Roma and Fiorentina close out the weekend's Serie A action with a clash at the Artemio Franchi in Firenze on Sunday evening. I chose the world clash intentionally, because, if you're anything like me, you probably have the impression that this has been a balanced matchup over the past few years. Oh, how wrong you'd be.
More than likely, your recollection of this matchup is clouded by all the sparkly names that have donned those purple shirts over the past few years. However, when you stop and think about, most of those names were perpetually injured or just simply past their prime, which might help explain Roma's absolute domination of this fixture over the past several years.
Over their past six encounters (all comps), Roma has ran the table, going a perfect six-for-six, all while embarrassing the Viola to the tune of an 11-3 score line, but will they manage lucky number seven on Sunday?
Before we look forward, we must look back.
August 30, 2014: Roma 2, Fiorentina 0
Despite Roma's recent run in this matchup, I can't imagine many of us were excited when we learned that the 2014-2015 season opened against Fiorentina. Having to incorporate several new faces into the starting lineup was always a difficult task, but when you factor in the nearly unprecedented expectations Roma faced (and are facing) this season, not to mention Vincenzo Montella's always dangerous offense, Roma's opening fixture of the season looked quite daunting.
However, thanks to strong performances from Gervinho, Miralem Pjanic, Daniele De Rossi and an otherworldly outing from Radja Nainggolan, Roma made quick work of the Viola, keeping a clean sheet and starting off the season the right foot.
I Like Pleasure Spiked With Pain
And music is my aero-plane, it's my aero-plane. Do me a favor right now, go back and listen to RHCP's ill-fated 1995 album One Hot Minute. Sure, they had to fit a Dave Navarro peg into a John Frusciante hole, but the album stands as a phase transition from the funk and thrash Chili Peppers of the late 1980s and early 1990s to the more mature and refined sound you've either come to loathe or love in the 21st century, depending on one's bond with the band to begin with.
What? Oh, right, football....
If we're talking about Fiorentina, we're talking about L'Aeroplanino, Roma's once and possibly future manager has the Viola in the thick of the European hunt once again, despite being without Mario Gomez and Giuseppe Rossi (duh) for much of the season. His goal last week notwithstanding, Fiorentina has received stellar performances from several key players who, though not quite as heralded are every bit as talented as Gomez, though few possess his diamond pulverizing jawline.
Leading the charge in purple has been want away winger Juan Cuadrado. Through 16 appearances this season, the Colombian has found the back of the net four times while dolling out four assists and completing 86% of his passes, all while averaging 2.2 key passes and 2.5 dribbles per match, making him the only man in the league to eclipse two key passes and two dribbles per match; he's dangerous with the ball at his feet is what I'm getting at.
Then there is, of course, the perpetually and still criminally underrated Borja Valero, who, once again, is among the league leaders in chances created. While he probably won't match last season's six goal, nine assist performance, you'd be hard pressed to find a more composed and effective midfielder in the league.
All told, Fiorentina boasts a +9 goal differential and are among the league's top three teams in terms of shots per match, possession and passing precision, while throwing up equally impressive defensive statistics.
How About a Win?
In case last week's controversial Coppa victory led you astray, don't forget, this team isn't in fine form at the moment, as the Giallorossi have drawn three of their past five league matches. Granted, that's not as dire as I might make it sound, but when you're-and stop me if you've if you heard this one before-chasing Juventus, you can't leave points on the table against the likes of Sassuolo and Palermo. Can't have it, won't cut it.
Fortunately for Rudi Garcia, his squad is about as fit as it's going to get at this point. Outside of longtime holdouts Federico Balzaretti and Leandro Castan, Roma is missing only Vasilis Torosidis among its non-AFCON contingent, giving Garcia some pressing decisions to make, namely, and again, uh...duh, who starts alongside Totti.
Last Time Out
Last Time Out
With the lockdown crew of Kevin Strootman, Daniele De Rossi and Rajda Nainggolan all fit and available, Garcia retains the option of pushing Pjanic further up the pitch alongside Totti; though if that proves to be the case, Garcia's formation will most likely be a 4-3-3 in name only. Then there is, of course, the always pressing concern of Mattia Destro; will he play and, if so, how much? Quite frankly, I'm sick of writing about it; just make a fucking decision already, Walt.
Let's talk about the defense, shall we? I feel like they don't get their fair share around here, which I guess is my fault, right? Has to be.
Led by Greece Lighting himself, Kostas Manolas, Rudi's backline, though not quite at their goal-snuffing apex of last season, have been quite stout. We touched upon it briefly earlier in the week, but statistically speaking, Roma are among the league's toughest defenses, much of that falling to the feet of Roma's Hellenic heroes, Kostas Manolas and the surprising Jose Cholebas/Cholevas.
Cholebas has been on quite a roll since he seized the starting left back roll from, well not from A$hley Cole, because it was his in name only, but Cholebas has since made it his own. JC has gone the full 90 in 11 of his last 13 matches, turning in 7+ match ratings in eight straight matches. In addition to his one goal and one assist, Cholebas has completed 85% of his passes and is among the league leaders (among defenders) in dribbles, while averaging 2.7 tackles and 2.3 assists per match. Put simply, he's provided much more than we ever could've expected on the left flank, and while he's not a long term solution, he's a more than serviceable stopgap solution.
With Juan Cuadrado, Borja Valero and a suddenly effective Mario Gomez, Roma will need strong performances from Manolas, Cholebas, Maicon and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa if they want to grab three points in Firenze, while the offense simply needs to string together more than a few fleeting minutes of competence.