I have learned quite a bit in my eighteen months or so here at CdT. Like, for instance, I can finally conceptualize what a Euro is worth. Spare me the "oh, but gauging the value of a currency based on the salaries of what are essentially entertainers is foolish" Duly noted, but not the point. I finally know what this thing, €, is and how many zeros you have to put behind it to essentially buy a human being.
Aside from my dramatically enhanced knowledge of international currency, the greatest benefit to doing what I do here has undoubtedly been my increased retention of Serie A trivia. This, as you might have guessed, is tremendously useful in my real life.
One of my favorite anecdotes, one to which I was completely ignorant, is the origin of Roma's next opponents strange nickname. Chievo Verona, the gialloblu, are lovingly known as the Flying Donkeys, even if unofficially. As it turns out, this delightful moniker wasn't born of ancient myth like Roma's, or even representative of the club or Chievo itself. No, this nickname, one they now wear with pride, was hoisted upon them by their city rivals, Hellas Verona; as in, "when donkeys'll fly, we'll have a derby in Serie A." This was, of course, during the days when Hellas was atop the Verona footballing ladder, staring down at lowly Chievo.
Clever, I know. I can't even imagine how that scenario would have unfolded in Roma.
This season, that alias has been in name only, as the Flying Donkeys aren't exactly soaring up the table. Chievo, despite being dead last in Serie A, have managed to hang in the top flight for the past five years. And, as Sam pointed out on Monday, there are certain teams in Italy that, although the prospect of facing them isn't exactly panic inducing, produce a healthy amount of doubt nonetheless.
When we glance at the recent history of this matchup, that doubt starts to become damn near debilitating, as this matchup of first versus last has been shockingly even the past few seasons. How even, you ask? Two wins, two losses, two draws. Of course, Chievo escaped last season unscathed, defeating both Zeman and Andreazzoli's respective crews 1-0.
The old Roma, again, in case you'd forgotten, played down to their competition.
But this is the new Roma. And this Roma is in the midst of a three-matches-in-seven-days span.
So, for the sake of brevity, here is a somewhat diluted look at this All Hallows' Eve matchup.
There is no way to sugarcoat it, Chievo is bad. Twentieth place bad.
- 42% possession...dead last
- 4 goals from open play...third worst
- 22 fouls conceded...third most
- 4 unprofessional fouls (which is rather ambiguous, but whatever)....most
- 7 goals scored...second fewest
Chievo is struggling at the moment, that much is clear. They can't score, can't defend, they don't hold the ball, and they don't move it particularly well. Even one of their bright spots last season, the play of Cyril Théréau, has suffered. The Frenchman, who scored 11 league goals last season while dishing out four assists, has only landed on the scorer's ledger once this season. Every club has their own talisman, and for much of last season, he was Chievo's. Are his struggles solely attributable to those of the club at large? No, of course not, but when an already dull knife loses its edge, what's left?
Still, he's got experience and a good blend of skills...he'd make a perfect Roma reserve, wouldn't he?
Dreary statistics aside, there are still a couple donkeys who've managed to take flight this season.
At 23-years young, Alberto Paloschi may be on his fourth professional stop, but Chievo's co-ownership of the Milan product is starting to bear fruit. With 14 goals in just under 60 appearances for Chievo Verona, Paloschi has always shown a nose for goal, but he's added a touch of playmaking this season, leading the club in assists and key passes. Taken together with Théréau (despite his slow start), Chievo has a relatively dynamic scoring tandem.
The problem is, they can't hold the ball for very long, nor are they particular adept at passing it. So, no matter how much potential that duo may have, they can't do it alone. Simply put, Chievo's offense has been stifled from the jump. Of course, when you can't hold or move the ball, your defense necessarily becomes overexposed. Fortunately for Chievo, they have at least one man capable of slowing opponents down, Boukary Drame, whose 3.4 tackles per match are tied for 12th in the league.
That's about it. They're not good. At anything.
Chievo has only taken 14.8% of the possible points through nine matches. With their city rivals sitting in sixth, Chievo might start to hear that familiar refrain once more.
Roma: Seeing Red
While there have been some early week rumblings about the return of Gervinho, chances are he'll join Francesco Totti and Mattia Destro on the injured list. I suppose you could also add Maicon to that list, if you consider his suspension an injury to his emotions.
The point being, in addition to dealing with those already missing, there is the potential of losing several more key players to suspension. Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Florenzi, Leandro Castan and Mehdi Benatia--all sitting on three yellow cards, one away from suspension--will be walking on collective eggshells Thursday.
But beyond risking the ire of the referees, Garcia must contend with mounting fatigue. Putting aside the quality of the upcoming opponents--Torino, Sassuolo, Cagliari, and Atalanta--before December's matchup with Fiorentina, the schedule the next few weeks is pretty compact. While that's true for any team, the core of this club has logged some heavy minutes through the first nine weeks.
De Rossi, Castan and Benatia have played in all 810 minutes this season. Those three represent the defensive spine of this club, each having played in every single minute, and each on the precipice of a suspension. Sooner or later something's gotta give, be it simple exhaustion or a dirty glance at Bergonzi. With little more than Nicolas Burdisso behind them, whatever rest Garcia gives to his center pairing must be doled out wisely.
Moving past the defense, the lack of depth looks a bit less worrisome, but Miralem Pjanic and Kevin Strootman--no less important to Roma's defensive performance, I might add--have each appeared in at least 85% of Roma's minutes. With Michael Bradley's triumphant return on Sunday, the load on the midfield should ease somewhat, but the supreme concentration of minutes among Roma's starting XI is something to keep an eye on as the season progresses through the doldrums of winter.
I'm honestly running out of things to say here. I mean, seriously, Roma is going for ten in a row! How does one even do that justice?
At some point, the merry go round will stop and Roma will no longer be undefeated, but will it happen over the next month? Common sense and good reason suggest that Roma is vastly superior to her next five opponents. But common sense can't account for complacency, fatigue or the subtle subjectivity of Serie A referees.
These are the obstacles which Rudi Garcia must traverse before the schedule takes a tougher turn towards the end of 2013.
With a forgettable side on the docket tomorrow, and the minutes for some incredibly important players mounting, each of these factors will be front and center on Thursday.