During his first four plus years at the helm, Luciano Spalletti led Roma into many critical matches. Whether it was defeating Lyon on the road to advance to the Champions League quarterfinal in 2007 or being the first club to defeat Inter Milan that season, Spalletti has never been one to shrink from competition. Given the roll he's got Roma on and the controversy he's caused or been part of along the way, Friday's six-pointer against Fiorentina, with whom they're level on 53 points, could be the biggest yet (hyperbole intended).
Not only would a victory create a three point cushion in third place, it would pull Roma within two points of second place Napoli and, dare I say it, five points of Juventus. Too early to dream about that one, of course, but a victory Friday would certainly make the remaining 10 weeks awfully interesting.
Due to last season's rare league-Coppa Italia-Europa League triple header, Roma and Fiorentina have become quite familiar foes in recent seasons, but let's start with a look at back at the most recent rendition.
October 25, 2015: Roma 2, Fiorentina 1
Roma exorcised their recent Viola demons back in October, defeating the Viola for the first time since August of 2014, which, due to the log jam of matches mentioned above, constituted a four match winless streak. Mohamed Salah struck quickly against his former (sort of) employer, scoring in only the sixth minute. While Fiorentina would grab a stoppage time goal, Roma won the day rather handily.
Six Points for Seven Straight
Lost among all the securing of loans and Miralem Pjanic transfer rumors was the fact that Roma is going for their seventh straight victory. Seven. Can you even believe that? To call Roma's transformation under Spalletti anything short of spectacular would be a slap in the face. We're still seeing minor blips of miscommunication and the occasional swing back towards Garcia football, but life in Trigoria is immeasurably better.
So, in the face of such a monumental match, can they keep the momentum in their favor?
It won't be easy, particularly not with some late week injury doubts hovering over Radja Nainggolan and Daniele De Rossi, and especially since this is Spalletti's biggest domestic test yet, but as we've seen over the past six weeks, the stew he's brewing is awfully stout.
Between Salah, Stephan El Shaarawy, Diego Perotti and Edin Dzeko, Roma's bevy of attacking options in enough to overwhelm nearly any defense, let alone one that's conceded six times in their last three matches. But at this point, due in part to their assortment of attacking techniques and the improved play of Pjanic, offense is hardly our biggest concern.
While I'd argue you're missing the point, the claim that Spalletti has benefited from a soft schedule does carry some validity. Between Josip Illicic, Borja Valero, Nikola Kanic and even Federico Bernardeschi, Roma hasn't yet faced (Juve excluded) a team with this much attacking talent in domestic play. Antonio Rüdiger and Kostas Manolas have also benefited from Spalletti's renewed vigor, so Roma's last line of defense isn't really the problem, but if Nainggolan and De Rossi are both sidelined, Roma's midfield will be short of the only two heavy hitters capable of choking Viola attack in the middle third.
I feel like I harp on this every time this fixture comes around, but you simply cannot say enough about Borja Valero's quality. Consistently among the league's leaders in most creative categories, Valero is an absolute midfield master, churning out 30 assists since arriving in Firenze three seasons ago from Villareal.
Without De Rossi and/or Nainggolan to shrink the midfield, Valero could have a field day if he's able to slip behind Roma's middle third. Couple that with Paulo Sousa's tactical tinkerings, and Fiorentina has enough talent and just enough uncertainty to make life uneasy for Roma Friday evening.
It won't be easy, but if Roma can get six points and make it seven in a row, life in the Eternal City could be intense over the next ten weeks.