For the fifth straight year that evil Old Lady has clutched her leathery fingers around the Scudetto, stowing it away with her horde of butterscotch candies, her grandchildren's school photos, and a stack of hundred Euro notes they use to "influence" Serie A referees. So while Juventus has settled the top of the table once again, the spots below her remain up for grabs, particularly that oh so precious second seed, the one that ensures safe passage to the Champions League group stage.
Thanks to Radja Nainggolan's last gasp goal on Monday, Roma closed the gap on second place Napoli to a mere two points. And yes, we can and should piss and moan about all the dropped points and how second place should have been Roma's to lose, but here we are: three matches to play, two points to close down.
Given the importance of their next three matches, Roma did what they always do pre-match: spent the entire week in quiet contemplation...wait, what's that? They didn't! You don't say!
Rather than focusing on the task at hand, an always tough visit to the Luigi Ferraris, Roma basked in glow of a potential-yet-not-confirmed extension for Francesco Totti, while alternating between the nightmares of losing Radja Nainggolan, Miralem Pjanic and even Leandro Paredes, as well as dealing with the latest passive aggressive gesture from the Ultras.
Seriously, can someone please help me? I don't follow any other club this closely, is this a uniquely Roman phenomenon or are all clubs this eternally chaotic? I guess we'll never know.
Anyway, on to the task at hand, taking three points from the Genoa Cricket and Football Club.
Grounding The Griffins
While Genoa is safely ensconced in 12th place, all but assured of another season of topflight football, their home record is actually rather resolute. In 17 matches at the Luigi Ferraris, the GCFC has taken 33 points and held a +12 goal differential; the league's sixth best mark in either category. Broadly speaking, Genoa's place on the table is commensurate with their performance. In other words, they are what they are; a club that scores just enough to be respectable, while conceding just enough to prevent them from being dangerous.
Generally speaking, Genoa always has at least one or two players of note, but the only Grifone worth his salt this year has been Leonardo Pavoletti. The 27-year-old forward has had a breakout campaign, scoring 12 goals in all competitions, nearly double his output from last season, though he only has one goal since mid-January.
However, what Genoa lacks in individual brilliance they more than make up for in rigidity and cohesion, particularly at home, where they've only conceded 14 goals in 17 matches, the league's fourth best mark.
This won't be a walkover, that's for sure. So, how will Luciano Spalletti solve this riddle?
Y'all Need Some Jesuus
I pride myself on my ability to come up with clever and pithy nicknames for players, but I still have to tip my cap to my predecessor. Upon seeing Kevin Strootman's transformative influence on Roma's midfield, he immediately dubbed Roma's #6 as The Dutch Jesuus; he was Roma's salvation, pure and simple, providing cohesion, precision and tenacity to Roma's previously disjointed midfield.
So, it is with great joy that we relay the wonderful news, Kevin Strootman will start tomorrow's match in Genoa, his first start since god knows when. On the topic of Strootman's return, Spalletti said simply, "Tomorrow Strootman will show us why he is Strootman". Cryptic though that might be, given the emergence of Nainggolan over the past two years, we tend to forget just how crucial Strootman was to Roma's success in 2013-2014. While I remain exceedingly skeptical of his return to full fitness, any shred of Strootman will help Roma in the long run.
Beyond The Washing Machine, Spalletti's midfield will most likely feature Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan, giving him three sizeable and ball winning midfielders, though it will be interesting to see which of Strootman and Nainggolan will take on the more advanced role. In the absence of Miralem Pjanic (suspended), Roma will need someone to step up and push the attack forward.
With Edin Dzeko being, well, Edin Dzeko, look for Diego Perotti, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mohamed Salah to man the frontlines. While these three haven't been quite as prolific as they were back in the winter, individually they've turned in some fine performances, they just need get that collective mojo back. The key to reigniting that flame is Perotti; if he has the freedom to roam and the ability to exploit the spaces in, around, and behind Genoa's midfield, Roma should have plenty of chances. The worrying bit here is, of course, the absence of Pjanic, making the play of Nainggolan and/or Strootman even more important--Perotti can only pick up the ball so deep and still have a chance to exploit the defense.
Three Points or Bust
With Napoli kicking off two hours later, if Roma can manage a quick and tidy victory here, they will heap added pressure on Napoli as they take on Atalanta. On paper, Roma should win this match, but, as we mentioned, Genoa is anything but a pushover at home. So, while we've all enjoyed Roma's penchant for pulling winning moves out of their ass after the 80th minute, leaving this one to the death would be the worst possible tactic.
Of course, with his rumored extension set to be announced on Monday, it would be quite fitting if Totti rescued Roma once more.