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Roma vs Fiorentina Preview

I can't lie, my North American friends, you're going to have to wake up early for this one. Roma welcomes Fiorentina to the Olimpico for an early Sunday fixture, looking to buck a trend of four straight draws.

Ryan Pierse

Roma's run of four straight draws against what were ostensibly inferior opponents may have blinded you to this fact, but the Giallorossi are still undefeated, an honor they share with only Bayern Munich across Europe's five major leagues. While their performance over the past month has been pretty blasé, give them credit for gutting it out last week against Atalanta to escape with one point.

Yes, that's how far they've fallen. Top three, folks, that's the aim.

Roma v.Fiorentina:December 7 12:30 CET, 06:30 EST Stadio Olimpico Roma, Italia

With only a three point cushion over third place Napoli and fifth place Fiorentina coming to town, Roma's grip on that aim looks mighty tenuous. So let's remember fonder times...

I usually hold off on the flashbacks until the second time through the fixture list, but this is what happened in last year's version of this fixture, and it was fucking sweet.

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Not Francesco's best goal, and I have no idea what Emiliano Viviano was doing right there, but Totti turned in a magnificent performance that December evening. This was just the first of three victories over The Viola last season, as they swept both league fixtures and knocked Fiorentina out of the Coppa Italia thanks to a 97th minute goal from Mattia Destro, remember him?

You know the story with Fiorentina, part Roma retirement home, part Roma rejuvenation ground; though, with only David Pizarro and Alberto Aquilani on the squad this year, the Roma reunion should be a little less poignant this time around.

While Roma effectively kept Fiorentina pinned to the mat last season, with three wins in their past four matches, they are the hotter team at the moment and feature a few new faces who are adapting to life in Firenze quite well.

Rollin' The Dice

When you're a club with modest means and fantastic dreams, in order to succeed, sometimes you have to gamble on reclamation projects, and with the summer signings of Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez, Fiorentina did just that.

The Gomez gamble, if we can call it that, wasn't the riskiest venture ever undertaken by a football club; after all, he was only 28 and had just put in a remarkable two year stretch at Bayern. When you consider the hellacious tear he was on the previous two seasons--77 goals for club and country--the drop off in 2012-2013 was quite stark, as he managed only 13 goals across all competitions. Not a horrible total at all, but half of what he scored in the Bundesliga alone the prior year. Gomez wasn't completely gone, but his glory days were beginning to look like an aberration.

Unfortunately for Fiorentina, Gomez has been sidelined since September, but his first three matches in Serie A were quite promising, but we all know who the real story here is...Giuseppe Rossi.

Although he made a token league appearance last season, you have to go all the way back to 2010 to witness Rossi's last stretch of significant minutes. With a series of knee injuries plaguing him, Rossi essentially lost two full seasons while at Villarreal, making him a gamble in every sense of the word, one we even advocated Roma take last winter. Unfortunately, Daniele Prade beat Roma to the punch, and his gamble has looked quite calculated thus far.

With 12 goals through 14 matches, Rossi has a comfortable lead in this year's capocannoniere race. Sure, five of them were penalties, but take those away and he'd still be second in Serie A. Moreover, Rossi has been deadly accurate, placing over 60% of his shots on target, which is no small feat when you consider he's averaging 3.3 shots per game.

However, when you peel back a few layers on his statistics, Rossi looks remarkably one dimensional, his impressive goal total notwithstanding. For starters, he's not terribly involved in the Viola attack. At only 22.1 passes per match, Rossi ranks dead last among Fiorentina players who've made over 10 appearances, ditto for his 83.2% passing.

But this is really only a criticism in the minute sense; he's never been held up to same level as more dynamic players like Francesco Totti or Marek Hamsik, Rossi's job is to get central and head for the goalmouth, which he's done exceedingly well this season, as nearly 60% of his goals from the run of play came from inside the area. However, given that he's accounted for 43% of his club's goals, it's kind of surprising how little he's involved in Fiorentina's broader offensive aims.

If we're to break things down even further and look at his actual goals, the key to stopping Rossi becomes evident. Rossi, as we mentioned, has scored seven goals from the run of play so far, and of those, five came from right-of-center, while he's only scored one goal with what is his essentially useless right foot. So the mission is clear, pin him to sidelines, don't let him cut inside and keep the ball off his left foot. Easier said than done, of course, particularly when he's attacking down Dodo's side of the pitch, but keep an eye on Kevin Strootman; in this instance, The Dutch Jesuus must be denier of salvation.

For Roma, the song remains much the same as it has the past month; Totti is gone, the fullback play is faltering and the goals have all but disappeared. So, let's dispense with the semantics and take a look at a few keys to this extremely early match for those of us in North America.

Keep An Eye On

Borja Valero v Daniele De Rossi
  • While Rossi gets all the acclaim, Fiorentina's Spanish midfielder may just be their best player. Valero's four goals rank second only to Rossi, while he paces the club in assists, key passes, total passes, and passing percentage (among those with more than 10 appearances); he does all the heavy lifting that leads to Rossi's scoring chances. With the return of Alberto Aquilani, Vincenzo Montella is free to push Valero forward into a more attacking/creating role, and with Strootman having his hands full with Giuseppe Rossi, the onus will be on DDR to cut the tether between Fiorentina's attacking tandem.
Fiorentina Falling Behind
  • The Viola enter this match at 8-3-3 and sporting a +10 differential, so they're clearly one of the better sides in the league, but they've risen to those heights thanks in part to their ability to persevere when falling behind. Although they've only conceded first in 5-of-14 matches, they've come back to win twice, averaging 1.40 points when conceding the first goal, placing them behind only Juventus and Roma. So, for a club as starved for goals as Roma has been lately, scoring first won't guarantee much.
Adem's Viola Vendetta
  • Coming to Fiorentina at only 19-years old, Ljajic was beginning to carve out a career for himself in Tuscany, scoring 16 goals across three seasons. However, for a variety of reasons, ranging from Delio Rossi's reverse Latrell Sprewell, to Adem's alleged affection for Nutella, he was unceremoniously dumped near deadline day this summer...well, that is if you consider an €11m sale a dumping. Point being, Ljajic, along with Stevan Jovetic, looked very much like the future of Fiorentina, but here he is, fighting for a place at his new club while attempting to restore his besmirched reputation. While the past month, with its lack of goals and any direct attacking threat, has been rough on Roman eyes, the moment Ljajic steps on the pitch, the tenor of the match changes in an instant. With the dual motivation of staking his own claim at Roma and proving Fiorentina wrong, Ljajic should have ample motivation Sunday afternoon.

Roma close out the calendar year with fixtures against Milan and Catania, neither of whom they've had tremendous success against recently, so there may not be many easy points left to ease their way out of this month long malaise. This week, the work starts early.

It's Roma, y'all. Welcome back to reality.

Update: Totti is in the squad list