I know how much you love transfer rumors great and small, but I regret to inform you that we must take a break from the speculation to focus on actual football. Bummer, I know. Now that the winter break is mercifully over, athletes the world over will go back to work just like us regular folk, and for Roma that means a trip to the Marassi to take on the Genoa Cricket and Football Club.
On the surface, this seems like a walk over. Not only are Genoa mired in 12th place, they lost three of their four matches prior to the break, and, adding further insult to injury, Genoa sold off two of their best players over the break, Tomas Rincon to Rom...I mean Juventus and Leonardo Pavoletti to Napoli, and have yet to replace either of them.
Genoa v. Roma: January 8, 15:00 CET/9:00 EST. Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa.
However, as we all know, Roma has struggled on the road this season, winning only one of their past four matches away from the Olimpico, so victory tomorrow is anything but assured.
Maybe They’re Better at Cricket?
You may have noticed that I often refer to Genoa by their formal name, the Genoa Cricket and Football Club, and I have no reason why, I just like the ring of it, but GCFC is actually one of the oldest football club’s on the planet, and by extension the universe, so it’s only right we address them in the formal usted form, right?
Anyway, back to it. No matter what you call them, Genoa has struggled mightily this season, throwing up a -1 goal differential through the season’s first 18 matches, though that’s impressive compared to the -19 differential hoisted up by Pescara and Palermo; everything is relative, right?
Point being, now that Rincon and Pavoletti have been sold off, Genoa is just another nondescript midtable team; nothing spectacular, nothing horrific, they just exist. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t reason to watch tomorrow.
Genoa still boasts one of the most intriguing young keepers in the game/Journey cover band frontman Mattia Perin. While Perin has lost a bit of luster in the eyes of Italians, largely due to the emergence of Donnarumma, he’s still just 24-years-old, a preschooler by keeper standards. Put this kid behind a decent defense and midfield, and we may yet see the keeper of the future so many pundits portended a few years ago.
Outside of Perin’s occasional Roma connections, the Griffins have a few other would be and former Romans, most notably Nicolas Burdisso. Nico, everyone’s favorite borderline psychotic, was a fan favorite during his time in Rome and at 35-years-old he’s still plugging along, leading Genoa in minutes played. Diego Laxalt, Genoa’s 23-year-old Uruguayan midfielder, has been mentioned as a possible transfer target this winter as well; he’s young and has oodles of Serie A experience, so he might be a good speculative play.
But that’s about it, Genoa is a decidedly average club, one that seems to be trending downwards, but at home, where they’ve been pretty solid, they’ll still present quite a challenge for a suddenly short shrifted Roma squad.
Has Anyone Seen Salah?
Now that Mohamed Salah has been officially conscripted into the Egyptian National Team for this winter’s AFCON, Roma are missing their biggest attacking threat, so the manner in which Luciano Spalletti copes with this tomorrow could be quite telling—will he opt for a like-for-like six week exchange of Stephan El Shaarawy or roll with a completely different formation?
Whatever the case may be, tomorrow is the first of potentially six or seven matches without Salah, so they’d better figure it out quick. The obvious solution, one that seems to have swept over the internet in the past 24 hours, is to throw SES into Salah’s spot on the right wing, with Diego Perotti slotting in on the left and Radja Nainggolan remaining the number 10 by default.
It is the obvious solution for a number of reasons, chief among them there is no other option on the wing. With Juan Iturbe gone and with Gerson yet to impress, El Shaarawy is option A through Z. Fortunately, El Shaarawy seems to be rounding back into form and was particularly effective against Chievo before the break. This could be a huge opportunity for El Shaarawy to cement his place in the rotation, throwing another wrinkle into Roma’s attack. If he makes the most of this opportunity, it would be like a de facto transfer.
Beyond that, it’s business as usual for Spalletti’s squad. Thomas Vermaelen continues his impressive injury streak, this time falling prey to a calf injury, while Francesco Totti remains in doubt due to an Achilles issue. All of which simply means that Roma’s starting XI will probably have to play upwards of 70 minutes tomorrow, as the only viable sub off the bench would seem to be one of Emerson, Antonio Rüdiger or Bruno Peres; in other words, the one who is left out of the starting lineup.
And that, my friends, is the ugly, pulsating pimple on Roma’s otherwise flawless face; there is simply no depth. Edin Dzeko has no backup, Vermaelen and Totti are constantly dealing with a variety of sprains and strains, Leandro Paredes’ ankle is the Rubik’s cube of Roma injuries, while Gerson is still working on his sea legs, and I’m not even sure Mario Rui is a real entity at this point; he’s the drop bear of this club.
Suffice it to say, there is work to be done this winter, but in the here and now, Roma simply needs to seize the initiative in this match early. If they let Genoa hang around into the second half, the momentum can turn in an instant. Genoa isn’t much to look at, but they have nothing to lose, a luxury not currently afforded to Roma, not with Napoli newly reinforced and hot on their heels.
2017 is a crucial year for Roma, and it all starts tomorrow.