After a disappointing run of matches in the month of September, Roma has turned things around in a major way. Since the calendar flipped over to October, the Giallorossi have scored seven goals in league play, led by Miralem Pjanic's continued brilliance on set pieces and Gervinho's latest resurgence. The dark side to this silver lining is, of course, the level of Roma's opponents in these matches. Palermo and Carpi have allowed a combined 31 goals so far this season, so it shouldn't have been that surprising that Roma ran roughshod over them.
This week's opponent is cut from an entirely different cloth. Although their lead has slipped over the past few weeks, Fiorentina still maintains a one point lead over Roma and Inter for the Serie A lead, and have allowed all of six goals this season. While they probably won't win the title this season (my guess), the Viola are far and away the best domestic opponent Roma has come up against thus far and certainly won't spare Roma any quarter at the Artemio Franchi on Sunday.
Fiorentina: A Familiar Foe
If it feels like you've had your fill of Fiorentina over the past year or so, there's a good reason. Between league, cup and European play least season, Roma and Fiorentina squared off five times, with Roma emerging victorious only once. All told, the Viola outscored Roma 7-4 across those five matches, including a 3-0 shellacking in the second leg of March's Europa League fixture.
But that was last year, and a lot has changed for both clubs. Mohamed Salah jilted Firenze for life in the Eternal City, while Vincenzo Montella was shown his walking papers after three relatively successful seasons in which he won over 50% of his matches.
The most famous jawline in Italy was replaced by Portuguese tactician Paulo Sousa, who has turned the Viola into one of the league's most balanced sides. With 15 goals forced against only 6 surrendered, Fiorentina is simultaneously one of the league's most potent and least porous sides.
Led by Nikola Kalinic and Josip Illicic, whom Roma fans know all too well, Fiorentina is playing an incredibly successful and efficient form of possession football, falling in the top three in possession and shots on target, while converting 14% of their shots into goals, level with Roma and a touch above the league's other top scoring clubs.
Naturally, it remains to be seen if this efficiency is sustainable, but the boys in purple seem to have responded well to Sousa, and we all remember what wonders new managers can work, don't we?
Roma: Keep Going to Gervinho?
We mentioned it briefly in the buildup to the Bayer Leverkusen disaster, but Gervinho is scorching hot at the moment, amassing four goals and two assists over his past five matches in all competitions, a stretch in which he has played each and every minute. Given their track record together, there is very little evidence to suggest Gervinho is coming out of Garcia's lineup anytime soon. However, as we also mentioned last week, you gotta ride Gervinho when he's hot (no innuendo intended) because, well, because he's a streaky player and we're in bull market at the moment.
While The Predator is a lock to play, there remains much ambiguity around Edin Dzeko's status. After several weeks on the sideline, Dzeko made a somewhat controversial appearance in Roma's disastrous second half in the Bay Arena last week. Dzeko's presence changes everything for Roma, both positively and negatively. While the benefits are obvious, the drawbacks aren't nearly as lucid.
Part of what has enabled Gervinho to flourish lately is, quite honestly, a lack of other responsibilities. With no target man to ping crosses towards or hold up play, Gervinho has had no choice but to unleash the beast; to run headlong towards the end line with no regard for linkup play. He was the prime mover, and as we saw, it's a role he's played quite well in October.
The problem, from a tactical and practical standpoint, is simply that Dzeko is too talented to be a mere decoy for Gervinho's dribbling desires, so the run of play will necessarily slow down and become more central. That's not to say The Predator can't benefit from Dzeko's presence, but it puts Garcia in an awkward position—ride the hot hand, or go with the sure thing; two phenomenon that may be incompatible at the moment.
The backline is such a mess, it's hardly worth discussing. With Antonio Rüdiger looking out of his element, we can expect (or at least hope) that Leandro Castan will return to the starting XI for only the third time this season.
That's about the long and short of it for this week. Given Juventus' struggles this season, we can safely say that this is the biggest match of Roma's Serie A slate thus far, and on the road no less. With the Viola's stout defensive record, we'll finally see how much of Roma's October offensive explosion has been the real article or an aberration.