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Nainggolan & Olsen Return to Olimpico as Roma Hosts Cagliari

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The two former Roma hands have been key components to Cagliari's early season success.

Cagliari Calcio v Brescia Calcio - Serie A Photo by Enrico Locci/Getty Images

After dropping their first match of the Roma: Year Zero era, a/k/a Fonseca Football, to Atalanta last week, the Giallorossi rebounded with a slim 1-0 victory over Lecce last Sunday. Then Roma followed that up with a frustrating 1-1 draw to Wolsfberger in the Europa League, which, while disappointing, still kept Roma atop the group thanks to Istanbul and Gladbach's own 1-1 draw. The results weren't overwhelming, but grabbing four points from their first two Europa League matches and sitting in 5th place in Serie A, only two points behind third place Atalanta (which still sounds so weird, doesn't it?), is a positive start to the season despite those intermittent frustrations.

All of that is but a backdrop to the real news of the week: Davide Zappacosta became the latest Roma player to fall prey to the ACL monster, rupturing the ligaments in his right knee late this week, marking the 15th such occasion Roma has lost a player to this particular catastrophic injury.

As we mentioned on Twitter, we can make jokes about the training regimen or the turf at Trigoria, but lost amid all those conspiracy theories is a 27-year-old player who was gifted an opportunity to resurrect his once promising career, one that looks even murkier than it did three months ago.

In signing Zappacosta and Leonardo Spinazzola, Gianluca Petrachi ensured Roma had two quality players at each full back spot. Given his previous success with Torino, the addition of Zappacosta was particularly intriguing, as many people predicted he'd steal starters minutes from Alessandro Florenzi at right back, while also enabling Fonseca to use his captain further up the pitch.

It was a sound idea in theory, but given the events of the past 48 hours, that theory is now dead on arrival. Without Zappacosta, and with Spinazzola dealing with his own spate of minor injuries, the health and well-being of Florenzi and Aleksandar Kolarov are now paramount. With only Davide Santon behind them, Roma can ill-afford to lose either of their starting full-backs from last season.

We mention all this only because it presents yet another challenge for Roma's new manager, Paulo Fonseca, who has seemingly never had a full squad at his disposal through his first two months at the helm. Zappacosta joins an impressive list of walking wounded in the capital, one that includes club stalwarts Cengiz Ünder and Lorenzo Pellegrini.

Roma is so devastated at the moment, the call-up sheet for tomorrow's match leaves a bit of breathing room for the 19 men selected:

Since we discussed all the lineup permeations yesterday, let's turn our focus to Cagliari.

Not Your Average Islanders

For a club that lost arguably their best player this summer (Nicolo Barella to Inter Milan), the Islanders haven't skipped a beat, wresting 10 points through their first six matches, while sporting a +3 goal differential, one better than Roma.

While Cagliari's nine goals are smack dab in the middle of the table, they've been buoyed by a well-balanced attack, receiving two goals apiece from Diego Simeone, Joao Pedro, Luca Ceppitelli and Lucas Castro, while they have four players chipping in 1.3 key passes per match or greater, including new signees Nahitan Nandez (formerly of Boca Juniors) and Radja Nainggolan (formerly of Roma, Inter Milan and, well, Cagliari).

They're not the leagues most potent attack, but the spread of these numbers points towards a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. Imagine you're doing a fantasy draft with a budget of 100M and rather than spending 45% of that on a Mauro Icardi, you spread it around, sharing the wealth among a collection of solid-to-average players rather than a superstar and a bunch of tag alongs.

That's Cagliari; they're not built to kill, but if they catch you napping, you'll wake up dazed and confused.

We'd also be remiss if we didn't mention Robin Olsen, who, dare I say it, looks pretty good. After his disastrous debut season in Rome, one in which he was eventually replaced by Antonio Mirante, the gigantic Swede struggled to find a new club this summer, eventually signing on to deputize Alessio Cragno for the season.

So when Cragno went down with a shoulder injury, many expected Cagliari's defense to completely buckle, making what's happened since perhaps the season's biggest surprise. In five starts, Olsen has conceded only five goals, the league's fourth-best mark, while his save percentage (78%) is third-best, trailing only Samir Handanovic and Thomas Strakosha.

While he'll likely cede the gloves back to Cragno when he's deemed healthy, Olsen has at least reclaimed his good name and should have plenty of job options next summer, an important wrinkle for Roma as he's signed with the club through 2023.

All of this points towards a rather tough home match for Roma: Cagliari doesn't have a single player the defense can key upon while they boast one of Serie A's hottest keepers. This has all the makings of another tense one-goal affair.

So, no matter how Fonseca lines ‘em up, Roma simply cannot waste chances tomorrow, or they might find themselves looking up at Cagliari in the standings.