Adam Digby looks ahead to the topsy-turvey weekend battle between two footballing cities heading in drastically different directions...
The biggest game before the winter break. The home team narrowed the gap behind Serie A leaders Juventus to just a single point last week and will be keen to maintain pressure on the Turin giants. Milan hope to pick up where they left off after gaining momentum from victory over Napoli last Sunday.
- Genoa 0-1 Roma (Lge)
- Roma 0-2 Man City (CL)
- Roma 2-2 Sassuolo (Lge)
- Roma 4-2 Inter (Lge)
- CSKA 1-1 Roma (CL)
- Milan 2-0 Napoli (Lge)
- Genoa 1-0 Milan (Lge)
- Milan 2-0 Udinese (Lge)
- Milan 1-1 Inter (Lge)
- Sampdoria 2-2 Milan (Lge)
While the result could prove vital to the aspirations of both clubs, this fixture also provides a snapshot of Italian football's current state. Roma's sale to James Pallotta’s US-based consortium has brought foreign investment and a swift modernisation of operations to the capital, with the Giallorossi having embraced methods all too often eschewed by out-of-touch owners on the peninsula. After raising their profile and engaging supporters across the globe, Roma have moved quickly to build their own stadium in order to increase revenue streams.
The money they already have is being invested wisely – Walter Sabatini has long been considered one of Italy’s shrewdest operators in the transfer market. Making huge profit from the sales of Mehdi Benatia, Erik Lamela and others, Roma's sporting director has managed to uncover cheaper alternatives without compromising the quality available to Rudi Garcia.
The coach himself has overseen an incredible turnaround in his 18 months in charge, arriving shortly after a seventh-placed finish and defeat to bitter rivals Lazio in the 2013 Coppa Italia Final. Last season saw Roma break several club records as they set new highs for points (85), wins (26) and clean sheets (21) to further enhance Garcia's reputation as one of the most intelligent coaches on the continent.
Having lost just twice this term, Roma have once again mounted a serious challenge for the title by playing an entertaining brand of attacking football. Miralem Pjanic and Radja Nainggolan have proved a devastating combination in midfield that domestic opponents have struggled to contend with.
Their most recent win over Genoa came at some cost, however – bookings for Davide Astori and Pjanic mean they're suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards. In addition, left-back José Holebas will serve a one-match ban for directing a "provocative and insulting" gesture in the direction of home fans, and Garcia himself is set to miss two matches for allegedly slapping a steward in the aftermath of that testing encounter.
With a solid core of home-grown talent – Alessandro Florenzi the latest to follow in the footsteps of fellow Romans Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi – the Gialllorossi's approach stands in stark contrast to that of Milan. Just three years on from their last Serie A title victory, the San Siro giants are a shadow of their former selves, the squad now a collection of unwanted cast-offs and ageing stars whose best days are clearly behind them as Silvio Berlusconi struggles to come to terms with the financial realities of football in 2014.
Fernando Torres has continued the woeful form seen at Chelsea, and has been unable to secure a place in the starting XI despite the paucity of talent available to Pippo Inzaghi. The inexperienced coach, who took over from former team-mate Clarence Seedorf in the summer, has perhaps begun to lift the side, though. Last weekend’s victory saw a much-improved performance. Riccardo Montolivo’s return adds some much-needed invention to an otherwise dour midfield, and the attack looked far better as a result.
That win over Napoli saw just four Italians in the Milan line-up, though, a far cry from the days of Italy's best players donning the famous red-and-black stripes. Inzaghi faces a mammoth task to even secure a Europa League berth next season – the harsh reality brought on by years of mismanagement.
Key battle: Kostas Manolas vs Jérémy Ménez
While Roma's attacking players continually grab the headlines, Manolas has quietly become a vital component. Having arrived to fill the void left by Benatia’s acrimonious departure, the Greek defender has ensured the backline remains as solid as it was last season, and he will be needed at his best here. With Astori and Holebas suspended, Garcia will have to reshuffle, leaning heavily on the 23-year old central defender once again.
Averaging 1.6 tackles, 2.7 interceptions and 5.3 clearances per game, Manolas has shown himself to be strong in the air and intelligent on the ball, as his 91% pass completion highlights. He will face a stern test on Saturday, though, as he goes head-to-head with the in-form Ménez, fresh from a match-winning performance against Napoli.
After opening the scoring with a well-taken goal, the former Roma man continually embarrassed the Partenopei defence, and was unfortunate not to add to his 2014/15 tally of eight goals – already a career high for the 27-year-old. His displays have forced Inzaghi to leave Torres and Stephan El Shaarawy on the bench. Having netted in the recent Milan derby and with five strikes in his last five appearances, he will undoubtedly look to cause problems for the club he left three years ago.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Roma 2-0 Milan (Lge, Apr 14)
- Milan 2-2 Roma (Lge, Dec 13)
- Milan 0-0 Roma (Lge, May 13)
- Roma 4-2 Milan (Lge, Dec 12)
- Milan 2-1 Roma (Lge, Mar 12)
Aside from their respective presidents, perhaps nothing encapsulates the differences between these two clubs more than the men currently charged with leading them on the field. Roma’s Garcia is a widely-respected tactician with a wealth of experience behind him, winning Ligue Un with Lille in 2011. His penchant for attacking football, allied to an intelligent approach to the defensive side of the game, has won him many admirers since arriving in Italy.
His impact on the Giallorossi cannot be understated, having taken them over at their lowest ebb and transforming them into genuine title contenders almost immediately. While the Frenchman enjoyed a modest career as an attacking midfielder, Milan’s Inzaghi is far better known for his goalscoring exploits than his credentials on the bench. The former Italy striker has struggled since being handed control of the Rossoneri, winning just six games thus far in a difficult campaign and hampered by a continued lack of investment at the club.
GREAT GOALS RETOLD Inzaghi vs Barcelona, August 2010
Facts and figures
- Milan have won more Serie A games against Roma than they have against any other club: 71 in 158 meetings.
- Menez has 8 league goals so far this season – he managed 7 goals in three seasons at Roma from 2008-11.
- Roma have conceded 4 goals in the last 2 games at the Stadio Olimpico, as many as they had suffered in the previous 10 fixtures.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A comfortable 2-0 victory for Roma, overcoming their injury and suspension problems to head into 2015 confident of mounting a serious title challenge.
Back 2-0 at 7/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication.