With the return of Antonio Rüdiger, it's all hands on deck as Roma welcomes fifth place Internazionale Milano to the Olimpico Saturday afternoon. With a five point cushion over their bitter rivals, we won't exactly call this one a six pointer, but it's an important match nonetheless. After yet another week of Totti Watch 2016, of which CdT was apparently an integral part, Roma's eight match winning streak fell out of the headlines. With so much swirling around the future of this club, can they buckle down and focus on the present?
While Francesco Totti has indeed been included on this week's squad list, given the importance of this match, chances are Luciano Spalletti will fall back on his preferred 4-6-0 formation that's brought so much success in the New Year.
However, before we look forward, let's look back
October 31st, 2015: Inter 1, Roma 0
For a while, this looked like it would play out to a scoreless draw, thanks to some big saves early in the match from Samir Handanovic and Wojciech Szczesny, but Inter, true to their form this season, gutted out a 1-0 victory thanks to a freakish strike from Gary Mendel; freakish in the sense that Mendel seldom scores.
Prior to this match, Roma had rattled off five consecutive victories, and in rather convincing fashion. However, following this narrow defeat, the wheels really came off, as Rudi Garcia led Roma to two victories, one loss and six draws. So, if you're looking for the turning point in Garcia's tenure, look no further.
If Roma has a chance of stretching their win streak to nine in a row, they'll have to exorcise some recent demons. With only two wins in their last six matches against the Nerazzurri, Roma hasn't exactly dominated their northern neighbors in recent seasons, despite Inter's relative downturn as of late.
However, as we mentioned at the outset, Spalletti has virtually his entire squad at his disposal (Sorry, Norbert Gyomber, you don't really count), so if Roma falters in this match, there will be no excuses. Fortunately for us, you don't win eight matches by chance; Roma is arguably as hot as we've seen them in the past several seasons, including their 10-match streak during Garcia's first two months on the job.
Of course, the real 800lb. gorilla hoisting up Totti Watch 2016 is the simple fact that they don't (or at least haven't) needed him. Between Stephan El Shaarawy, Diego Perotti and Mohamed Salah, Roma's attack may be the most potent in the league. Hell, even Edin Dzeko has seemingly got off the schnide, scoring four goals and contributing two assists in his last five league matches. It's almost as if Roma's frontline is a spice cabinet; everything is fresh, completely stocked and being put to good use, so that saffron, no matter how luxurious or expensive, simply isn't needed at the moment.
It's a unique situation in so many ways. As we said umpteen times, Totti can still play, but the manner in which they've played, and played well, without him since Spalletti came to town has been quite disconcerting. For years we ignored the ugly truth, that Roma was fucked once Totti slowed down and/or retired. How could they ever replace his production, his brilliance and his influence?
Well, here's they answer: you can't, and they didn't. But it's working. None of these guys are fit to carry Totti's jock in the historic sense, but in the present tense, the combination of their skills has meshed so incredibly well that, beyond the emotional pangs, we haven't really noticed Totti's absence. Yes, you can make the argument that this is really a Totti-Dzeko debate, not a Totti vs the Three Amigos, but their patience with Dzeko appears to be paying off.
While I maintain there is still a place and a role for Totti's skills, the whole melodrama is superfluous and distracting. Roma is in the form of their life and has a real shot at securing second place.
It may not be as historically significant, as emotionally charging or, let's face it, as sexy, but this is the storyline we should be obsessing over.