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Roma v. Pescara, or Old Demons vs New Expectations

You should be scared. Very scared. Roma is playing a minnow, err, Dolphin tomorrow.

Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

I’ve mentioned it several times on CdT throughout the years, but for all intents and purposes, Pescara is my real "hometown" team; the port from which my family left for America many decades ago. As such, I’ll always have a soft spot for these particular Dolphins, so, as much as I’d love to see them survive Serie A this season, they need to lose tomorrow, and badly at that.

Now, considering that Roma has never actually lost to Pescara in league play, this would seem eminently feasible. However, as we’re all too painfully aware, Roma has a sick compunction (no, I’m not talking about charging €136 for a shirt) wherein they play down to the level of their opponent, or simply take their foot off the gas too soon.

Roma v. Pescara: November 27, 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.

We’ve seen in it domestic and European play, under Zeman, under Garcia and under Spalletti. Time and again, Roma does her best to get in her own way. So, what must they do to avoid that fate this time around?

Well, before we answer that, we must take a look at this week's opponent, one that features several familiar faces.

Pescara: Shopping at the Roma Return Rack

Pescara are sitting right on the brink of the drop zone, firmly nestled in 18th place, three points behind Empoli and safety. These aren’t the Dolphins of Zdenek Zeman, the ones that barnstormed their way through Serie B with Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile a few seasons ago.

Nope, these Dolphins are an entirely different breed.

Led by Alberto Aquilani, Pescara boasts several former Roma players and/or farm hands, including Norbert Gyomber, Valerio Verre, Stefano Pettinari and Alessandro Crescenzi, who is remarkably only 25-years-old; feels like we’ve been talking about him for a decade.

With such an oddly cobbled together squad (they also have long forgotten Serie A stars Simone Pepe and Hugo Campagnaro), it’s no surprise the Dolphins have struggled mightily this season, scoring only nine goals while conceding a whopping 23. Needless to say, that sort of imbalance doesn’t bode well for their survival.

So while I hope they go on a magnificent run the remainder of the season, these dolphins need to be beached this weekend.

Roma: Show Us Your Serious Face

Here we are once again. Roma is in a deadlock for second place, with only six points separating Serie A’s second place side (Roma) from its eighth place side (Fiorentina), while facing a decidedly inferior opponent, so how will they react?

For that answer, we’ll turn to Spalletti:

It is a dangerous game, certainly. At times when you do easy things they become difficult if treated the wrong way. We are coming off a match that took a great deal out of us, as (the 4-1 victory over Viktoria Plzen) was decisive for qualification

Okay, sounds like he’s embedding an excuse for another collapse on Sunday, a trend he addressed during that same press conference:

The way I see it, this is purely my responsibility. The Coach has an important role and everyone must believe they can make a difference.

What happened here might seem a concern from the outside, but I certainly don’t regret coming back to Roma and would do it again

Alright, seems like he’s making an unnecessary leap connecting Roma’s woes to his overall job security, but it’s not entirely out of the question; many a Roma manager has fallen on his sword after hitting a plateau, but that’s a discussion for another day.

In the present sense, Spalletti seems acutely aware of the potential pitfalls against Pescara. Namely, complacency; simply assuming victory rather than grabbing it by the throat.

With Kostas Manolas and Stephan El Shaarawy out for this match, Spalletti will once again be shorthanded. In their stead, look for him to roll out the same 4-2-3-1 we saw earlier in the week (the formation, not necessarily the starting XI). Without Greece Lightning, Roma’s backline will be manned by Federico Fazio, Antonio Rüdiger, Juan Jesus and Bruno Peres, with Kevin Strootman and Daniele De Rossi occupying the double pivot.

Upfront expect Edin Dzeko, Diego Perotti and Mohamed Salah to be up to their usual tricks. With 15 goals in all competitions, Dzeko is absolutely scorching right now, and with no credible or formidable defenders among them, Pescara stands little chance at stopping Dzeko.

The only spot of bother is the service provided to Dzeko, which hasn’t exactly been effortless or consistent this season. They seemed to exorcise this particular demon against Plzen midweek, with Leandro Paredes and his 108 touches running the show, the ball flowed freely (at least in the second half) towards Roma’s frontline, where Radja Nainggolan was excellent, doling out five key passes and one assist in Roma’s 4-1 thrashing of Viktoria Plzen.

If Roma can replicate that form—the dirty little secret of which may have been the inclusion of Paredes to offset Strootman and De Rossi’s fatigue—you have to like their chances tomorrow. The plan is rather simple; move the ball forward from Paredes to Nainggolan, then spread it out wide to either Perotti or Salah, thereby creating seams through which Dzeko can find the goal.

It’s not complicated but it needs to be succinct, efficient and constantly moving in order to work correctly. Dzeko has done his part this season, now it’s time for the rest of the boys to make his life a little easier.