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Shorthanded Roma Face 17th Place Empoli in Ranieri Debut

Roma's ranks have been thinned a bit for Claudio's return.

Parma Calcio v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

I cannot overemphasize how Roma this week has been for Roma. First there was the complete undressing at the hands of Lazio, a match replete with sloppy play from both sides, rampant turnovers, and the always spotty usage of VAR from the masters of objectivity, Italian referees. Roma followed that up by blowing an aggregate lead against Porto in the Champions League, which then led to James Pallotta dismissing Eusebio Di Francesco, Monchi resigning out of protest and/or frustration and culminated with Uncle Jimmy giving the physio staff the old heave-ho.

Out of all those moves, hitting reset on the medical staff was probably the most justified. Roma's litany of muscular injuries over the past few years has been perplexing. Week after week it seemed like someone would pull up lame at training, tweaking a hamstring or a quad or a glute. And what seemed like minor maladies would turn into weeks, if not months, on the sideline. At this point, I'm not sure whether Cengiz Ünder has a muscle strain or a gangrenous foot that was recently amputated.

Roma v. Empoli: March 11th. 20:30 CET/3:30 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.

{ATTN American Viewers: Due to the temporary Daylight Savings Time differences between Italy and America, the match is at 3:30 not the normal 2:30 time}

All this chaos has been extreme, even by Roma standards, so if you conveniently forgot about the current state of affairs in Serie A, allow me to catch you up. Juventus has a 19 point lead over second place Napoli, and at this point we shouldn't even consider Juve in the same league; whoever finishes second should get a separate trophy,

But after Napoli is where things remain interesting: AC Milan (48 points), Inter Milan (47 points) and Roma (44 points) are each fighting a battle for Italy's remaining Champions Leagues spots next season (points as of kick off Sunday). With four wins on the trot, Milan are the most in-form team at the moment, and frankly the only one that improved themselves during the January transfer window, and seem like the safest bet to lock down third place.

Leaving Roma and Inter Milan in a battle of the downtrodden. Luciano Spalletti's bunch have dropped points in consecutive matches, drawing against Fiorentina and falling to Cagliari in successive weeks. While Roma were able to capitalize on Inter's draw with the Viola, EDF's final league loss was a massive opportunity wasted; a win against Lazio would have leveled the sides on 47 points and presumably saved his Roma career for the time being.

All of which brings us to week 27, a round in which both clubs seemingly have winnable fixtures; Inter hosts 16th place SPAL 2013 while Roma has the pleasure of welcoming 17th place Empoli to the Olimpico.

Considering the change in leadership, there are only so many lessons we can draw from the first fixture, but just in case you'd forgotten, here's a refresher

Last Match

October 6th, 2018: Empoli 0, Roma 2

Hey, there he is! It's Cengiz Ünder! Roma's Turkish sensation brought the heat early in this match, nearly bagging a brace with two exceedingly close attempts on goal, but it would be the soon to be maligned (by some) Steven Nzonzi who put this match to bed. Roma's stoic Frenchman headed home a Lorenzo Pellegrini free kick in the 36th minute, his lone goal to date, but one that was good enough to secure Roma three points. EDF would fall to SPAL the very next week, destroy CSKA Moscow after that, and then draw Napoli and Fiorentina in successive matches—you know, the usual.

And thanks to the events of this week, all of that is truly in the past...

Ranieri's Rationed Roma Return

That's a pretty killer Tweet right there, I only wish the GIF ran longer than a second, but the disappearing McFly family is an extremely apt metaphor for Roma right now. Not only have they time traveled to find their new manager, but thanks to a temporal anomaly (and a healthy does of accumulated yellows) they may be down...wait, I need to count on my fingers for this one...NINE PLAYERS....NINE!

Federico Fazio, Aleksandar Kolarov and Edin Dzeko are all suspended due to bad behavior, while the likes of Nicolo Zaniolo, Kostas Manolas and Lorenzo Pellegrini are each doubtful thanks to the insightful work of Roma's erstwhile medical staff.

Hardly an ideal situation for Claudio Ranieri to enter, but he has no allegiances to any of those players, save perhaps for Daniele De Rossi, so even if all nine of those guys were available, we can't be certain who the Tinkerman would start or sit.

However, one look around the internet reveals a variety of Christmas tree formations, which I suppose we could call Ranieri's default skin. Without Dzeko, it's almost inevitable that Patrik Schick gets the start up top and will likely be supported by Stephan El Shaarawy, Alessandro Florenzi and presumably Zaniolo if he's fit. Without The Kid, one would imagine Ranieri's only option would be Justin Kluivert, though we can't discount a random Ante Coric appearance—that’s his name, right?

The most exciting bit about a managerial change is figuring out which players stand to benefit from the change in philosophy. While EDF was far, far more flexible than I imagined when he was first hired, he virtually ignored Kluivert and Coric, and really had no other choice but to keep Florenzi as a fullback. However, if Ranieri's past is any indication, we can expect Ale to play further up the pitch, while Kluivert and Coric may get a look for no other reason than a lack of options.

But, as was the case with Di Francesco, the real cause of concern is at the back. Fazio hasn't been ideal this season, but without Captain Caveman and Greece Lightning we may get our first look (I believe) at a Juan Jesus and Ivan Marcano pairing. And with Florenzi on the wings and Kolarov in the stands, Claudio has no other choice but to round out the defense with Davide Santon and Rick Karsdorp.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Who cares, it's only Empoli. Which, yeah, I understand the knee-jerk response, but Empoli ain't half bad. Sure, they've only won one of their past six matches, but that stretch featured two high-scoring draws and a one-nil defeat. All told, Empoli scored nine goals over their past six matches and should present a threat to the most patchwork back line we've seen in ages.

The only real bright side I can see, and it's a small one, is that this match rounds out the Week 27 fixtures on Monday night and is being played at the Olimpico. Not having to travel and having an extra day to figure things out should give Ranieri a bit of extra breathing room to sort this mess out.

And make no mistake, this is a mess. A right mess. With only 12 matches to play, Ranieri has no room for error in his quest to save his hometown team. If he can conjure an awakening in Schick, Coric, Kluivert or even Florenzi, the Tinkerman may become the Miracle Man.