As I sit down to write this, Schick Watch 2017 remains unresolved, so an already exciting matchup between AS Roma and Inter Milan may have some extra juice before Saturday’s kickoff at the Olimpico. With Walter Sabatini and Luciano Spalletti each jumping ship for Inter Milan over the past several months, there was already too much familiarity between these sides, but throw in the last minute joint-pursuit of Sampdoria’s Patrik Schick, and there may be added enmity between these already bitter rivals.
But that’s a matter for Maester Monchi and Sabatini to settle another day, as far as Saturday is concerned, Eusebio Di Francesco and Roma get their first taste of the newly revamped and much hyped Nerazzurri of Inter Milan, a side that summarily swept aside Fiorentina in a 3-0 Mauro Icardi-infused blowout.
Roma v. Inter Milan: August 26th, 20:45 CET/2:45 EDT, Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
So, can Roma stop the new darlings of Serie A? Would you happen to play right back in your spare time? Follow me and we’ll address these questions and more.
Luciano Spalletti: Signore Second Place
While Spalletti’s new side is carrying an incredible amount of buzz headed into the new season, you can’t help feel he’ll still end up second-best when the season ends, for no other reason than the teams surrounding him (Juventus and Napoli, chiefly) remain superior in nearly every facet of the game. Perhaps Spalletti’s lot in life (at least in Serie A) is second place at best.
Nevertheless, any side that can boast Icardi, Antonio Candreva, Borja Valero, Ivan Perisic and has Samir Handanovic in net is surely one to reckon with. As we all know, a Spalletti team, when properly organized, are masters of movement and deception, shifting the point of attack to keep opponents guessing, and this season will be no different. The unfortunate part, as far as Spalletti is concerned, is that in leaving Roma he abandoned perhaps the only midfield in the league that can effectively bottle all that movement (more on that momentarily).
While Inter may not topple the Old Lady this season, make no mistake, they are a squad on the rise, so we should consider ourselves lucky that we’re catching them at this nascent point in the season.
Still, nothing is assured in Serie A, especially not with Roma.
Help Wanted: Right Back, Must Have Two ACLs & Three Years Experience
It’s somewhat ironic that Manpower, a gigantic employment agency, is an occasional sponsor of Roma and/or Serie A itself because Roma finds themselves in the throes of a personnel crisis. With four...yes, four...of their right backs out with a smorgasbord of leg injuries—Alessandro Florenzi (knee), Rick Karsdorp(knee), Bruno Peres (thigh) and, most recently, Abdullahi Nura(thigh)—EDF will have to plumb the depths of Roma’s roster to find a suitable stand-in.
While the early scuttlebut surrounded Juan Jesus sliding over, there was a hint of experimentation in the air late in the week, as EDF reportedly experimented with Kostas Manolas as an extremely makeshift right back. Greece Lightning certainly has the requisite athleticism to fill in for Peres, but does he have the necessary skill on the ball to contribute to Di Francesco’s attack?
Still, with Inter’s bevy of attacking skill storming the field on Saturday, EDF might actually prefer Manolas’ unbridled athleticism on that right flank, where he’d be tasked with keeping Perisic in check, among others. While we won’t know which way EDF leans until Saturday, it would be hard to imagine him gambling so early in the season, so the safe money is on Jesus filling in for his fellow Brazilian.
No matter who slots in at right back, the real onus is on the midfield. If any trio of midfielders could make life a living hell for Valero and friends surely it’s Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan and Daniele De Rossi. If they can cut the tether between Valero, Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic, Icardi should find himself set adrift, staring longingly into Federico Fazio’s smoldering eyes.
At the end of the day, this should be one of the toughest and most impossible matches to predict this season. There is just so much familiarity between these two squads, it’s tough to say which will win out, Spalletti’s sense of his former squad or their corporate knowledge of Spalletti-football.
It could make for a free for all or an incredibly hard fought draw. Whatever the case may be, Roma has to somehow maintain their shape and sense of balance in the face of, you know, not having a right back.
Sounds easy, right?