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Europa League Preview: Nothing is a Given Against Gent

Gent may be an unfamiliar opponent, but that have more than enough punch to knock-out Roma.

SOCCER JPL D4 KAA GENT VS KV OOSTENDE Photo credit should read JASPER JACOBS/AFP via Getty Images

Okay, full disclosure time. I just deleted three fully fleshed out paragraphs detailing the similarities between Roma and Gent, focusing on how, despite not seeing each other for over a decade, they had more in common than you'd commonly think...only to find out I was looking at Genk and not Gent. Genk are mired in fifth place just like Roma and are suffering a run of poor form just like Roma.

So while my narrative was ruined, as our resident Belgian pointed out earlier this week, the ethos of each club is still shockingly similar. Unfortunately for Roma (and I guess Genk), Gent are actually riding pretty high in the Jupiler league. Through 26 rounds of play, the Buffaloes have been among the best clubs in Belgium, scoring a league-leading 52 goals while running out to a +26 goal differential. Despite that impressive form, they sit a distant nine points behind Club Brugge atop the First Division table.

Roma vs. Gent: February 20th. 21:00 CET/3:00 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.

It would have been great had my eyes not deceived me and Roma were facing a similarly struggling opponent, but thems the breaks, kid.

This will be the third all-time meeting between Roma and Gent, with the last coming in the third qualifying round of the 2009-2010 Europa League, which was the first iteration of the Europa League, having shed the UEFA Cup label once and for all.

To say Roma ran roughshod over their Belgian opponents back then would be an understatement. Over the two legs, Roma ran out 10-2 winners on aggregate, including...get this...a 7-1 victory!

I kid you not. For once, Roma were on the top end of a 7-1 scoreline. Look, I have proof:

That beautiful Belgian evening was a Francesco Totti masterclass, as the Roma captain not only netted a hat-trick but dished out two assists. A brace from Daniele De Rossi and goals from Jeremy Menez and Stefano Okaka Chuka rounded out the 7-1 victory. Look at the names in that clip: Totti, De Rossi, Menez, Motta, Pizarro, Riise, Taddei—god, I loved that squad.

Okay, enough nostalgia. What are the odds Roma can repeat that feat tomorrow evening?

Well, as we just discussed, not only are Gent the highest scoring club in the Belgian league, they're on quite the tear, winning five of their six matches in 2020 by a collective 17-7 margin. In fact, over their past six matches, Gent lead the Belgian league in wins, points, goals scored and goal differential, while allowing the second fewest goals over that stretch.

Head coach Jess Thorup has relied largely on a 4-3-1-2 formation, one that is getting most out of two players in particular: Canadian attacking midfielder Jonathan David and Ukrainian forward Roman Yaremchuck, who have teamed up for 25 goals in league play. Not far behind that duo, Thorup is getting solid returns from Laurent Depoitre and Roma Bezus, who have chipped in an additional 15 goals.

Fortunately for Roma, Yaremchuck is likely to miss this match, but Gent are in some ways the model for Roma, as strange as that might sound. Not only do Gent have a new(ish) stadium, but their faith in Thorup is paying dividends, as the club has already scored more goals than last term, and seem a safe bet to improve on their fifth place standing from last year. Showing Thorup the patience a Roma manager can only dream of, Gent have the look of a well-drilled team on the rise.

Considering everything Roma are going through at the moment—the persistent injuries, the sale of their captain, the inexperienced winter recruits, the impending takeover and the supposed rift between Fonseca and his senior players—I'm not sure we can assume anything tomorrow evening at the Olimpico.

Sure, Gent play in a lesser league, but they're wrecking shop in it and would be top of the league were it not for Club Brugge's own fine form. Furthermore, Gent breezed through Europa League group play with relative ease, scoring 11 goals in six matches while running out to an unbeaten record in Group I.

Gent may not be able to match Roma's luster, but nothing about tomorrow will be easy. The passive, and at times confused, play we've seen from Fonseca Football® over the past few weeks won't cut—Roma cannot mess around tomorrow and expect a positive result.

With aggressive and direct play through the middle, Roma might have a chance of busting Gent's 4-3-1-2, but that will require performances from the likes of Lorenzo Pellegrini and Edin Dzeko we haven't seen in weeks. Similarly, any SNAFUs from the back-line could see a Gent upset in the making.

So, while we'd love to see a repeat of the 7-1 whopper from the summer of ‘09, I'm afraid this may be a nail biter.