After months of daring to Dzeko and weeks of wondering who Walter Sabatini would grab off the streets of Rome to play defense, the moment is upon us, opening day of the 2015-2016 Serie A Season. We'll have to wait a week for the official home unveiling of Roma's summer conquests, but in the meantime the Giallorossi travel north to take on Luca Toni and Hellas Verona, where they'll have center stage as Serie A's first official match of the new season.
Although the Mastiffs weren't quite as ferocious last season as the prior year, Toni and former Roma farm hand Federico Viviani should be more than enough to trouble Roma's paper thin defense. So, what's at stake and will Roma approach this match?
Glad you asked, let's take a look.
Verona: Leaning on Luca
Since returning to the top flight in the 2013-2014 season, Verona has scored a total of 111 league goals, 42 of which have been scored by the handsome hitman himself. So, in case that 38% share didn't clue you in, Verona is incredibly and almost entirely reliant upon their 38-year-old striker. Fortunately for Roma, Toni has taken it relatively easy on the Giallorossi throughout his illustrious career, banking only three goals in 19 matches, and emerging victorious only once.
Nevertheless, you can't sleep on Luca Toni, no matter what recent history may say, which puts heaps of pressure on Kostas Manolas and the newly renovated Leandro Castan, each of whom will have the onus of keeping Toni out of high percentage scoring areas and away from new keeper Wojciech Szczesny.
The difference between Verona last year and the side that performed so admirably in 2013-2014 is simply the amount of assistance manager Andrea Mandolini was able to find for Toni. Juan Iturbe may have been a disappointment for Roma last season, but he was integral for Verona two seasons ago, lifting some of the offensive burden off Toni's broad shoulders, but that helping hand was sorely missing last season in Verona.
With the difference in talent between these two sides, Roma should dictate the pace of play tomorrow, but in order to truly muzzle these Mastiffs, the midfield must harass Viviani in the center of the park, cutting off the forward supply line, while the defense isolates Toni, thereby removing Verona's lone wolf.
Roma: Ready to Roll?
With so many new faces acquired in such a tight window, it remains to be seen how quickly the likes of Mohamed Salah, Iago Falque and Edin Dzeko can gel in high pressure settings. While Dzeko and Salah wowed against Sevilla, that was a meaningless friendly, during which they played largely against the Spaniards reserves; taking center stage on opening day away from home, no matter the opponent, is a completely different animal.
Taking on Toni and Verona will be a daunting task for the new look Roma, which makes Garcia's choice of XI all the more important. Will he trot out all the new signings at once, or opt for a mix and match approach?
Based on the available information, it seems that Rudi Garcia is taking his new toys right out of the package, reportedly opting for a Salah-Dzeko-Falque frontline, three men who have shared the pitch for all of, what, 45 noncompetitive minutes? However, with Salah and Falque already familiar with Serie A, and with Verona rolling out virtually the same side as last season, there is a shred of corporate knowledge amongst Roma's unfamiliar parts.
In the latter two-thirds of the pitch, we should see the usual pairings. The midfield trio of Miralem Pjanic, Radja Nainggolan and Daniele De Rossi are set for their second full-year working together, while the defense should see the triumphant return of Castan, paired centrally with Manolas and flanked by Alessandro Florenzi and Vasilis Torosidis...yes, that pesky Lucas Digne transfer is still twisting in the wind.
Now, do me a favor. Go back and read the preceding paragraphs, something seems missing, doesn't it? For the first time in god knows how long, it seems as though the estimable Francesco Totti will not start Roma's opening match.
While this isn't some ominous warning of a bleak, dystopian Totti-less future, it is a preview of a new reality, one in which Totti is a role player of sorts. As we mentioned earlier this summer, Totti is a part time player without precedence, but the precise manner and schedule with which Garcia utilizes The Sixty Minute Magician remains to be seen. Is it better to use your weekly allotment of Totti in the first half to jump out to an early lead, or is he best used in case of emergency?
This will be, without a doubt, the underlying story of the entire season. Somehow, someway Garcia needs to figure out when deploying Totti makes the most sense. He may not be a 90 minute player anymore, but there are few players in the league who can change the tide of a match like Totti.
But, and this is the real beauty of Roma's summer acquisitions, if they can finish off opponents quickly, it may not matter when Totti plays, meaning Garcia can sprinkle him in with less on the line, which in turn should give Totti more juice for the matches that really matter.