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Roma v Fiorentina Preview

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Here it is. We've been telling you for weeks that May will be brutal for Roma and her first test features several familiar foes. Fiorentina plays host to Roma in this week 35 encounter, in which Roma can close the gap on the 4th place Viola.

Paolo Bruno

In last week's preview we talked about the number five, this week's magic number is four. The match is against fourth place Fiorentina, last week Roma scored four goals and temporarily secured a European spot, so you'd be forgiven (see what I did there?) if you thought all was well, but don't forget (there it is again, clever, right?) Udinese and Inter are hot on Roma's heels.

While last week's victory provided some solace to our beleaguered Roman souls, the season is far from over, so take it easy, champ, maybe sit the next couple plays out. We've been saying it for weeks, but May's gauntlet does Roma no favors, closing out with matches against Milan, Napoli and Lazio. However, taking three points this week could possibly, potentially, maybe put Roma back in the Champions League discussion.

Before we plot how Roma will unseat the Dortmunds and Munichs of the world next season, let's face the task at hand: an incredibly well rounded and formidable Fiorentina squad.

Last Match:

What was touted as a Roma reunion, with the likes of Vincenzo Montella, Luca Toni, David Pizarro and Alberto Aquilani returning to the Olimpico to face their former squad, wasn't so joyous for Fiorentina.

Roma won 4-2, with goals from Francesco Totti, two in fact, Leandro Castan and Pablo Osvaldo...but all you need to remember about this match was this:

I mean, come on...that's not even fair--nearly 30 yards out, a perfectly placed knuckle ball into the top corner.

Years from now, when we marvel at what Totti accomplished in the latter stages of his career, this will be the match to remember. Like we said in the review, Francesco Totti was flawless against Fiorentina.

Saturday's Match:

Just know this, Fiorentina is good. They come into this match with a +23 differential, third best in the league. Coincidentally, they're also third best in possession and passing percentage, all while conceding the second fewest shots in the league. Entering Saturday's match, the Viola trail Milan, one point adrift of Champions League qualification...Vincenzo has done a fine job, hasn't he?

When you talk about Fiorentina, the first and last words muttered usually rhyme with ‘Stevan Jovetic', but we talked about enough about him yesterday. He's young, he's agile and he's dangerous, though he hasn't scored in nearly a month, so...fingers crossed. But would you be surprised if I told you the Viola have gotten a combined 14 goals from Luca Toni and Alberto Aquilani? You shouldn't be, because it is (remarkably) true.

Toni's seven league goals is particularly surprising when you consider he's only had 10 Serie A goals since his return to the peninsula in 2009-2010 for Roma, for whom he scored five goals, but Toni hasn't played since the end of March. Nevertheless, getting that level of offensive contribution from Toni, a player seemingly forgotten, has certainly contributed to Fiorentina's success this season. Bringing it back to yesterday's discussion of striker efficiency, Toni's conversion rate is 17%, putting him in the upper echelon of goal scoring efficiency, though his sample size is fairly small.

As for Aquilani, his seven goals are even more remarkable. As you may remember, Roma were able to swindle Liverpool to the tune of €20m for Alberto's services, resulting in a one year leave of absence from the Italian game. Aquilani's seven goals in 2012-2013 is more than he scored in his previous three seasons in Serie A, during which he played for Milan, Juventus and Roma. But Aquilani was never meant to be a goal scorer, but you get the point, Fiorentina appears to have captured lightning in the bottle with Alberto-he has six assists to boot.

To further beat the ‘former Roma players playing exceedingly well for Fiorentina' drum, David Pizarro is, by some measures, a top 20 player this term. Pek ranks among the league's top 20 in key passes, dribbles, total passes, long balls and through balls...whats that you say? Roma needs a regista? Oddly enough, Pizarro has also racked up 13 yellow cards, third most in the league and more than he's drawn the past three years combined...thug life.

Aside from the former Romans, Fiorentina has been getting fantastic performances from Juan Cuadrado (five goals, five assists), Gonzalo Rodriguez (five goals, two assists, ninety one interceptions-top three league wide) and Borja Valero (10 assists). Fiorentina is deep, there's no doubt about it. But when you look at the unexpected scoring output from Toni and Aquilani, you kind of understand why they might want Osvaldo.

So what of Roma?

Well, the late week training sessions seemed to point towards a return of the 4-2-3-1, which would only be the second such occurrence. Despite all the column space dedicated to Destro yesterday, you can't argue with the hot hand, so don't be shocked if Osvaldo gets the starting nod-after all, you gotta show the Fiorentina the goods before they bite. Indeed, the latest news seems to point in this direction.

Taking a look at the squad list, we see the return of both the singular and plural form of Marquinho(s), as well as fellow Brazilian, Dodo. Though, obviously, Marquinhos will probably be the only one of that trio to make the starting XI.

So while we'll most likely see the usual combinations of Erik Lamela, Francesco Totti, Pablo Osvaldo, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Florenzi and so and so forth, the biggest omission of note from this week's squad list is that of Maarten Stekelenburg. In the absence of the Dutchman, expect to see none other than the Mancat himself, Bogdan Lobont. Lobont sort of got lost in the shuffle this year, seemingly forgotten during the Goicoechea experiment, but last week we were all reminded of why we love the Mancat. Lobont faced 17 shots, 11 on target, and managed a clean sheet, putting the cherry on top of the 4-0 drubbing of Siena. It seems increasingly likely that Stekelenburg has played his last minutes for Roma; a tenure best described thusly...'meh'.

Really the only point of controversy I could envision in the buildup to this match would simply be the Destro v Osvaldo debate, provided AA only deploys one forward this week. Beyond that, Stek is the only absence from the squad list this week-so Andreazzoli should have the full roster at his disposal throughout this brutal final month of the season. Although there will still be the debates about the proper formation and midfield composition, there really are no excuses anymore; everyone is fit and the aim is clear-Europe or bust.

Speaking of which, even the most nascent of Roma fans probably realizes by now how this team plays with your emotions. Allow your imagination to run wild, think of all the blown leads early this season, the dropping of five points to two of the league's worst, the coaching changes, the lineup confusions, the pasta restrictions, now imagine that Roma wins tomorrow and somehow Milan drops points to Torino, Roma would be, at worst, five points out of a CL spot with third place Milan on the docket next Sunday.

It's a crazy team we've chosen to follow, but, if nothing else, they keep it interesting.

Stay tuned, May could be magnificent.