Despite their three-nil trouncing of Chelsea in the Champions League midweek, it might surprise you to know that Roma and Fiorentina each enter this week 12 fixture in identical domestic form. Both the Giallorossi and La Viola have three of their past four league matches, though EDFs side has won three on the trot while Stefano Pioli’s men saw their three game streak come to a screeching halt when the lost to Crotone of all sides last weekend.
With Roma, Juventus and Napoli all their usual selves, and with the Milan sides rising back to prominence, Fiorentina was always going to have a tough time competing for one of Italy’s European spots, but falling to Crotone and sliding down to seventh place in the process is still a bit of gut check moment for our friends in purple.
Roma, meanwhile, are in a bit of an odd plane of existence. Still riding high from their unexpected Champions League success, they remain very much mired in fifth place, four points behind their city rivals, third place Lazio, and seven points behind league leading Napoli. While no one will complain about 24 points from ten matches, one gets the feeling that assumption is running rampant through the streets of Rome, as if Sampdoria will simply capitulate during that rescheduled match, paving the way for Roma to rejoin the top three.
Point being, Roma is in fine form but cannot afford to be complacent against anyone. A stirring, clean-sheet victory over Chelsea doesn’t automatically equate a victory over Fiorentina, especially not on the road, so Roma will underestimate them at their own peril.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the current state of each side.
Fiorentina: Faring Well Without Federico
When the Viola sold their prized pig, Federico Bernardeschi, to Juventus over the summer, it seemed like they were closing up shop for the season. Not only was Bernardeschi the face of the franchise and their best player, he was a local boy to boot; not an easy sale for the Viola faithful to swallow I’m sure.
Rather than wallowing in a pit of despair, Fiorentina has assembled a patchwork squad in his absence, splitting the goal scoring onus between Cyril Thereau, Giovanni Simeone and Marco Benassi, while the other Federico, Chiesa, is blossoming into one of the best young Italians in the game.
Does Fiorentina have enough firepower to upset the top five in Serie A? Probably not, but they have more than enough to make life uncomfortable for any of Italy’s heavyweights. Pioli’s balanced 4-2-3-1 has put those four names to good use, as Fiorentina’s 19 goals forced is good for sixth in the league, while their defense, anchored by Davide Astori of all people, has held firm, conceding 13 goals, good for seventh in the league.
In sum, Fiorentina has played according to their table position. Between Thereau, Benassi and Simeone they can grab a goal against anyone, while their defense bends just enough to not completely break, but this is a team Roma can, should and must defeat tomorrow.
Roma: We’re Getting There
The big pre-match news this week is the return of Emerson Palmieri to the matchday squad. Palmieri, you may remember, was felled by Roma’s ACL curse on the final day of the 2016-2017 season, forced to watch Francesco Totti’s “retirement” ceremony from crutches. Well, here we are some five months later and The Karate Kid is back! While I wouldn’t expect Palmieri to play this weekend, his return is the latest sign of the Roma we all thought we’d have over the summer coming to fruition.
And while it remains to be seen how Eusebio Di Francesco rotates between Palmieri and Aleksandar Kolarov, throwing Palmieri into the mix with Patrik Schick and the recently returned Kostas Manolas means it’s almost all hands on deck for Roma.
Additions and returns are nice and all, but the past several weeks have shown EDF tip his hand somewhat with respect to his squad selection. The triumvirate of Edin Dzeko, Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy seems etched in stone at this moment, as EDF has found a way to fuse these three men into one mammoth attacking machine. Dzeko provides the muscle and finishing, El Shaarawy the speed and panache while Perotti brings the playmaking and creativity. Full marks to EDF for figuring out this concoction as it enables him to get his three most talented forwards on the pitch at once.
Meanwhile, the back four has finally congealed into an amorphous blob capable of absorbing nearly anything the opposition throws at it. Only in this instance, the injuries have actually helped solidify EDFs defense, as the minutes doled out to Juan Jesus in Manolas’ absence has enabled the Brazilian to build on the success he experienced last season, giving the club a failsafe in case of further injury. However, when it's business time, Manolas, Florenzi, Kolarov and Federico Fazio are EDFs closers.
That leaves us with the midfield, the only spot of contention among EDFs eleven weekly selections. Radja Nainggolan is a no brainer, that’s been long known, but the two men flanking him have ranged from Daniele De Rossi to Gerson to Kevin Strootman to Lorenzo Pellegrini to Maxime Gonalons, with each option providing slightly different wrinkles.
At this point, it seems like Pellegrini is the change of pace player, brought on when Roma needs an injection of attacking athleticism, while Gerson’s exact role remains a bit of a mystery, garnering significant minutes versus Chelsea and Napoli one minute, while remaining firmly planted on the bench against Bologna the next.
That all leads us to the elephant in the room, De Rossi. DDR was solid to stellar in a three match run against Torino, Bologna and Chelsea, but looked a shell of his former self in several matches prior to that, leading to calls for Gonalons to usurp his starting spot in total. While we won’t rehash the whole argument, I think it’s proof of one thing—DDR is still effective in spurts, but at 34-years-old and with thousands of miles on his legs, he needs more frequent rest, and Gonalons has proven, albeit in short bursts, to be an effective DDR replicant.
In a pre-match press conference, Di Francesco spoke about the always precarious balance between confidence and arrogance:
We do need to work together more. The enthusiasm we felt after the 3-0 victory over Chelsea gives us great belief in what we’re doing, but mustn’t lead to a lack of concentration or even arrogance. I tried to transmit that message to the lads and I’m convinced they will have the same determination with Fiorentina as they did Chelsea.
While I was quick to dismiss EDF earlier in the season, he has proved a master of two things: keeping his players fresh and getting them to buy into his system, two traits that work in concert. By including the likes of Pellegrini, Under, Gerson and Jesus into his regular rotation, and by buoying the confidence of Perotti and El Shaarawy in the process, EDF has managed to simultaneously keep his players fresh while creating a more inclusive environment, one which, in turn, increases the collective level of confidence.
EDF is making believers of us all, I just hope I don’t miss the match on Sunday thanks to the always confusing switch back to standard time.
Set those clocks back tonight, my fellow Americans—you don’t want to miss this one.