This is it, my friends, the dreaded 12:30PM local time kickoff. At least once a year Roma rouses us North Americans from a sound winter slumber. With visions of sugar plumbs and Google Pixel 2s dancing through our heads, we’re forced to face the morning light, sacrificing some REMs for some ROMa; if that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
This year’s a.m. adversary are the Flying Donkeys from Chievo, who have been nothing if not consistent. Through 15 weeks of play, Chievo has thrown up a 5-5-5 (wins, draws, losses), good for 20 points and a spot in 11th place; it’s a quintessential Chievo line.
Chievo v. Roma: December 10th, 12:30 CET/6:30 EST. Stadio Bentegodi, Chievo.
With Inter Milan and Juventus facing off in the Derby d’Who Cares, the top of the table may experience a seismic shift this weekend, possibly opening the door for Roma to gain some ground, assuming they take three points from Sampdoria in that much ballyhooed replay.
Now that we’ve tackled the preamble, let’s take a quick look at what to...
Keep an Eye On
The First Half
Even being mired in 11th place has been somewhat of a miracle for Chievo, considering they’ve conceded 26 goals through 15 matches, Italy’s fifth worst mark. Doing a deep dig on those numbers, we find an interesting pattern. Chievo has been absolutely dreadful in the first half, conceding 14 goals through 15 matches.
Dial in a bit on that figure and one can see just how nervy Chievo gets during the opening moments of the match, scoring two and conceding three goals in the first quarter hour; not a horrid mark, but it does suggest they are susceptible in the opening minutes of a match. Shifting to the next 15 minute segment (minutes 16-30), we see another spike in scoring, with Chievo scoring four and conceding five in this quartile.
Point being, the first half hour of a Chievo match is about as wide open as it comes, with a total of 14 goals (between both teams) being scored in their 15 matches, but when we look minutes 31-45, the wheels really come off as the Flying Donkeys have been outscored 6-1!
All of this points to one thing, Chievo seldom controls any portion of the match—there’s only one 15 minute segment in which they’ve been in the black this season--and are extremely prone to conceding goals in the quarter hour before and after the half time whistle. We know all too well how demoralizing conceding goals immediately before or after the half can be, so if Roma can exploit that trend, they may be on easy street.
And just in case you were wondering, Roma has notched 15 first half goals this season. In fact, 12 of their 27 league goals have come 15 minutes before and after the half-time whistle. This has all the makings of a goal scorer’s delight.
Who Will Score Those Goals?
Or more to the point, will Eusebio Di Francesco rest any of his nominal forwards? With Diego Perotti starting on the bench last weekend, he seems a safe bet to start this match, and with Gregoire Defrel injured, Stephan El Shaarawy should remain entrenched on one of the wings, but what about Edin Dzeko?
To date, Dzeko has logged 1,241 league minutes, by far the highest mark for an outfield player and trailing Alisson for the club lead by a mere 19 minutes. And yes, much of that usage stems from simply having no other option—except to once again beg the question why not use Defrel in his natural position?—but with Patrik Schick creeping back towards full fitness, why not let the kid start this match?
Given all we just discussed, this would seem like a prime moment for Schick to earn his first Roma start, and considering Chievo’s porous defense, he might even grab his first Roma goal. Dzeko has been a man on fire over the past 18 months or so, but he’s not immune to fatigue, and with only one goal since the middle of October, we may be seeing some signs of stress on the Bosnian Batistuta.
Daniele De Rossi slapping the living daylights out of Gianluca Lapadula hasn’t yet reached the point where it’s funny, though I’m sure it will in due time, and while it could potentially cost Roma dearly in the standings, it may have opened the door for Roma’s other Frenchman, Maxime Gonalons.
To date, EDFs usage of Gonalons has been a bit odd. Through four months of play, Gonalons has played nearly as much in the Champions League (three starts) as he has in Serie A (four starts), logging more minutes against Atletico and Chelsea than he has against the likes of Genoa or SPAL for example. One would think it would be the opposite; easing him into the Champions League while using Serie A as his real transition to Roma.
Nevertheless, we’ve seen just how effective Gonalons can be in all phases of the game, including attacking the final third, but if he can carve out a regular role in Roma’s domestic affairs, it would enable EDF to rest De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman. We tend to gloss over a bit, but Roma’s midfield is ridiculously deep when you throw Lorenzo Pellegrini and Gerson into the mix with those four more experienced players, and considering how worn De Rossi and Nainggolan have been over the past few seasons, it behooves EDF to rest them whenever possible.
Well, we have to be up in 20 hours for this match, so we’ll call it a day for this preview. The table is set for a Roma victory, they just have to deliver, and dominating the first half should, if Chievo’s patterns hold true to form, ensure an easy three points.