Roma and Fiorentina close out a full slate of Saturday Serie A matches, as the league takes a collective break for Easter Sunday. I don't know, apparently there are a lot of Catholics in Italy or something, but the battle in Firenze is undoubtedly the highlight of the ten matches occurring tomorrow. The natural headline here, one which we seized upon, is the number of former Romans in Vincenzo Montella's side, which, over the past several meetings, hasn't really amounted to much of anything, in terms of animosity or actual goals, but it is intriguing nonetheless.
Despite that familiarity, or perhaps because of it, Roma has won five of their past six matchups against the boys from Toscana, including four straight dating back to 2012, the most recent of which was won by none other than Mattia Destro, how fitting.
December 8, 2013: Roma 2, Fiorentina 1
On this particular day, Adem Ljajic would turn in the best performance of anyone fortunate enough to live and work in both Rome and Florence, creating two scoring chances and threatening Neto's net on several occasions, but it would be Maicon and Destro who would ultimately win the day.
In the seventh minute, Maicon would both facilitate and finish his own scoring chance, giving Roma an extremely early lead. Big Doug sent out a looping right-to-left cross to Gervinho that, after a series of dribbles and a quick layoff to Alessandro Florenzi, eventually found its way back to Maicon, who, by that point was in prime scoring position. After giving it a second look, Maicon's goal required quite a bit of intricate work between the three men in a rather tight space.
Juan Vargas would get on the end of an inadvertent cross from Nenad Tomovic in the 29th minute to level affairs. If memory serves, we remarked upon Tomovic's fantastic run in our initial review of the match, but he covered an awful lot of ground, evaded a sliding Ljajic, towed the endline, and played a decent enough ball that, although it required a deflection to get there, found Vargas virtually unmarked.
Destro would put away the match winner in the 67th minute, earning a patented shirt stripping yellow in the process. We touched upon this one in our analysis of the Gervinho-Destro tandem, but let's also give credit to Ljajic for starting this scoring sequence in the first place.
For Roma, it was their first win after four consecutive draws, and it was a dramatic one at that.
Takin' Care of Business
Roma and Fiorentina--and this has little to do with their frequent partner swapping--are shockingly similar teams in somewhat similar circumstances.
Let's start on the pitch, that's why we're here, after all. Apart from their gross goal statistics, the numbers are pretty similar, have a look. (Numbers are per match, where applicable)
And if that weren't eery enough, Fiorentina concedes at least one goal in 81% of their home matches, while Roma scores at least one goal in, that's right, 81% of their road matches. Of course, where the rubber meets the road, goal differential and victories, Roma comes out on top by a large margin. While each club has seven draws, Roma has only dropped two matches all season, compared to Fiorentina's nine losses. If you're looking for a culprit, look no further than each club's respective performance in one goal matches, where Roma has dropped only one match to the Viola's eight. As any businessman will tell you, it's the margins that matter.
In terms of actual balls going into nets, Roma's +49 differential makes the Viola's relatively respectable +19 look downright amateurish. There's really no comparison here, Roma has been the superior side when we narrow it down to the numbers that truly count. When Giuseppe Rossi suffered yet another injury, Montella's offense suffered a subsequent turn for the worse, falling from 1.88 goals per match down to 1.46 in his absence.
So there's your good news. Roma not only avoids Mario Gomez again, but they face the Viola without the recovering Rossi, who still accounts for 25% of their league goals despite missing the past three and a half months. Putting the cherry on top of this offensive inequity, Roma will have Alessandro Florenzi and Miralem Pjanic in the fold, each returning from suspension.
The yin to the yang, the up to down, the strike to the gutter is, of course, Roma's own bad luck. Mehdi Benatia is sidelined once again with continuing hamstring injuries, while Mattia Destro's three match suspension was upheld, placing him in the stands once more. Two big losses with which Rudi Garcia must deal for the next three weeks, at least.
The Fiorentina Files
The Fiorentina Files
On the table, the similarities between these sides also persist. Roma, sitting eight points behind Juventus, still harbors the slightest of Scudetto hopes, while Fiorentina's nine point deficit to Napoli puts a Champions League qualification spot just within their grasp, however slight the hope might be.
Each side is also fending off the advances of clubs looking for European glory next year, as Roma must maintain their eight point lead over Napoli to ensure an automatic birth into the Champions League, while the Viola must keep Parma at bay; Antonio Cassano & Co (although, now that I think about it, if you went into business with Cassano, you'd probably want an LLC to cover your own ass) are seven points behind, desperately chasing Fiorentina's Europa League spot.
See? Similar in style and circumstance. With that in mind, lets...
Keep An Eye On
The Brazilian Backline
Last week, Garcia surprised many of us by rolling out four Brazilians in defense; a prospect that would've caused mass heart attacks a generation ago, but it must be said, the quartet of Maicon, Rafael Toloi, Leandro Castan and Dodo were spectacular against Atalanta last week, accounting for eight tackles, 15 interceptions, 24 clearances, and three key passes.
Although they have the fortune of facing Fiorentina without the perpetually injured duo of Rossi and Mario Gomez, Roma's Brazilian backline will have to contend with Juan Cuadrado and Alessandro Matri, both of whom scored in the Viola's 5-3 romp over Verona last week. Cuadrado is in particularly fine form, scoring in consecutive matches, while also turning in match ratings of 8+ in three of his past five contests.
We pulled this matchup out in our first preview, but as Valero is Fiorentina's top playmaker, it's only natural that DDR is task with destroying him, Sarah Connor style. In an unfortunate twist of fate, Valero was born during an era in which Spain produces world class midfielders on the reg, leaving him with one solitary international cap, which is really a shame because he is one of Serie A's best playmakers.
Through 27 appearances, Valero has 67 key pass and eight assists, which ranks second and third in the league, respectively. Some statistical outlets separate these two categories, but either way, he is, judging by the numbers, one of the top play makers in Italy, and in the top 20 across the five major European leagues. Pretty impressive stuff, it's just too bad he's Spanish and that his birth coincided with one of the greatest generations of players the world has ever seen. Que sera, sera, indeed.
Valero creates in advanced positions and on either flank, so De Rossi will be the first line of defense and will be charged with keeping him away from Cuadrado, an area in which De Rossi should receive assistance from Radja Nainggolan.
Adem's Viola Vendetta
Roma rescued Ljajic from an increasingly caustic situation over the summer, forking over €11m to Fiorentina for the Serb's services, who were ready, willing and able to dispatch a player with whom they had grown tired. While his Roman relationship has been all smiles and handshakes, Ljajic has frequently found himself the odd man out in Garcia's forward rotation.
Nevertheless, with six goals and four assists through 24 appearances, Ljajic's performance has been pretty respectable anyway. However, when we view his numbers through the per 90 minute metric, his true measure is appreciated. Ljajic's 0.41 goals per 90 minutes are behind only Destro's absurd 1.09 and Francesco Totti's 0.48. His 3.12 shots per 90 is second only to Totti, while his 1.49 key passes per 90 minutes and 2.24 dribbles per 90 minutes are both fourth on the club.
In his first foray against Fiorentina, as we mentioned, Ljajic was instrumental in Roma's 2-1 victory, pulling off three shots, creating two scoring chances, completing 93% of his passes and even chipping in two tackles. It wasn't his best performance in a Roma shirt, but it was a harbinger of things to come, good things.
The point being, Ljajic is an exceptionally talented player, one whom Roma must find a proper role for, lest they be on the end of their own vendetta next season.
Easing Into Easter
As we head into the holiday weekend, depending on one's religious affiliations, of course, Roma has two battles to fight. First and foremost, they must contend with a Fiorentina side that has scored 11 goals in their past four victories (they've won four of their past six in total), the key to which is slowing down two extremely hot players, Valero and Cuadrado, each of whom scored last week.
Second is the matter of second. As in, order to enjoy the financial spoils of the Champions League next season, Roma must secure second place on the league table once and for all. All of this must occur with two of their best players on the sideline for three more weeks, at least.
It won't be easy, but the next five weeks are essential to the future well-being of this club.