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Round 26 (26!) - All Caught Up and No Place to Go?

Even the once-mighty and invincible Conte is not immune to Mirko Vucinic's soul-sucking, dream-crushing, succubus antics.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Even the once-mighty and invincible Conte is not immune to Mirko Vucinic's soul-sucking, dream-crushing, succubus antics. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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And so, we are finally prepared to catch up with the rest of Serie A, with the opportunity to jointly reclaim the top spot in the league. I sit and prepare to write the preview for this makeup with Super Tuesday footage quietly murmuring in the background, and think about the various ongoing levels of mental masturbation -- oddly finding it similar to the current situation with the team.

Just a month ago, we were legitimate Scudetto contenders. Today we've seemingly got nothing left in the tank, lucky to finish in the top-three. It's easy to get depressed with the recent turn of events. After the past two seasons which featured long periods of depressing results, particularly in the second half, it's become easy -- nay, safer and more realistic to think negatively. But that is ignoring that this season is indeed truly different. If back in August, anyone reading this blog right now were offered the position that the team is in now -- three points behind Milan, with one game in hand, about to play the 26th game of the season, and in second place with the opportunity to take first when the fixtures become even -- would anyone have not taken it?

Seriously. Would you not have? I guarantee nobody would.

I certainly would've signed up for this.

When this week Conte declared that the team were "performing miracles," it was easy to put up the white flag. But all things considered he is right. Simply look at the talent level on display just over a week ago at the San Siro. Milan's attack boasts the likes of Robinho, Ibrahimovic, Cassano, El Shawaary, etc. (I'm not talking about who was playing/available), and ours was led by...this guy.

Hey, since I'm looking at the glass as half-full, at least he hasn't had the chance to take his pants off much this season.

The big difference, of course, is that although we've three wins less Milan, we've still not tasted a single defeat in any competition. Last year many of these "disappointing draws" would have been "heartbreaking losses" and, let us remind ourselves, one point is mathematically superior to zero. Consider that last season we ended five points out of the Europa League, and merely eight out of a Champions League spot, with a total of ten losses and, well you do the math. European qualification wasn't so far off as it seemed for the reasonably nonobjective fans which most of us are.

And, of course, a big reason for this is Conte. Despite the fact that we're now at the point where his selections may be causing us some frustration.

Avanti -- yet again to Bologna, who has been playing very well as of late.

Bad news first: Oh yea, remember that whole thing about the frustrating draws which merely one year ago would have been crippling losses that I was writing about? That's due largely to the fact that we have the best defense in the league. Namely, solid center backs, in Giorgio Chiellini and the resurgent Andrea Barzagli, who has been partying like it's 2005. Well, they're both out injured. The former for approximately ten days and the latter more like twenty. Uh ooohhhhh...

Good news: I've already looked on the bright side enough today. I don't wanna jinx the damn thing!!!

Le chiavi: It has to be the match-up between the centerbacks and Gaston Ramirez on the inside. With ChiellAgli unavailable, the centerback pairing will undoubtedly be Leonardo "The Claudio Marchisio of Defense" Bonucci (hint - because he can do no right) and Martin Caceres, backed up by our own Prince -- no wait, not that one, this one. Of course, they'll be flanked by Stephan Lichtsteiner and Paolo DeCeglie. Paolino has been solid since he's been back in the lineup where he belongs, and Licht is Licht. And by that I mean Swiss, consistent, and precise. Just like a watch. Or a tiny little knife that can do no wrong. Booyah.

Boner, meanwhile, had two of them in the past two games -- although I tend to agree with Ivo. Admittedly, I wanted to strangle him with a bicycle lock after his errant pass versus Milan, but the goal against Chievo wasn't exactly his fault. Had he not been in position that ball was in the net anyway, and it looked like a difficult shot to knock away considering the angle. Then again, that's why I'm on the couch and he's on the pitch.

Anyway, it's redemption time for Boner. He needs to put a solid performance out there, step up, and be a vocal leader like we've seen him able to do so in the past. As for Martin, his speed could prove vital in the center of the pitch against Bologna's central attack. Or it could end badly. Some (like Wikipedia) still insist that he's a centerback first, although I don't see it. Still, I hope this school of thought is correct -- for one day at least -- as I think his skill set make him far better suited to the outside. (Editor's note: by "his skill set," I mean "our team needs").

My starting XI: (4-2-3-1) Buffon; Pirlo, Marchisio; Elia, Vidal, Pepe; Matri.

I went with a 4-2-3-1, since Conte has used it before effectively as a modified 4-3-3, or even a strangeish 4-1-4-1 -- whatever you wish to call it, I want that combination of grit, power, and creativity on the pitch at one time. Period. I'd even take Krasic.

And I also went with not using my own personal nicknames for the players assuming everyone else out there reading this understands my own inside jokes and borderline-psychotic sense of humor/personality disorder(s).

Juve probable XI: Who cares? It's a foregone conclusion anyway. Vucinic will slime his way in there somehow anyway. Elia will be nowhere to be found.

Bologna starting XI: Look it up yourself on TMW or something. I'm out.