Wounded animals are scary. Snappy bitey snarley, chew your face off scary. And thanks to some horrific arbitration last Wednesday, that is what Inter will be up against on Saturday. It's sort of funny, I have really never considered Roma to be a nemesis (I even bought the SO a DeRossi jersey for Christmas one year). For me it has always been Juventus, and of course, Milan. Roma is just not a part of my emotional landscape. Sure, they are rivals, but that doesn't seem like a reason to hate them. Spend some time around the Roma board, though, and you will find that the apathy is not returned. Near as I can tell, Roma has chosen Inter as their bête noire (maybe it is something about coming second these last few years), and I sort of think the team will be out for blood. And a win, of course, but mostly blood. Really, I am just hoping no one gets hurt. Because in the end, this is about three points and only three points. The championship still has an eternity to play out and it would be absurd to label any game this early in the season as decisive of anything... other than the game, of course.
What: Roma v Inter (cage match of doom)
Where: Stadio Olimpico, Roma
When: Saturday, 8:45pm local time (11:45am pacific, 2:45pm eastern)
How to watch: Live on Fox Soccer Channel, ESPN3, and many other world-wide broadcasters. For streaming, try the usual: MyP2P, Rojadirecta, Ustream, and ATDHE.net
Liveblog: You betcha! We will meet here (look for the Cover it Live box) 15 minutes before kick-off. I wouldn't miss it for the world!
A note on schedules and tv broadcasts:
First, I dont really check for broadcasters outside the US. I know we have people here from all over the world, so check out LiveSoccerTV.com - they have complete broadcast listings for channels all over the world (well, maybe not complete, but more than I have).
Second, for those of you, like me, who are schedulely challenged and need a little reminder now and then, I highly recommend Google Calenders. Once you have an account (free), you can automatically add the fixture schedule of any number of sports teams, both for the Serie A and the Champions League. The calender will automatically translate it into your particular time zone. Very handy - you will never miss a game on mistake again.
And now back to the preview....
There is no denying that Roma have been going through a bad patch so far this season. Between terrible arbitration (Brescia), players being sent off (Cagliari), or general lapses of defensive concentration (Bologna), Roma have not won a single game this season and have only collected 2 points (this time last year they had 6). Roma fans are (understandably) worried about their team's form while Inter's are (understandably) a little cocky. Well, I dont buy it; I dont think Roma's past performance will have any bearing on Saturday's game. No matter these last few weeks, they have some talent on that team (including some that used to be on our team) and it would be suicidal to underestimate them.
Historically speaking, Roma usually win this game. Of the 79 Roma-Inter Serie A games, Inter has only won 27. Roma has won 32, while the other 20 have been draws. If we take a look at our last five meetings in Rome (Serie A only), then things tend a bit towards Inter, with 3 wins, 1 draw, and, of course, last year's infamous loss. As I recall, JC did not have his best day and something like half the team picked up a card. Anyway, here the the highlights (and I use that term loosely):
Right, so not much to say here that you cant find just 8 steps down on the link bar above. Basically, a quick scan through the comments section of whatever is posted there will be all about how Massimo Moratti is the root of all evil and is probably behind the rainstorm that ruined that one day that one time. That is to say, there is an irrational and feverish anger against all things Inter. Which is strange, because I think I am a pretty typical Inter fan, and, as I said, I dont really think about Roma much at all. I know that recently they have been our closest competition, but that has really only been two years and two years out of 102 is not all that much. But whatever, it is no skin off my nose if Roma fans choose Inter to be their scapegoat.
Well, I wont miss Mexes and his stupid, over-the-top aggressiveness.
What I do mind, though, is when certain players let their emotions get the better of them and decide to turn a football match into something a bit more gladiatorial. Hopefully everyone has learned from the Coppa Italia final last May that violence doesn't win football matches and being skewered by the press for acting out is no fun at all. I hope we have all learned from our mistakes and and move on as better people. Of course, none of that will stop Nico Burdisso from being a clumsy oaf. That is just something we all have to live with.
Ranieri has announced his call up list:
Lobont, Cicinho, Castellini, Juan, Pizarro, Adriano, Vucinic, Totti, De Rossi, Riise, Baptista, Perrotta, Borriello, G. Burdisso, N. Burdisso, Simplicio, Doni, Brighi, Cassetti, Rosi, Menez.
Mexes is suspended for this game, but Nico Burdisso is available, as is Totti. De Rossi is on the call-up list, but I guess he is still struggling with fitness and may or may not actually take the pitch. He has been off his form recently (perhaps because of this niggling injury) but he likes to score on Inter and I would just as soon he sit this one out. Riise has gotten the all clear - good for him, not so much for us. He is another who always seems to find the back of the net against us.
Lobont worked out pretty well for us when he started in goal last August.
Other notable absences will be keeper Julio Sergio, horse-impersonator Taddei, and forward Okaka: all are injured. Of those, Julio Sergio will probably be missed the most. Although Lobont is Roma's #1, he only played parts of 2 games last season (you will remember him from the Suppercoppa game in August). Doni, on the other hand, started 7 (and allowed 8 goals), although he didn't make Roma's Champions League list this year so who knows which one will start tomorrow. Either one will likely be a step down from Julio Sergio.
I have no idea what is going on, but group hugs are always a good idea.
Rafa has called up...
Portieri: Julio Cesar, Castellazzi, Orlandoni;
Difensori: Cordoba, Lucio, Maicon, Chivu, Santon;
Centrocampisti: Stankovic, Sneijder, Muntari, Mariga, Cambiasso, Obi, Coutinho;
Attaccanti: Eto'o, Milito, Pandev, Biabiany.
Samuel, although he reportedly wants to play, cannot be risked and will sit this one out (and probably Werder Bremen as well). Materazzi pulled something yesterday during a practice match with the Primavera squad and will be out a few games as well. Zanetti is still on enforced rest (I must say, part of me expected him to make a miraculous recovery and play tomorrow). All this means we are desperately short on defenders and, ready or not, Santon may have to thrown to the wolves - literally.
Thiago Motta is still out injured, Suazo and Mancini are just biding their time until the market opens again and they can be freed from their Inter nightmare (or at least that is what they will say come January).
So where does this leave us in terms of a line-up? Well, clearly all of us have a terrible time getting into Rafa's head because, even after two games, no one has managed to accurately predict the starting line-up and be declared the Grand Imperial Poobah of All Things Inter. I think we are all predicting with our hearts and not with our heads. I am going to be very conservative this time and say:
Maicon Lucio Cordoba Chivu
Pandev Sneijder Eto'o
No matter how much I would like to see Chivu move over and Santon start, I think this is how Rafa will begin. I think the tinkering in the first few games was really to find his favored 15 or so players, and now things are starting to settle down. Which is good. The group needs time to adapt to what he wants and the only way to do that is play together. Still, I hope that Mariga gets some time here pretty soon because I think he could be pretty spanky if given the chance.
That certificate is still up for grabs, though, so predict away.
Cordoba, a mean, lean, calcio machine. Thanks for the 299 games and 10 years.
One more tidbit, a little fun fact if you will: if Cordoba plays tomorrow (and I am pretty sure he will), it will be his 300th game for Inter, marking over 10 years of service to the club and the shirt. He is looking forward to the game, saying:
"We hope [tomorrow will be a game of football rather than a kicking match]. We always want to play football, so we hope to find a team that wants to play football like us and make it an entertaining game. If they want to make it physical, we will be ready, but our reply will be with the ball, with the football."
That's our boy! Out there to play but ready for whatever they are dishing out. He is a true bandiera and I thank him for that: Grazie, Ivan, grazie per tutto. Now go out there and kick some Roma butt!
As always, Rafa had his press conference today. There were a couple little tidbits to glean from all the typical presser-speak. Most notably, a journalist picked up on the tension between Eto'o and Milito over the second penalty in the Bari game (I believe many of you commented on that as well). Rafa was asked point blank: Who is the penalty taker between the two players?
"All the players wanted to take that penalty and this gives me confidence, because it shows that everyone feels in condition to do so. Our penalty takers are Milito and Eto'o and who feels the most confidence between the two can take it, there is no difference for me. I am calm because we have two possibilities, but also Sneijder, for example, wanted to kick from the spot. This is not a problem, simply the next time I will decide who will take it, so there wont be any more discussions. Usually I give two names on this subject, from today I will give only one of them and it will go in alphabetical order."
So, kids, if you cant play nicely together and work it out, Rafa will work it out for you. Of course, since I am always in touch with my inner child, my first thought is which name do you use? I mean, does Eto'o go before Milito? or Diego before Samuel? And is Sneijder involved (as Rafa implied)? If we are going structured on this, then we need STRUCTURE.
As for the rest, as I said, it was almost entirely presser-speak, like:
"... to face Roma is never easy. Without doubt, for me it will be an important match for the mentality of my players but there are only three points at stake and we must not see this as a decisive game for the fate of the championship. It will be an important match, but only another game to play."
Or at least that is my translation.
And I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree. The championship is long. Very long, and we have just barely started. Saying any game is decisive at this point is absurd. Dont get me wrong - I want to win this game and certainly, three points never hurts, but win, lose, or draw, the outcome will have very little bearing on what the final outcome is in May. So everyone, breath and understand, for good or for ill, this championship is still on the line and I hope each and ever team in the Serie A fights for it.
That way, come May, when Inter finally wins by one or two points, it will be all the sweeter.
Could they be any better looking? I dont think so. Not even that teeny tiny ball makes Maicon look silly. And that is saying something.