A case of mind games for Bologna and Roma

Roma travel to the Renato Della’ Ara this Sunday to face fellow Serie A strugglers Bologna. With both teams languishing near the foot of the table there is plenty to play for and considering the week’s events, the psychological factor makes for an intriguing encounter. Defeat for Roma could see Coach Luciano Spalletti praying he doesn’t get the same treatment as Daniele Arrigoni received earlier this week.

It had been a testing start to the campaign for both tacticians, but whereas the capital club’s President Rosella Sensi backed her Coach to retain his position, Bologna President, Francesca Menarini – the only other female owner in Serie A – dug in her heels and called time on Arrigoni’s tenure. On Monday his successor was named as former Lazio defender Sinisa Mihajlovic.

The Felsinei made a promising start on their return to the top flight by beating the might of Milan at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on the opening day of the season, but have since drifted into obscurity with a run of eight defeats in nine league games. Their only other win another impressive scalp against Lazio. With Menarini describing last weekend’s 5-1 defeat to Cagliari as ‘undignified,’ both she and Mihajlovic can take some solace from the fact the players are capable of raising their game against the league’s top sides.

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Mihajlovic’s appointment provides him with his first opportunity as Head Coach after spending two years as Roberto’s Mancini’s assistant at Inter. A change in personnel at the helm can often fuel the fire in players looking to impress the new boss and the former Yugoslav Footballer of the Year will looking to rejuvenate his men in the hope of capitalising on Roma’s recent poor form. The Rossoblu will feel if they can get their noses in front, Roman heads will drop and they can go on to take full advantage of a team out of sorts.

With no track record to refer to, it’s almost impossible to predict who the Serbian will name in his first starting line up. Not surprisingly though, the team he has taken over do not boast an impressive goal scoring record. Having conceded 19 goals and scoring only eight in return, Mihajlovic may be inclined to look for stability and opt for a 4-4-2 formation as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 favoured by his predecessor.

Having found the net five times already this season, Rossoblu top scorer Marco Di Vaio is almost certain to start and could be partnered by Massimo Marazzina who has looked sharp when given a chance this season. Gaby Mudingayi and Sergio Volpi can also expect to retain their places in the middle with Adailton and Francesco Valiani both capable of creating goal scoring opportunities from wide positions.

It is the fragility of the back four that will give the new tactician his toughest proposition. Davide Bombardini has been a consistent performer this season in a defence that has otherwise been constantly reshuffled under Arrigoni that had made it difficult for the backline to develop a sound understanding. The central pairing of Vangelis Moras and Claudio Terzi that served them so well in last season’s promotion success is the 39-year-old’s safest option, whilst Cristian Zenoni, a summer acquisition from Sampdoria can slot in at right-back to help protect Francesco Antonioli’s goal.

Whatever the line-up, Mihajlovic will be looking for passion and commitment from his players. If the former Scudetto and Champions League winner is to take anything from his first game in charge, he will expect his men to close down the Giallorossi early to stifle their swift passing game and snuff out any goal threat. The longer the game goes without the home side conceding, the better their chances of snatching a victory.

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Roma Coach Spalletti will be hoping his captain, the inspirational Francesco Totti, does not suffer a re-occurrence of the knee inflammation that kept him out of last weekend’s defeat at Juventus. Whenever Il Capitano is sidelined, the team lack any natural leadership or creativity and, as a consequence of Totti’s absence from the opening rounds of this season, the Giallorossi find themselves hovering just above the relegation places. Defeat to Bologna this weekend will see them trading places with their opponents and dropping into the bottom three, effectively signaling the end of Spalletti’s reign.

Following their worst start in 35 years, the owners thus far have been patient and remained loyal to the man who dragged the club from mediocrity back up to genuine title contenders. The same however cannot be said for restless Romanisti who turned up at I Lupi’s training ground to hurl abuse at the players and pelt the team coach with coins upon their return from Turin.

The soundbites coming from the players however, remains confident. Despite only two wins and a draw to their name, stand-in captain Christian Panucci declared the team capable of dragging themselves from the mire within the next 10 days. A much needed, confidence boosting win at the Stadio Olimpico over high-flying Chelsea in midweek was a major step towards achieving that goal ahead of the trip north.

Spalletti’s claims that his team are suffering psychologically will not have gone unnoticed by the Sensi owners and with comments like, ‘’I don’t know what else to do,’’ his position at Trigoria is tenuous. If the Giallorossi fail to collect all three points on Sunday, his fate could be sealed sooner rather than later.

The 3-1 victory over Chelsea in the Champions League though has given Spalletti – for the time being at least – the chance to redeem himself and he would be ill-advised against fielding a different line up to the one that served him so gallantly on Tuesday night.

Playing in a central position alongside Totti rather than wide left, Mirko Vucinic found a renewed lease of life and his performance on Tuesday night thoroughly deserved the two goals he bagged. More importantly though, the return of La Rosa’s all-time top scorer changed the shape of the team and ignited a belief in a side that has look laboured at times this season. Although still not fully fit, Totti will play a part from the off.

Jeremy Menez has failed to make the impact the Romans had hoped after his £8.3m move from Monaco and the Frenchman is expected to start on the bench David Pizarro retaining his place. The tidy Chilean is a constant threat going forward and the Rossoblu will have to be on their guard to pick up his runs from deep.

Another summer signing, John Arne Riise has also struggled to adapt to the Italian style and should make way for the Brazilian, Cicinho with the versatile Panucci sticking to centre-back. The Roma backline have looked particularly uncomfortable of late and will be hoping nerves don’t get the better of them this weekend.

Both sides are desperate for the points, and with one boss determined to make a winning start and the other harbouring concerns over his job, this fixture promises to be an intriguing contest. Goals have been hard to come by for both sides so far this term, and the outcome of the game may well depend on which team breaks the deadlock.

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