While we started the week off discussing a Roman tandem that was never afforded an opportunity to take off, Francesco Totti and Antonio Cassano, today we highlight what is becoming one of Serie A's most productive duos, Mattia Destro and Gervinho.
When we talked about Gervinho this summer, we mostly focused on chances; those he created for himself, and those he squandered. However, what we've witnessed through his first 27 appearances in a Roma shirt has been a rebirth of the player who burst on to the scene at Lille, where he tallied 28 goals and 14 assists over two seasons in Ligue 1. With seven goals and nine assists thus far, Gervinho might crack the double-double once more.
While he doesn't make the correct decision all of the time, often times careening headlong into four defenders, his nine assists this season equals what he managed in two years of league play at Arsenal. So, credit him for this much; the same skills he uses to create for himself--speed and dribbling--often benefits his teammates, none more so than Destro.
Gervinho has assisted on four of Mattia Destro's ten goals this season, making them the second most productive duo in Serie A this season, behind only Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fernando Llorente of Juventus. This is no small feat when you consider Destro didn't suit up until December, either.
Given that late start, any comparison between Destro and the remainder of the league's leading scorers is bound to come up short. That is, until, we look at it through the lens of per ninety minute statistics. In that sense, Destro is averaging 0.91 goals per 90 minutes, which actually makes him the league's most prolific scorer, besting Giuseppe Rossi by one one-hundredth of a point.
Granted, it remains to be seen if he can maintain that phenomenal pace over the course of a season, but it is impressive nonetheless and it speaks to Destro's nose for the goal. We've discussed it in these spaces before, but the key to Destro's success is spacing and off the ball movement; he knows when, where, and how to move in order to score (and I ain't talking about corner flags here).
To wit, Destro averages 2.93 shots in the penalty area per 90 minutes, the third highest rate among forwards with at least 15 appearances.
This graphic speaks to just that, notice how narrowly confined Destro's goals have been, with eight of ten coming within the span of the goalposts. This is emblematic of Destro's efficiency, not only in terms of converting shots into goals, which he does at an astounding 33% rate, but of movement. He is exceptionally skilled at exploiting space off the ball, shadowing or countering the movements of his teammates, anticipating when and where to make a break; simply put, he knows where to be and how to get there. Additionally, when he has to take the initiative, you won't catch him taking low percentage shots from deep or the periphery.
For Gervinho's part, his nine assists are tied for the league lead with Francesco Totti and Alessio Cerci. When we narrow that number down to per 90 minutes, his 0.36 assists/90m is third in the league, behind Robinho and well behind Totti, whose 0.65 assists/90m and 3.18 key passes/90m both lead the league. The lesson, as always, no matter how you slice it, Totti remains one of the league's best players.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand; the as of yet unnamed duo of Destro and Gervinho. The beauty of this tandem is the manner in which Destro mirrors Gervinho's movement, ebbing and flowing with Ivorian, pushing and pulling the opponent's defensive line, waiting for the perfect moment to take advantage of the newly created space.
I'm sure we all had visions of how this season would go, but did any of us expect this tandem to develop as successfully as it has, if at all?
So, feast your eyes upon the (insert clever nickname here) duo.
December 8th, 2013 vs Fiorentina
The first, and perhaps finest, exhibition of this duo came against The Viola. This goal had everything you'd expect: speed, shirt stripping, beards, and the best Curva chant of the year. The key to this one was Destro's patience, biding his time as Gervhino worked his way past the defender, slipping into the space and scoring while Manuel Pasqual tugged at his shirt
February 16th, 2014 vs Sampdoria
This goal, which put Roma up 3-0 over Samp, featured many of the same characteristics as the previous example; speed, timing and moving in tandem. The loveliest bit of this one was Destro's work at the end; turning and settling the ball with his left foot, opening up his hips, and burying it topshelf with his right foot. Of course, had Gervinho led him a bit further, this wouldn't have been necessary, but it was a beautiful bit of technique from Mr. Right.
March 17th, 2014 vs Udinese
While the real progenitor of this goal was Totti's ludicrously perfect long ball to Gervinho, let's give credit where credit is due. The Ivorian cut in, hesitated just enough, and led Destro at just the right moment to create this chance. The merits of Mattia on this one, beyond the pure amount of hustle required to keep pace with Gervinho, rest within the agility and balance he showed at the end, skirting around the splayed out keeper to score this goal.
March 25th, 2014 vs Torino
This goal (start at 38 seconds), was a thing of beauty for both men. Gervinho picked up the ball on the left and immediately exploited the space in the Torino defense, driving diagonally towards the goal, splitting several defenders in the process, slipping it through to Destro just as the centerbacks were about to close in on him. For Destro, it was simply a matter of staying onsides, but notice how, as Gervinho begins to cut in wards, he moves ever so slightly in the opposite direction, leaving just enough space for Gervinho to drop it off.
While the history between these two is minute, they have made the most of it; Destro's positioning and movement in space is the perfect complement to Gervinho's dribbling and speed, as he can slip into any space left in Gervinho's wake.
They've got speed, they've got flair, now all they need is a nickname...