Vincenzo Montella returns to the Olimpico once again, this time bringing along fellow Roma alumni David Pizarro, Alberto Aquilani and Luca Toni, along with a healthy dose of regret, begrudging respect, and even a shred of resentment.
Respect for the coach he is becoming, as fearless as he is effective. Regret for the reunion left incomplete, and resentment for the success that might have been ours.
There's also the simple fact that he has, through some strange alchemy, turned those bygone Giallorossi into once again effective footballers.
But, don't let your nostalgia get the best of you, Roma fan. Zednek Zeman's boys are cresting, as they always seem to, just as the calendar turns anew. Over their past three, Roma are 3-0 and have outscored their admittedly meager opponents 6-1, garnering nine relatively easy but absolutely essential points.
Saturday's task, however, is a bit harder.
Roma and Fiorentina, separated by three points, have been remarkably similar through the season's first 15 matches, except for goals allowed, of course. Both sides are averaging a little more than two goals per game, while Roma rips off 18 shots per game to Fiorentina's 16, they're each booked an average of three times per match and commit 14 fouls per contest, they each average 56% possession...you get the idea.
Despite the seven goals between them, Toni and Aquilani aren't the Viola you should fear, but rather the pair of young men from Montenegro, Stevan Jovetic and Stefan Savic. Jovetic, seemingly always the subject of transfer rumors, has lived up to his usual high billing, banging home six goals and, to borrow a basketball term, dropping three dimes (assists, for the uninitiated), to go along with his 2.8 dribbles per game, by any account Jovetic is a top five player, possessing a wide array of incredibly expensive skills. Of course, he hasn't played in several weeks, but you get the point.
Savic has also been in fine form lately, scoring two goals, completing 88% of his passes, and averaging an absurd 11 clearances per game over his past seven matches. Put that all together and you have an extremely active and extremely talented young defender, one of many in Serie A.
David Pizarro has been turning in his usual prolific passing performances, averaging 10.5 accurate long balls per game and hitting on 87% of his passes overall. However, following the death of his sister, his status for the game is uncertain; Pizarro served Roma well for many years, so join me in wishing him the best.
Fiorentina are an incredibly strong and balanced team, ranking top five in goals forced and goals allowed. This will be no easy task, so how will Roma vanquish the Viola?
Well, besides sweeping through the latter third of November with nine points in tow, Roma saw two of their most enigmatic players, Mattia Destro and Miralem Pjanic, round into form. The duo have accounted for six goals in the club's last five matches and have generally been more active and integral to the Roman attack, while playing both in and out of position and filming Disney promos.
The problem, and I suppose it's a good one to have, is with the impending return of Daniele De Rossi and Pablo Osvaldo, how will Zeman manage his squad rotation? Does he play the hot hand and give the lion's share to Destro and Pjanic, or do DDR and PDO, collectively known as the Acronym Brothers, return to their customary roles?
Pardon me for beating an extremely dead horse, but Zeman's management of the midfield is undoubtedly the season's top story. With an opponent the caliber of Fiorentina, not to mention matches against Milan, Napoli and Inter in the near future, some measure of consistency and cohesion will be needed if Roma are to make an assault on the top three.
Zeman will also have to solve the goalkeeper debate. While Mauro Goicoechea has kept a clean sheet in two of the last three matches, Roma's opponents during this stretch aren't exactly rewriting the book on attacking football, which should pave the way for Maarten Stekelenburg to reclaim his job. Mauro will surely have his day, however.
The defense, while not the subject of rotational debate will have its hands full with the Viola's mesmerizing midfield. Fortunately, the foursome of Federico Balzaretti, Leandro Castan, Marquinhos and Ivan Piris have, by and large, seen their performances steadily increase over the past month or so, Balzaretti in particular, who is starting to look like the player we thought we signed over the summer.
Both Roman fullbacks have been integral to the Giallorossi's ground attack, distributing both the short and long ball, as well as crosses, with both frequency and accuracy. Beyond Balzaretti's mini-resurgence, Piris appears to have put past him any sort of early season jitters, looking as quick and offensively equipped as advertised, and nowhere near as lost defensively as he was in the season's early days. As for the central pairing, Castan has been as solid as advertised, and as far as Marquinhos in concerned, well you know the drill, he's a Man-Child.
This quartet will need muster all their agility and strength to deal with Jovetic's all-around game (should he suit up), Toni's size and positioning, and the play making of Borja Valero and Adem Ljajic, first and third in the league in assists, respectively.
Even without Jovetic, the Viola attack has been a sight to behold. Fiorentina's 3-5-2 feasts on the short passing game and dynamic movement of their midfield, and is equally adept at scoring from open play and from the spot, while attacking both flanks with verve.
Fiorentina doesn't fuck around, that's for sure.
Maybe it's because of their shared Romanosity, or because they both exist in the ‘not quite Juve, not quite Catania' strata of Serie A, but the similarities between these two squads should make for an epic match.
Trigoria Training Notes:
As of this posting, no official squad list has been published yet, but word on the streets is that both Erik Lamela and Maarten Stekelenburg have been participating in training, while PDO left Thursday's sessions with a slight foot problem.
Updates when available.
- Lamela and Stek are in the squad list
- Jovetic has not trained all week for Fiorentina