West Ham Utd vs Roma: match preview

At long last, the waiting is nearly over. After three months of what has laughably been called a summer, we are just week away from a return to some proper football.

I am heartily looking forward to waving a cheery two fingers to all things that could only exist in the close season, namely Big Brother, non-football matters taking prominence on the most important page of the daily newspapers, invasion of the KUMB message board by teeny boppers, the infernal transfer rumours exaggerating player's pecuniary value and least missed of all, Saturday afternoons spent in B&Q.

One week prior to the Premiership kick off, we welcome visitors from the Eternal City, in the form of Associazione Sportiva (AS) Roma for the final pre season friendly of the season, where we kick off at the Boleyn at 3pm on Saturday afternoon.

"All right... all right... but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order... what have the Romans done for us?"
Reg - Life of Brian.

Football wise, the Giallorossa's last campaign was a case of the doing just about what was expected of them. The background to the last Italian season was very much the Calciopoli scandal which for the need to keep things short was a match fixing scandal that saw Juventus relegated to Serie B and points deductions for Fiorentina, AC Milan and others.

Roma managed to stay out of the way of any accusations and the penalties doled out to many of the usual title contenders paving the way for them to compete for Lo Scuddetto as well as upgrading their Euro campaign from the UEFA Cup to the top tier competition.

Our opponents finished as league runners up, though they were over 20 points off the top spot and never really came close to the eventual champions, Inter Milan. Success did come in the Italian Cup where they won the competition beating Inter 7-4 over two legs, the tie effectively finishing after they won the first leg by a 6-2 margin.

Their Champions League run came to a spectacular end as they were spanked 7-1 by Manchester United at Old Trafford. This was something of a shock to most people in the football know, Roma had beaten the much fancied Lyon in the previous round and had looked the better side in the first leg with United, where they should have won by a bigger margin than the 2-1 result that they achieved.

In respect of this pre-season, they have spend the last couple of weeks in Germany where a pretty much first choice line up was beaten 4-0 by Borussia Dortmund in their first game and another strong side drew 2-2 with Bayer Leverkusen last weekend. It should be noted that their domestic season does not kick off until August 26th and a lack of match sharpness told, particularly in the first game.

The club coach is the popular figure of Luciano Spalletti, who previously took minnows Udinese to Champions League qualification before Roma came calling in time for the 2005/06 season. Stepping into a chaotic background where four coaches had been in charge of the side in the previous season, he changed the playing principle to one of all out attack, which helped to break a Serie A record by notching up 11 consecutive victories.

Spalletti tends to favour a 4-2-3-1 formation with two holding midfielders and three attacking midfielders, including two wingers, all feeding into the main frontman, Francesco Totti.

It is impossible to think about Roma without Totti being the first player that springs to mind. He has attained legendary status with the club's supporters as a consequence of his world class football ability and his loyalty that has seen him turn down opportunities to move to more successful clubs. The first club to try to pry him away was AC Milan, when he was a mere youth, a deal that was vetoed by his Mama, who was determined to keep him close to her. Whether it is his devotion to the club's badge or the pull of the maternal apron, Totti has exclusively played his club football for Roma throughout his career.

Despite being given lone striker status, Totti is essentially what would be described as a number 10, a playmaker or what the Italians call a fantasista. His strengths lie in his ability to create chances and he is a highly skillful manipulator of the ball and more than capable of taking opponents on. He also has a lethal strike of a dead ball and is a free kick specialist, especially from distance (worrying when you look at the number of long rangers we have given away in pre-season). His prowess in front of goal was underlined last season where his tally of 26 gave him the European Golden Boot and this in spite of him missing six penalties.

Having had a quick ogle at the Totti on show, there are a few other players to watch for at the weekend. Defensively, the team has just sold Christian Chivu to Inter, splitting up the successful centre back partnership that he had with Frenchman, Philip Mexes. Chivu's replacement will be Brazilian centre back, Juan, who has captained his national side on occasion, including the recent final of the Copa America. Roma also picked up the highly rated Italian U21 prospect, Marco Andreolli, as part of the Chivu deal. Christian Panucci is also at the club but missed last weekend's game as a result of an injury picked up against Dortmund.

24 year old, Daniele Di Rossi should feature as part of the holding midfield duo of the side. He is a Romanista and a product of the youth team who has been identified as a long term replacement to Totti as club captain, though he has also been the subject of Spanish admiration and it seems his loyalty to the club will be tested in the long term. He is a competitive player, as shown by his dismissal for elbowing Brian McBride's boat in the World Cup finals, but he returned to the Azzurri line up and featured in the final where he scored in the penalty shoot out.

There is much flair in the attacking midfield, not least from Brazilian, Mancini. He was initially earmarked as a replacement for wingback, Cafu, but as time has gone on, his role has become more advanced, not least because of the vital and spectacular goals that he has scored at club level. It is one of modern football's mysteries as to why he has never featured for his national side, but so far even Dunga, who has selected more European based players than a Brazilian coach normally would, has overlooked Mancini. He also missed last week's game through injury so is not certain to feature against us.

The club has recently added Frenchman, Ludovic Giuly, to the staff and he made his debut last weekend. He joined from Barcelona in a ?2m deal and will bring further flair and pace to the side. In the middle of the three will be Simone Perrotta who has been with the club since 2004. It was much mentioned by commentators during the last World Cup, that Perrotta was born in Ashton-under-Lyme and it was therefore possible that he could play for England. However, given the choice of playing for the country that you had lived in since you were six years old and that has a realistic chance of World Cup glory every time or having the job of trying to cover up for the inadequacies of Frank Lampard, which would you do?

"Only one player had ever run up to the Roma end and given their fans a one-fingered salute .... I just ran and ran, straight towards the Curva Sud, where the Roma fans were sitting. The roar at my back, from Lazio's Curva Nord, was spurring me on. I ran right under the fans, finger raised, face contorted in a mixture of ecstasy, relief and fury."
Paolo describes the low key celebration of his first Derby del Cupolone goal. Paolo di Canio - The Autobiography.

I will make an attempt to predict the outcome of this one, but the result is clearly not most important factor of the afternoon. This final pre-season friendly will be the one that gives us the greatest clues about what Curbs intends to do by way of a line up on the opening day. The most interesting choices are to be made at centre back, where I am guessing that Anton being the quickest will be one of the starters alongside our ?6 million number six, Matty Upson.

The other Matty is the subject of the other main question, Etherington or Boa Morte on the left as both have made positive contributions in the other pre-seasons. There are also decisions to be made over who will keep Scott Parker's place warm in the middle, Noble should start but who partners him is open to discussion.

No doubt, match fitness will still be being sought in all areas and as many opportunities to integrate newbies Freddie Ljungberg and Craig Bellamy with the rest of the squad will be welcomed.

One point to mention regarding Ljungberg is that I've not seen my missus as enthusiastic about a West Ham player since Di Canio's soap advert a few years back. The combination of Totti on one side and Ljungberg on the other has meant that she has already had the digital camera charged up last weekend ahead of this game. I personally long for the days when players looked like players as the Iain Dowies and Tony Adams of this world never gave me cause to get down the gym, let alone moisturise.

Score-wise, these games often end in a draw, followed by a fairly pointless penalty shoot out. I'll go for 2-2, with us coming second on penalties and I'll put forward Anton to miss the decisive one.

Enjoy the game.

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