Roma find themselves in some recently unfamiliar territory, outside of Serie's top two. The fact that this is an issues speaks volumes about what Rudi Garcia has achieved since arriving in Rome in the summer of 2013. What it masks, of course, is Roma's precipitous decline from Scudetto-contender to mere Champions League chaser, automatic qualification in which lies one agonizing point away.
With second place Lazio facing the daunting task of an away fixture against a Juventus side actually coming off a loss, Roma's matchup against 17th place Atalanta begins to look quite fortuitous. That is, until, you remember this is Roma we're dealing with. Throw in the fact that Roma hasn't lost to Atalanta since 2012 and we're probably looking at a hat trick from German Denis and a stand on his head performance from keeper Marco Sportiello (can you imagine if he wasn't good at sports?). Roma has a way of making the probable damn near impossible at times.
Keeping that in mind, let's take a quick look at how Roma might recapture second place, with a little help from the Old Lady, that is.
November 22, 2014: Roma 2, Atalanta 1
If you'd forgotten about this match, give me a minute to refresh your memory. Literally a minute, because that's how long it took for Roma to fall behind The Goddess on this chilly November evening. Thanks to some shit defending from Ashley Cole, Cristian Raimondi was able to make the endline his own personal playground, slipping the ball out to Maximiliano Moralez, who himself was left WIDE open thanks to some lax defense from Davide Astori and Kostas Manolas. Defensive spacing has been an issue all season, never more was there a more egregious example than on that goal.
But, thanks to goals from Adem Ljajic (his was particularly nasty) and Radja Nainggolan, Roma was able to come from behind and continue their mini win streak against Atalanta.
Will Sunday's match follow a similar script or will Roma actually deliver a clean, decisive victory?
Lineups & Leftouts
This late in the season, you know what works well and what doesn't; what Roma must do to mount a credible attack and what they musn't do to capitulate a late equalizer, so we'll dispense with the tactical analysis; just move the ball quickly for crying out loud, that's all we ask.
In keeping with recent tradition, Rudi Garcia's gambit revolves around personnel rather positioning, manpower rather than maneuvering, dudes rather than deployments. With Manolas, Daniele De Rossi, Maicon, Gervinho and Seydou Keita, among many others, suspended or injured this week, Garcia will once more have to shuffle the decks at the Olimpico.
As the bulk of the walking wounded are in defense, odds are we'll see a Jose Cholebas, Manolas, Astori and Vasilis Torosidis back line. Which, fucking hell, don't even watch it, it's going to be a disaster. While Manolas and Astori have managed to form an effective enough partnership, this is far from Roma's ideal defense...far.
But we've dealt with that in one form or another for much of this season, up front is where the real intrigue rests. Without DDR, look for Alessandro Florenzi to return to the midfield, which may or may not be his position. At this point, I'm starting to think his best spot on the field probably hasn't been invented yet, but his pace and sense of urgency should help move things along a bit.
Upfront, if last week was any indication, Garcia might opt for Ljajic, Juan Iturbe and Victor Ibarbo up top. In last weekend's draw with Torino, this trio accounted for a whopping one shot on target, while Francesco Totti remained firmly planted on the bench.
We're still a few hours away from any squad list and with so few matches remaining, it makes precious little sense to rest Totti. If you think Roma has been listless this season, can you imagine what they'd be like in a late summer Champions League qualifier?
Quite simply, Roma needs that automatic berth: for pride, for posterity and for a shot at advancing.
It's now or never, no sense in resting anyone.