Week two of Luciano Spalletti take two presents a monumental task, defeating the four-time defending champion Juventus on the road. While last week's 1-1 draw with bottom feeding Verona was a disappointment, given their respective forms and Roma's transitional phase at the moment, a 1-1 draw might be the best outcome for Sunday's trip to the Juventus Stadium.
If we thank Rudi Garcia for nothing else, let's show our appreciation for Roma's 2-1 victory over the Old Lady back in August, which was only their fourth victory in their last 30 league matches. With Juve flailing at that moment in time, it seemed like Roma would finally overcome her historical nemesis and permanently upset the Serie A apple cart but then the season began in earnest and the historical balances remained intact.
However, in case you'd forgotten that glorious evening, one in which Edin Dzeko actually scored a goal, take a gander.
August 30, 2015: Roma 2, Juventus 1
That video is quite rightly entitled "The Miracle". As we just discussed, Roma doesn't often end up the winner in these tilts, let alone in any convincing fashion. However, thanks to a sublime free kick from Miralem Pjanic (just look at how full those stands were, remember that?) and an Edin Dzeko header, Roma walked away winners that day, peering down from the top (or near it, I can't recall) of the table at the Old Lady that day.
The Spalletti Shuffle
Last week's big news was, rightfully, the wholesale tactical changes made by Roma's new-again manager, Luciano Spalletti. Gone in a flash was Garcia's unyielding and obstinate 4-3-3, replaced by Spalletti's narrower and hard pressing 4-2-3-1. In terms of actual functional changes, there were few bigger than Pjanic's new role as a regista, which you have to say, was pretty successful given the quick turnaround. While the remainder of the forward two-thirds of the lineup remained the same, Spalletti opted for a change in the back, swapping out Antonio Rüdiger's youthful exuberance for Leandro Castan's learned wisdom...whoops.
While Castan has suffered many unjustified slings and arrows, even his most ardent supporters would have to admit he was a step too slow against Verona. Accordingly, who lines up alongside Kostas Manolas on Sunday remains Roma's greatest point of contention. Depending on where you look or who you ask, it may be as simple as reinserting Rüdiger, but there are dark corners in the internet in which rumors of a three man backline anchored by Daniele De Rossi are lurking.
This idea does hold a lot of merit, after all we've seen DDR as a CB briefly this season, but something about that smacks of too much change too soon; it's not as if everyone has already internalized Spalletti's tactics to the point where they can manage another formation change.
Aside from the central pairing, the biggest question mark hovers over the heroic head of Francesco Totti. Namely, will he play? While Dzeko is getting a lot of (deserved) guff, odds are he'll garner another start, but if he continues to display all the aim of an octogenarian on a midnight bathroom run, Totti should be options A-Z off the bench.
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
We can spend a few minutes discussing the hows/wheres/whys of Juventus' tactics, but why bother? Paul Pogba and Paulo Dybala are scorching hot and the Old Lady has won ten consecutive Serie A matches without batting an eye. So, whether it's Garcia, Spalletti or Buddha at the helm, this could get real ugly, real fast.
This is, however, a potential trap game for Juve. On paper, they should walk over us by several goals, but the sudden change in tactics and personnel could throw just enough confusion into the mix that Roma might...might...be able to snatch a victory on the road. Pjanic, De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan all seem sufficiently reinvigorated by their new roles, that they might just inspire the other eight men with suckling wolves on their chest to pull off the unthinkable: defeating Juventus.