The euphoria is ebbing, and now it is time for Roma to walk with their feet back down on the ground.
Inter did not have the luxury of a break, and their nerve-wracking match against CSKA Moscow shows just what kind of pressure the Nerazzurri will have to cope with, over these last seven matches. Roma have no such hardships. The team celebrated, but other than that they did nothing but rest since last Saturday. Of course, the obvious threat is psychological – we wouldn’t want the team to have loosened their grip. Yet this factor is so obvious, so banal a pitfall in the way towards the bottom of the rainbow, that it seems unlikely that Roma will fall for it on Saturday. Not this particular Saturday, in any case.
It also helps that Bari should be in a deceptively bad state. Yes, their record at home is excellent, and this may be called a tricky game in normal circumstances (though this sounds like a cliché as well – how many adversaries are left in Serie A which do not make for a ‘tricky’ game?). Even so, they have lost most of their best pieces. Andrea Ranocchia is down with injury, and Sergio Almiron as well, with some doubts surrounding the presence of Mariano Martin Donda. This deprives them of their best defender and arguably their best midfielder, and Donda, even if he does play, will be in poor form. Much publicized Leonardo Bonucci is good, but he is not really intimidating, not when Roma is going to field its most powerful tridente in the last five years. Furthermore, for all of their good form, Bari have a difficulty when defending and attacking at the same time. Once they yield a goal, they are not very good at counter-attacking without conceding another two or three. The game in the first leg ended 3-1 for the wolves. We wouldn’t be surprised if this one took a similar route, though this is conditional to Roma going up by a goal in the first half.
As for the team from the capital, the squad is in a state of grace. The suspension of Jérémy Menez also suspends the questions around the men to field – while it is almost certain that we will see three forwards, there is no doubt who these men should be. Mirko Vucinic, Luca Toni and of course Francesco Totti (who will be looking to repeat his hat-trick from last time) all have their names set in stone, at least until the serpentine Frenchman becomes available again. Of the three forwards, Totti may have to be taken off before the end of the game, lacking as he is in match fitness, but we entertain our greatest worries about Vucinic. He was sub-par against Inter, and these days he has contracted influenza, further casting shadows on his form on Saturday. There is also the fact that he glows less than usual when facing lesser teams. In truth, it may be preferable to have Menez for this particular match.
The rest of the Roman team should be more than fine. The midfield is brilliant and two options on the bench (Matteo Brighi and Alessio Cerci) allow the Coach to mould a more defensive or offensive eleven should the need arise. More likely than not, we will see Brighi coming on in the second half for one of the forwards, even if the game is going relatively well. The defence is undergoing a golden phase too, with four starters who make for a rock-solid line and two subs, Marco Motta and Philippe Mexes, who provide Claudio Ranieri with the same option as the men in the midfield. Motta can be inserted to give the team a greater offensive impetus, Mexes can play the third central defender if one really has to tighten the belt.
We mentioned that the danger of a psychological setback, in our opinion, is obvious to the point of having been overstated. More pressing is the matter of scoring a goal in the first half. Bari are a tenacious team when playing at home, and they will probably try to reach the break with a draw in hand, to offend in the second half when the Giallorossi are tired and defending a result would be easier (simply because there is less time). If Roma’s golden triangle can open the drama early, then they can probably close it at the sound of their own music. Otherwise, things may get a little more complicated. Nonetheless the fans go into the game with confidence, and the team should do the same.