After rolling Udinese 4-0 to begin the season, Roma seemed to have a clear path to a perfect start, an away fixture to lowly Cagliari. And while you never want to take any match or any opponent for granted, the odds seemed extremely stacked in Roma’s favor, but when we dug a bit deeper we found several causes for concern.
On the surface, this seems like a cake walk; there’s no way Cagliari can go toe-to-toe with Roma’s attack, so you’d think the Giallorossi could win this one walking away 3-0. However, scratch just beneath the surface and there are three reasons why Roma should be worried: Marco Borriello, Marco Sau and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Let’s tackle these in reverse order, shall we?
Roma v. Cagliari: January 22, 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
That snippet, taken from our August 27th preview, pointed towards a trio of troubles Roma would face when they took on Cagliari, and, not to toot my own horn, but beep beep! I fucking nailed that one; not only did Roma drop points in Sardinia once again, but Marco Borriello and Marco Sau were the arbiters of destruction that day, grabbing a goal each to level this one at two apiece.
So, if you dare, here are the highlights.
August 28th: Roma 2, Cagliari 2
Even though this was a catastrophe of a match, there were some positive signs: Kevin Strootman showed the first signs of his resurrection, while Diego Perotti continued to cement himself as one of the game’s coolest and deadliest penalty takers—fast forward to the one-minute mark to see what is perhaps his most nonchalant PK of the season.
In the end, however, this was the first of three pock marks on Roma’s record this season (the others being Empoli and Juve) that have ultimately kept the Scudetto at arm’s length.
So, how can Roma avoid disappointment this time around?
Deja Vu All Over Again
Last time these two clubs squared off, Roma was also coming off a 4-0 thrashing (Udinese in August, Sampdoria in January) and seemed destined to lord over the rest of the league, and, well, you know what happened. In a repeat of pretty much the final third of Rudi Garcia’s tenure, Roma ran out to an early lead, got complacent and let two points slip through their fingers like so many grains of salt.
But what was once a regular occurrence under Garcia has been distilled down to an occasional hiccup under Luciano Spalletti, and with nearly a full squad at his disposal—Roma is only down AFCON aficionado Mohamed Salah and the suddenly serviceable Juan Jesus (suspended)—there will be no excuses tomorrow.
Roma are on a roll at the moment, winning eight of their past ten matches in all competitions, and, as always, the question that looms the largest is Spalletti’s rotation patterns. Last week, in the absence of a couple key players, Poobah made a few subtle swaps in his increasingly regular 3-4-2-1, inserting Stephan El Shaarawy for the injured Perotti and giving Emerson some rest in favor of Rruan, while Mario Rui made his long awaited Roma debut.
With Emerson rested and Perotti fit once again, what will become of Rui and El Shaarawy? We lamented SES’s inconsistent role in our Sampdoria review, claiming that his game changing athleticism and touch needs more minutes, so to see his name relegated to the bench once more is a bit frustrating, particularly when you consider Perotti’s suck-every-other-match approach. In the absence of a true backup for Dzeko, it would be nice to see Spalletti opt for the strikerless formation every now and then, if only to give Edin some rest, but also to keep opponents on their toes.
Rui is a different story altogether; talk about a poorly timed injury. With Bruno Peres set to nail down the right back spot, Rui’s balanced play was supposed to be the perfect counter to the Brazilian’s attack-at-all-costs approach. In Rui’s wake, Roma experimented (unsuccessfully) with Peres at left back and Alessandro Florenzi at right back, before eventually giving Emerson a shot to make the job his own, which he has done with aplomb, particularly now that the club has shifted to a three man backline, putting Emerson in his more suited wingback role. Point being, Spalletti has to find a way to integrate Rui into this rotation; he may not have been my first choice for left back, but he’s a hell of a player and certainly brings a lot to the table.
Cagliari is stuck firmly in tenth place, winners of two of their past six matches, so it should be business as usual; come out strong, try to resist Borriello’s sexiness and send Cagliari home pointless.
Do that, and we’re looking at an easy, breezy three points, but if you give Borriello an inch, he’ll take a mile.