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Roma vs Empoli Preview: Searching for Six

Francesco Totti and Roma (you read that right) head up to Empoli in search of their sixth straight victory. Can the club put this week's troubles behind them and take down 9th place Empoli?

Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

To call this an unusual week around Trigoria would be a disservice to the very word. A week that started with visions of Francesco Totti trotting around Leicester City has mercifully come to a calm resolution, as Roma's captain emeritus has reached a silent accord with manager Luciano Spalletti, who has included Totti in tomorrow's squad list after his last minute omission last week versus Palermo.

All that stands between Roma's sixth straight victory and making this latest Pax Romana a true movement is a ninth place Empoli side that hasn't won a match since January 10th and is down their two best players, Riccardo Saponara and Lorenzo Tonelli.

Roma v.EmpoliFebruary 27 18:00 CET, 12:00 EST Stadio Carlo Castellani Empoli, Italia

But in football, just as in life, things are seldom that simple.

Last Match

October 17th, 2015: Roma 3, Empoli 1

Despite being held by Lukasz Skorupski and the rest of Empoli's defense in the first half, Miralem Pjanic broke the game open with a patented bending free kick in the 56th minute. Daniele De Rossi would score the eventual match winner just three minutes later, while Mohamed Salah tacked on one more for good measure. Empoli would grab a late one, but it wasn't enough to forestall Roma's third straight victory.

Before asking if Roma will win this one, we simply have to ask...

Who Will Play?

It may be a simple question, but with the return of Totti, Kevin Strootman, and Stephan El Shaarawy, Spalletti suddenly has a vexing problem on his hands: who starts and who sits?

While Totti walking out of the tunnel and exchanging pleasantries with the officials before kickoff sounds nice, given Edin Dzeko's coming out party last week, it's unlike that Totti unseats the Bosnian in the starting eleven.

Similarly, with each passing week, Salah begins looking like the player we all envisioned when Roma signed him this summer; he's been explosive and decisive in Roma's recent run of form, so his job is safe as well.

Beyond that, it remains a bit of a mystery, particularly in the middle third of Spalletti's lineup. With the return of El Shaarawy, odds are Radja Nainggolan returns to the midfield, but with Diego Perotti raring to go, and with Strootman suddenly in the mix, the midfield, or at least its rotation, is suddenly a bit of a head scratcher, both in personnel and tactics.

If nothing else, last week showed just how clinical Pjanic can be in a more advanced role, but as Spalletti himself pointed out late this week, that role is not without its perils—the ball takes longer to find its way to Pjanic, he's a bit disconnected from the buildup and he's easier marked by the opposition, but his play was so inspired and so effective last week, it's hard to make a case for moving him from the hole behind the strikers.

Spalletti could, of course, opt for two men up top or use some variant of the 4-3-3; point being, he's got veritable attacking carte blanche. It's an exciting development, but as people who like to prognosticate, it can be a bit frustrating, but it's a problem we'll certainly welcome, isn't it?

Given those options and Empoli's thinned out roster and their rotten form lately, the odds are in Roma's favor, making Spalletti's tactical choices the only remaining melodrama.