Saturday’s tilt between AS Roma and Napoli is traditionally known as the Derby del Sole, or the Derby of the Sun, but this season it might as well be known as the Derby of the Bridesmaids. If you haven’t been paying attention to Serie A for the past five years, Roma and Napoli have traded turns holding the Old Ladies gown as she walked down the Scudetto aisle, and with Juventus already pushing the gap at the top of the table, tomorrow’s encounter may go a long way in deciding who will be this year’s Maid of Honor and who will be loft sobbing in the back of the church.
Napoli v. Roma: October 15, 15:00 CET/9:00 EDT. Stadio San Paolo, Napoli
Another common trait between Southern Italy’s powerhouses are their penchant for ACL injuries, with Roma losing two starters before the season even started in Mario Rui and Antonio Rudiger, while Napoli fell prey to the ACL fairy when Arkadiusz Milik, much like Rüdiger before him, went down on international duty. A tough break for Napoli, but I’m quite certain not many Roma fans are too broken up about that one, Schadenfreude aside.
Despite the loss of their second-leading scorer, Spalletti is wary of the Neapolitan threat:
Napoli are the best team in the League in terms of style of play. They’re the most talented, along with some other teams. They, in terms of the way they move on the pitch, have balance they know what they want to do and they’re the best in terms of being complete in both attack and defence.
While Spalletti seems to be forgetting that Old Lady we mentioned earlier, it’s hard to find a flaw in his logic; Napoli have reinvested and moved on from Gonzalo Higuain as well, or better, than any of us could have ever imagined and don't have too many glaring weaknesses.
Spalletti’s high praise aside, there isn’t much between these teams, to wit: Roma trails Napoli by a single point on the table, while the Giallorossi have scored two more goals than Napoli, with the latter holding a slim +/- advantage. Hell, both clubs also suffered late week scratches, with Roma losing Kevin Strootman and Bruno Peres to training ground injuries, while Napoli are missing Raul Albiol and the aforementioned Milik.
But since this is a Roma site, let’s focus on the red and yellow half of that equation. As we’re all too painfully aware, Roma aren’t exactly adept at finding and developing fullbacks, so the loss of Peres can and probably will be decisive in Saturday’s match. Without Peres, look for Alessandro Florenzi to man the rightback spot while (gulp) Juan Jesus takes the leftback position, a prospect sure to frighten even the most ardent Roma fan. Look for Rrruan to get torched repeatedly by Jose Callejon, who seems a safe bet to tack onto his five goal tally.
Weathering the Strootman storm should be a bit easier, though by no means a cakewalk. Strootman’s performance this season, if for no other reason than he’s remained on the pitch, has been nothing short of remarkable, but Roma are equipped to soldier on without him, though much of that depends on formation choices and the extent to which Spalletti trusts Leandro Paredes and/or Gerson. Spalletti can easily stick with the 4-3-3 and lineup Paredes alongside Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan, or keep his two hard hitters in the middle and shift to some variant of the 4-2-3-1.
Whatever the case may ultimately be, expect an extremely close match, one that is likely to mirror last spring’s 1-0 nailbiter, which was decided on an 89th minute Nainggolan goal. But make not mistake, despite the similarities (or perhaps because of them), this could be the most intense match of the season, as the loser could potentially fall seven or eight points behind Juventus, assuming they beat Udinese, which, I mean, come on...
If that last paragraph seems sort of repetitive—Roma facing dire circumstances—there’s a very good reason: Roma seldom gets out of their own way, making each and every week a life or death affair.
Check out the poll below; we're blatantly stealing an idea from the old Chicago White Sox broadcasts on WGN, the Picks to Click--which player will shine in tomorrow's match?