After winning three straight matches against Sampdoria in all competitions, Roma were held to a scoreless draw by the Blucerchiati when they visited the Luigi Ferraris back in October. Given that Roma has drawn 13 of their past 21 matches...let me repeat 13 OF THEIR PAST 21 MATCHES...I don't have much faith that Rudi Garcia and Company can do anything other than make that 14 of 22, and given that Samp is only eight points adrift of Roma, even that might be a stretch, a fact not lost on the one and only Stefano Okaka Mother *%&!* Chuka.
Earlier this week Samdoria's 25-year-old striker—can you believe he's only 25!?—boldly, and perhaps wisely, claimed that ...Being acquainted with the Roman environment, I can say that this is the right moment to beat them...It's best to face them now, though it must be said that Roma still have great players.
A Samp Surprise
In case you didn't realize (and I didn't, if I'm being quite honest) Samp is currently fighting for a European spot, sitting in fifth place with 42 points, narrowly staying in the black thanks to their +6 goal differential, and have actually won two straight matches, something Roma hasn't been able to claim since...since...I don't even know when, gimme a second...November!, and that came against light weights Torino and Atalanta. Point being, despite the disparity between the names on the back of the shirts, Sampdoria is in far better form at the moment, so Okaka is probably correct in his assertion; if ever Samp was going to steal a point (or points) at the Olimpico, something they haven't done since 2012 and only twice since 2010, now is the time.
Hey, speaking of our old friend Okaka, let's take a quick trip down memory lane, shall we? Remember this?
Stefano Okaka scoring a sick, backheeled, no-look goal off a feed from Arian Pit...talk about a parallel universe. If nothing else, that goal should remind you why so, so many people were salivating over the prospect of Okaka leading the line for Roma for the next decade. Okaka's combination of size, speed and skill was something seldom seen outside of video games. He was young, he was exciting, he was something Roma hadn't seen in years, but for a variety of reasons, it didn't pan out. After a series of loan moves, Okaka's Roma career came to an official end when he moved to Parma on a free transfer in the summer of 2012.
Okaka, however, has seemingly found a home with Sampdoria, scoring nine goals in 38 appearances since making the move to Samp prior to the start of last season. Currently, Okaka is Sampdoria's third leading scorer and tied for second in assists, and at only 25, there still might be room for him to grow. He may not be the star we all envisioned, but he has become a solid player and certainly one to reckon with on Monday evening.
But Samp's Roma connections don't end there. Alessio Romagnoli--CDT's ninth ranked prospect, btw—has shown some signs of growth during his loan spell with Sampdoria, including one goal and one assist in 19 appearances. When dealing with a 20-year-old loanee, stats are really immaterial, all we really care about are match minutes, so the fact that Romagnoli has entrenched himself as Samps starting left-sided center back is an enormous victory for Roma in and of itself.
But, since we're all here, we might as well take a quick look at exactly what he's done across those 19 appearances. As always, defensive statistics are open to interpretation and depend on a host of factors, but don't let that dampen your spirits because Romagnoli has been awfully busy this season. Romagnoli currently leads his club in defensive actions (blocks, interceptions, clearances), while ranking sixth in tackles and winning 63% of his aerial duels. Pretty tidy returns for a young defender, to say the least.
Seriously, this is what you want when you loan out a young player; not only has Romagnoli played, but he's played quite well. Ironically, this is what we all hoped for but never got with Okaka's many loan spells, and while I wouldn't be shocked if Romagnoli spends another season on loan (really, that all depends on what happens with Astori), don't be surprised if Romagnoli and Kostas Manolas are manning the backline together by the fall of 2017.
Will Roma's Attack Have a Pulse?
As far as the young men currently plying their trade at Trigoria are concerned, Roma got a bit of good news, the inclusion of Francesco Totti in the squad list, but that won't necessarily make Garcia's selection process any easier. Roma will be without the services of Manolas, Radja Nainggolan, Daniele De Rossi and Maicon tomorrow, putting even more pressure on the Giallorossi's defense. Without Greece Lightning and Big Doug, Garcia may be forced to roll out a backline of Davide Astori, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Jose Cholevas and Alessandro Florenzi, though Vasilis Torosidis was also included in tomorrow's squad list; not a dire circumstance, but far from optimal. However, the real point of concern remains in the forward two-thirds of Garcia's XI.
While the nuanced numbers are still kind to Totti, the fact of the matter remains, he is no longer a 90 minute player, and certainly not on a week-to-week basis. In fact, Er Pupone hasn't played 90 minutes since Roma's 0-0 draw with AC Milan on December 20th, and has only gone the Full Monty four times this season.
So while we can (and should) credit Garcia with effective management of Roma's most prized asset, he remains precisely that; Roma's most prized and effective asset, so it should come as no surprise that Roma's attack has often wilted in his absence, a matter made worse with Roma's discernible lack of a true number nine; a false-nine is all well and good, but Roma doesn't exactly have a readymade replacement for that role either. So without an actual striker and without an adequate backup for Totti, they're damned if they do, damned if they don't.
Furthermore, without Nainggolan and DDR, Garcia's Monday night midfield might consist of Miralem Pjanic, Seydou Keita and Leandro Paredes; while the latter is an exciting inclusion, the former two have not formed an effective partnership as of late, resulting in directionless and ineffective build up play.
So, combine Roma's ineptitude senza Totti with their stilted midfield play, and their offensive struggles become easier to understand; the link between the defense and the midfield is tenuous at best, the midfield itself is too slow, or simply too reactive, while the attack is lost and too wing-reliant in Totti's absence. And while Adem Ljajic has been far and away Roma's best non-Totti attacking option this season, he's had precious little help; Gervinho hasn't been able to recapture last season's form and Juan Iturbe has been plagued by inconsistency.
The lack of activity up top can also be attributed (in part) to the removal of Florenzi who, if nothing else, can make one hell of an off-the-ball run, throwing some measure of chaos and unpredictability at opposing defenses, traits which many have also attributed to Seydou Doumbia, but where has he been? What can reasonably be expected of a man so often injured (since coming to Rome) and so unfamiliar with Garcia's tactics?
All of this is simply a reminder that Roma is a mess right now; a hot mess, a right mess, an intractable mess; one that might not be cleaned up prior to Monday night, I'm afraid.
I'm always hesitant to make predictions, but I simply cannot see Roma pushing this streak to 14 draws in 22 matches, something's gotta give, but which way will lady fortune swing tomorrow night?