flu-like symptoms at the very least, Totti was a surprise inclusion in last week's victory over Cagliari, playing 62 minutes in Roma's eventual 2-1 win. No such luck this week, as Totti has been left off the squad list altogether. Just exactly who fills his shoes depends on how quickly Garcia deploys these next two men...
Elephants on Parade
Rudi Garcia will receive an injection of fresh blood in the form of Roma's AFCON champions, Gervinho and new signing Seydou Doumbia, but will either of them actually play tomorrow? Both men featured heavily for the Ivory Coast during their title run, so we can't simply assume either man will play, let alone start, and what of Doumbia, will he automatically slide into the center forward role in Totti's absence? And how will that change Garcia's tactics, will Pjanic play a more advanced role, filling the space where Totti once dropped back to pick up the ball?
One thing we know for certain, Garcia holds each of these men in high esteem, as he offered some effusive praiseon Doumbia in particular:
The statistics prove it, this is a hitman, someone who puts the ball in the net. This is what we expect from him, without pressure of course. He only had one training session with us. For now his job will be to settle into the group and get his teeth into some passes. He is ready now, there is no problem, though we'll work more after the Parma game.
So, yeah, Doumbia will probably feature tomorrow, and given his complete lack of familiarity with the side, it would only be prudent to run his countryman out there with him.
Fullbacks: Nowhere to Be Found
Roma's perpetual nemesis, quality fullback play, has taken another hit this week. With Maicon injured and Cholebas suspended, God only knows who will flank Kostas Manolas and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa on the flanks. Odds are it will be the seldom used pairing of Vasilis Torosidis and Alessandro Florenzi, one extremely limited in talent, the other extremely limited in experience (in this role), not exactly an ideal circumstance against any opponent, whether they're on the brink of financial collapse or not.
For a club in a current state of flux, due to injuries and new arrivals, a home fixture against the league's worst side is just what the doctor ordered, but can Garcia's patchwork lineup overcome this unfamiliarity to grab three points?