Hello again, it’s you and me, Roma-Inter one more time, for the fifth time in the last six years. Divided by a solitary point for the Scudetto, and by ninety minutes for the Coppa Italia. It seemed as though this particular duopoly was dead after Luciano Spalletti crashed his pretty airplane, but there’s still breath in it. Milan and Juventus are still far from recovered, so the Derby d’Italia (pace the Bianconeri) must still be considered, for all practical purposes, Roma-Inter.
It was hard to imagine Roma not going through against Udinese, and even when the team started shaking in the last fifteen minutes, down by a goal and a man both, the suffering seemed more important for what it told us about the upcoming Roma-Sampdoria match than for its own worth. After all, Roma are not going into this one with a 2-0 lead.
For this reason the distracted attitude to the Udinese game was justifiable. The game against the Blucerchiati has higher stakes and more dangerous adversaries. They have one of the most creative players in Serie A in Antonio Cassano, and a very decent Coach in Luigi Del Neri. They also seem built to exploit exactly Roma’s weaknesses, as they invariably offend through the flanks. This is worrying for the Giallorossi because their best defensive elements (Daniele De Rossi, Nicolas Burdisso) are all central players, while their fullbacks show some deficiencies in defending. John Arne Riise has the excuse of being tired, but he suffered both Stephan Lichtsteiner and Mauro Zarate in the derby, and he was burnt like a matchstick by Alexis Sanchez in the Coppa game. Marco Cassetti, who had been on a good run for some weeks, is back to his calamitous ways. First he conceded a penalty against Lazio, then he was sent off against Udinese. In part he was unlucky, but whether by luck or skill, he is always at the centre of the bad events – to the point that, some say, Marco Motta will be playing in his stead on Saturday, but this seems unlikely.
Cassetti is particularly liable to suffer as his wing is covered by Stefano Guberti (ex-Roma, who has been doing very well), and it is the favourite ‘drifting zone’ of Cassano. Riise, matched up only against Franco Semioli, will have it easier. It will be important for Coach Claudio Ranieri to cut down the space of the wingers and force them into aerial game (as opposed to ball-to-foot in-box penetration), as Roma’s central defenders should be well-suited to mark out Giampaolo Pazzini’s headers.
Tactically, the game could be a little tricky for Ranieri, but he has the advantage of playing at home. Against Sampdoria, who have a very uncertain away record, this is a considerable advantage, and if we add the state of grace of players like Mirko Vucinic, there are reasons to be optimistic. What is certain is that this is the last match of the season in which Roma can realistically be expected to drop points, so the team will have to stay relaxed and confident. The psychological factor remains the most important. It also remains to be seen what Inter will do face to Atalanta. In theory, this is an unproblematic fixture for José Mourinho’s armada. In practice, the distraction represented by their gorgeous upcoming challenge against Barcelona, added to the insistent voices that reckless Mario Balotelli will play, suggest that they may lose some of their cool-headedness. The weekend has a scent of danger for Roma, but it might also prove to be a chance to widen the gulf. The Chinese symbol for crisis, after all, is the same as that for opportunity.
The match could prove hard, but it also promises to be good. Sampdoria may have an offensive slant particularly suited to dent Roma’s rearguard, but Roma, in turn, have an offensive collective that is fearsome to say the least. Nor is Sampdoria’s defence very well equipped to confront them, seen how some of their major elements are injured (Pietro Accardi, keeper Luca Castellazzi) or have been sold a long time ago (Hugo Armando Campagnaro to Napoli). At the very least, the midfield will have to help out. Both sides have holes in their armours, and it looks like we could be seeing quite a lot of goals on Saturday.