When these two sides last met, Roma was quite rightly looking past Chievo at their looming Champions League encounter with Bayern Munich. After stealing a point at the City of Manchester Stadium, Roma fans entered a shared dream state, one in which our beloved Giallorossi would upset the best club in the world to grab control of Group E, and we'd be damned if we let the small matter of a domestic match against Chievo stand in the way. Well, you no doubt remember how that played out; Roma rolled over Chievo and looked primed to upset or at least severely stall the German giants, only to fall flat on their face in a humiliating 7-1 loss.
I mention this only to highlight our contrasting mind sets between October and now. Back in the fall, we were flush with optimism, Roma could topple mountains and the world was our oyster. Now, well, now we're simply hoping to hang onto second place.
Standing in the way of that earth bound dream are the Flying Donkeys of Chievo, so let's take a look at what a pain in the ass these guys will be...see what I did there?
*For our American readers, daylight savings kicks in Sunday, so take note of the match time*
October 18, 2014: Roma 3, Chievo 0
Rudi Garcia ran out an experimental frontline this afternoon, flanking Francesco Totti with Mattia Destro on the left (yes, he actually started!) and Adem Ljajic to the right. And hey, wouldn't you know it, it actually worked quite well. Roma's three forwards put 64% of their 11 shots on target and scored all three of Roma's goals on the afternoon, with Totti throwing in an additional three chances created.
Destro got the party started in only the fourth minute with a ducking, diving, header that glanced past the Chievo keeper to give Roma an extremely early lead. From that point on, it was pretty much a laugher, as Roma ran out to a 3-0 lead after only 33 minutes, but you'll want to pay special attention Ljajic's 25th minute goal, one which was set up by Totti's perfectly weighted...oh...75 yard chipped pass. When the dark day comes, these are things I'll miss most about Totti; not the goals or the swagger, but the seemingly benign moments of genius; the chips, the lobs, the through balls and the switches of play--the subtle ways in which he controls and changes matches.
A Down Year for The Donkeys
Chievo are about as decidedly a middle class football team as you'll ever find; they seldom aspire to great heights, usually landing in the 10-15 range on the table, but not this season. Through 25 weeks of play, Chievo are barely treading water above the relegation zone, sitting a mere five points above the drop, and the problem is simple; they can't score. The Donkeys only have 18 goals through 25 matches, or a mere three more than Carlos Tevez has on his own. They are, in many respects, Serie A's least dangerous side. Chievo's 11.7 shots per match and 217 chances created are both 15th in the league, while their possession and passing is dead last. In the parlance of our times, they suck.
Their defense hasn't been quite as pitiful, though--30 goals conceded, 10th in the league--which, given their discernible lack of offense, is probably the only thing keeping them from being completed grounded because, as we mentioned, they are so woebegone at attacking football.
Roma: Thin at the Back
Although Jose Cholebas has made the cut for tomorrow's match, Roma will still be without the services of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Maicon and Vasilis Torosidis, putting Garcia in an awkward position. With no real fullbacks to speak of, and with Cholebas doubtful to see the pitch anyway, Garcia might have to rely on 90 minutes of Alessandro Florenzi and Ashley Cole on the wings, with Kostas Manolas and Davide Astori doing the heavy lifting in between them, with no one other than the newly acquired Nicolas Spolli covering them on the bench. So I suppose it's a good thing they're facing a side as offensively inept as Chievo, but we all know how that can sometimes go.
But the injuries and exclusions aren't confined to the backline. With Totti in dire need of rest, speculation surrounding a (right-to-left) frontline of Juan Iturbe, Adem Ljajic and Gervinho is mounting. A strange lineup, sure, but one that would put Ljajic's playmaking on center stage. Nutella has been a bit up and down the past three weeks or so, but Roma's 23-year-old Serbian has two goals in his last five appearances, including the opening salvo in Roma's victory over Feyenoord, which was only the clubs fourth win in 2015, in case you'd forgotten.
While the midfield will feature the usual amalgam of Daniele De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan, Miralem Pjanic and Seydou Keita, the only other squad news of note is the return of Roma's other Seydou, Seydou Doumbia. Doumbia's Roma career is all of 109 minutes old, but you can't help but feel that he's already doomed for failure, or at the very least, mediocrity. With many (including me) already damning his career and simple presence on the squad, this just seems like one of those Adriano-type deals; no matter how he's utilized or how he actually performs, this move seems destined for disaster. I hope I'm wrong, and it's obviously not fair to judge a player so soon, but doesn't Doumbia just seem like a guy who will be sold for pennies on the dollar a year from now?
Defeating The Donkeys
It doesn't take a master statistician to prove what's wrong with Chievo, your eyes can tell the tale; they're simply an uninspired side, one lacking direction and a simple philosophy. Chievo can't pass, they can't hold the ball, they're not particularly adept at creating chances and they can't score the ball; easy, peezy, right?
Not so fast...
This is exactly the sort of side that's been known to give Roma fits simply by parking the bus and letting them run up against the proverbial wall. Can't you already picture Gervinho and Iturbe dancing on the periphery, waiting for someone to cut through the middle of the Chievo defense, only to be dispossessed when no one can find the seams, with Garcia's only solution being an 80th minute desperation sub of the aforementioned Doumbia?
On paper, Roma should once again roll right over Chievo, but the Donkeys are in a fight for their very life, one where every point is at a premium. So Cheivo will scratch, they will claw, and they will fight; they'll do whatever they have to do to even wring even one point out of this match, because that might be all that prevents them from banishment to Serie B.
Can Roma handle that? Do they have the willpower to get the garbage goal that might ultimately win this match?