Yesterday marked one month since Roma returned to action following a three-month layoff due to the ongoing Cornavirus pandemic. With nine matches played in that 30 day span, we've been treated to the full Giallorossi gamut: gutty come from behind victories, a three match losing streak, a three match winning streak, a late collapse and, just a few days ago, a complete and utter shellacking of SPAL. In between all those matches, we've been hit with a deluge of transfer rumors, more stadium delays, a Fonseca-Zaniolo “feud", an ultimatum of sorts from Roma's would-be owner Dan Friekdin, two new signings for the women's team and the official reveal of Roma's new home shirt. In a word, it's been a whirlwind.
Given the sheer pace of those updates, it can be hard to find your bearings. Is this the way Roma should have been playing all along? Is this just a temporary course correction following their three match losing streak? How can they carry this form into next season? And for that matter, when does next season begin? It could be next Wednesday or three months from now, who knows? Time is warped right now.
But before we vex ourselves with those questions, there is the small matter of tomorrow's match against 11th place Fiorentina; Roma's final home match of the season. The Viola have troubled Roma for the past 18 months or so, but the Giallorossi got the best of the Viola last time out.
December 20, 2019: Fiorentina 1, Roma 4
Prior to this match, Fiorentina had been giving Roma fits, outscoring the capital club 14 to 9 over their previous five encounters. Of course, the Viola scored half of those 14 goals in one match; the 7-1 Coppa Italia embarrassment from January of 2019. With first half goals from Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov, Roma quickly put those demons to bed, walking away 4-1 winners on this frigid Firenze evening.
It's safe to say that both clubs have failed to live up to expectations this season, but let's take a look at Roma's path to victory tomorrow.
Keep An Eye On
The First 15 Minutes
Fiorentina rank 15th in goals scored through 35 rounds of play, but there is one area in which they've excelled this season: scoring early goals. The gross totals won't bowl you over, but the Viola have scored five goals in the first 15 minutes of matches this season, playing to a +3 goal differential in the first quarter hour; one of only six clubs to do so. For their part, Roma have conceded seven goals in the first quarter hour, the league's third-worst mark.
Oddly enough, Roma (10 times) and Fiorentina (nine times) are among the most susceptible sides at conceding first, with both clubs falling among the top four in that micro category.
Clearly something has to give on Sunday, and grabbing the first goal could be the key to victory.
Stopping the Summer Sensations
Fiorentina haven't suffered the same wild swings of form as Roma during the restart, but they've endured their fair share of frustration, dropping points to Cagliari, Brescia and Verona over the past month.
Despite those inconsistencies, the Viola have benefited from the summer resurgences of Franck Ribery, Federico Chiesa and, perhaps most surprisingly, Patrick Cutrone. While Ribery and Chiesa have teamed up for a goal and three assists during the restart, Cutrone has been scorching hot, scoring four goals and providing one assist during his last six matches. Even more impressive, he's managed all that while coming off the bench during four of those matches.
Chiesa is class as always while the three-month layoff seems to have done Ribery's 37-year-old legs a world of good, and even if Roma can contain them through three-fourths of the match, they still have to keep an eye on Cutrone coming off the bench—lord knows he's victimized Roma before.
Get Dzeko Involved
In the run up to Roma's midweek fixture against SPAL, we covered Edin Dzeko's role in Roma's attack against Inter, or lack thereof. In that disappointing 2-2 draw, Dzeko, for only the third time this season, didn't manage a single shot on goal.
While Dzeko didn't get the start against 20th place SPAL, Nikola Kalinic didn't really fare much better on the stat sheet in Roma's 6-1 rout. Kalinic's goal stemmed from his sense of awareness and effort on a loose ball in the box, but he was otherwise similarly disconnected from Roma's attack in Ferrara—taking only 38 touches and managing one shot.
To put it simpler: in their past two matches, Roma's center-forwards have had one shot on goal. That lack of punch up top didn't matter against lowly SPAL, but something tells me that won't cut it against Fiorentina.
It's hard to believe it, but we're nearing the end of perhaps the strangest season of football we've ever seen. Roma will spend the final two rounds of the season on the road—against both Torino-based teams actually—so this will be our last look at the Olimpico for quite a while, but at least the club will look good in their new kits.
Roma should be favored in this one, and if they hit on all three of those issues, three points should quickly follow.