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Back From Break: Roma v. Empoli

Roma is down a couple midfielders, putting the crosshairs square on Lovely Leo.

Empoli FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

I’m not quite certain why—perhaps it’s because the real world has been hassling me—but this international break seemed particularly wrong. Like ‘em or lump ‘em, AS Roma always provides a distraction for me, a few hours where I can vent my frustration and channel my hostility towards the poorly pixelated professionals on my over half-a-decade old laptop. So, it is with great pleasure that I present an actual match preview, Roma’s week 30 encounter against 17th place Empoli.

But first, a quick recap of the past ten days or so: Kostas Manolas may or may not have (but most definitely didn’t) tell Radja Nainggolan to leave Roma, Walter Sabatini said some stuff (some crazy, some sensible), Francesco Totti said some stuff (some specific, much of it ambiguous), Emerson Palmieri is reconnecting with his roots and may play for Italy, and Daniele De Rossi took a knee to the back that will leave him sidelined for a couple weeks.

Got it? Good, moving on.

Last Match

October 30, 2016: Empoli 0, Roma 0

It what was the season’s first frustrating moment—and ultimately an early death knell for our Scudetto hopes—Roma was held in check by lowly Empoli, a club they had swept on a 6-2 aggregate in league play last season. That’s not to say Roma was without chances in this match—look no further than the 43 second mark of that clip to see Lukasz Skorupski deny an Edin Dzeko header. Skorupski would make his mark moments later, stopping Mohamed Salah from near point blank range.

Roma v. Empoli: April 1st. 20:45 CET/2:45 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.

It’s a tale we’ve come to know all too well; when Roma piles up the chances, running smack dab into a keeper on fire, tears ensue.

So, can Roma overcome Skorupski this time around or are we doomed for frustration once more?

Roma: Not So Rested

Despite that nil-nil draw, there isn’t much to say about Empoli. Their only interesting player, Riccardo Saponara, was sold in the winter and the Azzurri have been left twisting in the wind, only five points above the drop. So we’ll dispense with the detailed look at them and focus solely on Roma’s incredibly thin midfield

Thanks to that aforementioned knee to the back, Daniele De Rossi will miss this match, though he won’t be lonesome watching Roma from the stands. Joining DDR on the inactive list is Kevin Strootman, who is suspended for this match. Under normal circumstances, I’d say we should count our lucky stars that Roma is facing such an underwhelming side, but, well, you saw the video above. Couple that with the international break, and we may be in a world of trouble.

In their stead, Luciano Spalletti is pretty much left with no other option than to roll with Leandro Paredes and Clement Grenier in the center of the park. Paredes has had his ups and downs, largely determined by the extent to which he’s playing as a defensive mid, while Grenier has looked inspirational in spurts. But connect the dots and you’ll see the problem: Grenier is most definitely an attacking midfielder, if not a trequartista in sheep’s clothing, leaving the defensive onus on Paredes.

The extent to which Roma can combat this inefficiency will determine the outcome of this match. If Federico Fazio and Manolas can push up the pitch just a touch to provide defensive support, Roma should be good, if not, the midfield may leak like a sieve.

However, when you stack it all up, flanking Paredes and Grenier with Mario Rui, Palmieri and/or Bruno Peres is more than enough to dictate the pace and location of play on Saturday. The other lingering concern, as always, is how much gas is left in Nainggolan’s tank, and which Dzeko will show up to play? The one who attempts to seed clouds with shots, or ole’ Dead Eye, the striker who dominated the league earlier in the season.

On the surface, this should be a walkover, but that’s what we thought in October, right?