The Serie A schedule makers have gifted us all with an extremely early Roma fixture tomorrow in Bergamo. Roma and Atalanta will kickoff at 12:30 PM local time, or 6:30 AM here in the good Ol' US of A, even earlier if you happen to live in the fly over states or beyond. Yes, we're talking about a pre-sunrise (or damn close) Roma match. While the lunchtime kickoff is probably a welcomed novelty for you Europeans, waking up at six on a weekend borders on psychotic.
In any event, early kickoff or not, Roma will look to stretch their unbeaten run to 12 consecutive matches, while once again trying to get back on the winning foot following last week's Totti-infused but ultimately disappointing 1-1 draw with Bologna.
So, will an Atalanta side mired in 14th place play the role of noble victim, or is an upset afoot? Before we answer that, let's take a look at the last fixture.
November 11, 2015: Atalanta 2, Roma 0
This was probably the first of Rudi Garcia's last straws. Playing to dull and listless crowd, Roma responded in kind. After being denied by my main man Marco Sportiello several times, Roma's defense was once more caught with their head up their ass, committing hari-kari in the 40th minute, as Lucas Digne's ill advised no-look pass while clearing the ball gifted Alejandro Gomez the game's only goal from the run of play.
This loss was part of an eight match stretch in which Roma managed only one victory; an ugly and somewhat fitting end to Garcia's tenure with Roma.
Welcome to Atalanta
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Alright, back to calcio. For the first time since god knows when, Luciano Spalletti will have his entire squad at his disposal, as no major names (sorry, Norbert, Iago and Salih) have shown up on the injury report, which, as great as that is, creates some starting XI uncertainty for the Tuscan Raider.
While the backline should remain the same as always, last week's second half cameo proved one thing, Francesco Totti remains unparalleled; quite simply, there is no one on this squad (and probably the league) who can do quite what he does. From his silky smooth setup of Mohamed Salah early in the second half, to his always effortless switches of play, Totti's influence on Roma's attack did not go unnoticed last week. But did it, or will it, earn him any playing time tomorrow?
A point which Spalletti addressed late in the week:
Edin Dzeko is a strong player who had a moment of difficulty on Sunday, as he had this muscular problem, otherwise I would've started him. I probably will use him tomorrow, unless another situation develops.
With Francesco Totti it depends on what kind of game we're going into, but I keep him in consideration too
Spalletti also admitted that he's expecting a wide open and attacking match tomorrow, which may make the Dzeko or Totti debate moot, as the triumvirate of Stephan El Shaarawy, Diego Perotti and Salah represents Spalletti's most lethal attacking combo.
However, as we've discussed ad nauseum since Spalletti took over, the starting lineup isn't the issue, it's the first attacking player off the bench. While Dzeko seemingly offers a more physical presence, Totti can still pick apart a defense like no other, especially if they're parking the proverbial bus.
With Napoli facing a tough away fixture against Inter, Roma has a chance to shrink the second place gap, something they squandered last week. Atalanta has nothing to lose and really nothing to gain from this much, so will that prompt them to play fast and loose, or will they play for a draw?
Barring something chaotic over the next five weeks, the table is pretty much set for the year, but the manner in which each side approaches this match will have dramatic consequences on Totti's present and future, a fact that looms large over Roma these days.