Fortunately for Roma, the schedule makers didn’t give them much time to drown their sorrows. After suffering a bitter 1-0 loss to Juventus over the weekend, the Giallorossi jump right back into the fray tomorrow when they welcome the Flying Donkeys from Chievo to the Olimpico. Chievo aren’t the sexiest opponent in the league, but they have a penchant for sticking around, so Roma would be wise to take this threat seriously.
Amid semi-veiled threats from Luciano Spalletti that he’ll resign after the season barring some sort of trophy, Roma must somehow recoup from Saturday’s heartbreaker to not only defeat Chievo, but to wallop them into submission. There is no room for no doubts and no time for equivocation, Roma must throttle Chievo tomorrow.
Roma v. Chievo: December 22, 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
With that in mind, let’s take an extremely terse look at Chievo.
Chievo: Average As Always
Despite that subheading and our rather dull description of the club, Chievo has won three of their past five matches, and has taken ten points over that same span. Led by Valter Birsa (who?) and the 37-year-old Serge Pellissier, the Donkeys have managed 18 goals, good for 15th in the league, while their defense, anchored by the 37-year-old Dario Dainelli and the 35-year-old Alessandro Gamberini, has allowed 17 goals, giving Chievo the narrowest of positive goal differentials.
So, even by their own modest standards, this is a decidedly dull Chievo side. Gone are bald headed heroics of Michael Bradley and the French shenanigans of Cyril Thereau, replaced by a hodge podge of thirty-somethings. Of the 21 men to suit up for Chievo, 14 have been over the age of 30, and of those, six are aged 35 and over. Clearly Chievo opted for the cheap, experienced vet route of roster building. But, hey, 10th place is 10th place, so you do you, Chievo.
If there is one thing this club does exceedingly well, however, it’s set pieces, as nearly 28% of their goals have come either corner or free kicks. Not a brilliant tactical analysis, I’ll give you that, but it’s something to look out for, right?
Bottom line, Chievo aren’t really up to Roma’s level, but they damn sure are the type of team who can gut out a scoreless or 1-1 draw.
So how, then, will Roma counter that threat?
A Christmas Miracle
It may have been lost on you during the Juventus match, but both Bruno Peres and Mohamed Salah, each of whom was or was supposed to be sidelined for nearly a month with ankle injuries, made second half appearances against the Old Lady. And while neither of them played exceedingly well, their mere presence on the pitch was a minor miracle.
Which begs the question, will they play tomorrow against Chievo, or were their spot appearances against Juve matters of desperation? With Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan each listed as doubtful for this match, it’s really anyone’s guess. Between them, we’re arguably talking about Roma’s four most important players, so if any combo of them is absent, then we’re looking at a dramatic change of tactics or a Juan Iturbe sighting.
Whatever the case may be, the backline seems to be rounding into form, with Antonio Rüdiger, Federico Fazio, Kostas Manolas and Emerson growing in familiarity week-by-week. However, with Manolas also doubtful for tomorrow, chances are that will force Peres back into the right back spot, with Rüdiger and Fazio teaming up in the middle.
While that’s all well and good, we have more pressing matters to attend to—Roma’s suddenly stagnant offense. After reeling off nine goals in three matches (Plzen, Pescara and Lazio), Dzeko and the boys have had trouble finding the back of the net, mustering up only two goals in their last three matches (Giurgiu, Milan and Juventus). Granted, the level of competition is a factor, but something in Spalletti’s symphony seems amiss.
Gone is the lovely combination play between Dzeko, Salah and Perotti, instead replaced by desperate long ball after desperate long ball. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the league has them figured out, one has to wonder if fatigue isn’t a factor here. Considering how electric the trident of Perotti, Salah and Stephan El Shaarawy was last spring, it might be worth revisiting; if those three can conjure up some of that magic, it might give Roma a much needed shot in the arm, not to mention giving Spalletti another ace up his sleeve.
If the past has taught us anything, it’s not to assume victories against midtable teams (or bottom dwellers for that matter), so Roma has to make like Juventus; put your opponents back on their heels in the first 15 minutes, grab a goal and collect three points.
No fancy tricks, no mucking about, just get a couple goals and go the hell on Christmas break. That’s the only gift we want.