AS Roma's 2-1 victory over Fiorentina on Sunday may not have been the prettiest match we've ever seen, but thanks to a deluge of shots in the second half and two coolly converted penalties from Jordan Veretout, Roma secured three crucial points in the race for Italy's direct qualification spot to next season's Europa League. With a four point gap over sixth place AC Milan, Roma should (*knocks on wood*) avoid having to play qualification matches later this summer. Of course, they can make their lives even easier by toppling the Toros tomorrow evening in Torino.
Torino vs. Roma: July 29th. 21:45 CET/3:45 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Torino
Torino have taken a mighty fall this season, dropping from 7th place and 63 points last term to 16th place and 39 points with two matches to play in the 2019-2020 season. Coincidentally enough, three of those 39 points came at Roma's expense shortly after New Year's.
January 5, 2020: Roma 0, Torino 2
There's a reason we singled him out in the headline: with five goals in 11 appearances against Roma, Andrea Belotti has made life miserable for the Giallorossi. And on this early January evening, he single handedly scored an upset at the Stadio Olimpico, scoring a sensational goal in the 45th minute and following that up with a penalty in the 86th minute.
This loss would set Roma down the darkest path of the season, a stretch in which they lost five of nine matches from early January through mid February.
Despite Torino's struggles this season, this is no easy feat and Roma need these three points, so let's take a look at the major themes of Wednesday's match.
Keep An Eye On
Andrea Belotti, Andrea Belotti and...um...Andrea Belotti
At only 26-years-old, Belotti has a lot of football left in him, but no matter what he goes on to achieve, one gets the feeling he'll never live down that magical 2016-2017 season. After scoring 26 league goals that year, Belotti became the darling of that summer's transfer market, with Urbano Cairo holding firm to an over €100 million valuation that ultimately never came.
It was a breath of fresh air to see a small club like Torino hang onto their star so fervently, but when Belotti's production cratered to 10 goals the following season, the I told ya sos were almost deafening. But, if we're being honest, both his 26 goal binge and the subsequent drought were outliers as Belotti has rebounded to become a consistent 12 to 15 goal scorer for Torino, a pattern that has continued this season.
With 16 goals and three assists, Belotti has had a hand in 44% of Torino's goals; a top three mark in the league. So, no matter how you slice it, stopping Belotti is job number one for Roma's backline. Belotti has done the bulk of his damage in the penalty area, so Roma can ill afford any lax and/or zonal marking mistakes back there.
And yes, by the way, Belotti's stellar performance this season has come in a 3-4-2-1...just sayin’.
Can Roma Take Their Time?
Unlike some of their recent opponents, Torino doesn't have any one time segment in which they particularly struggle or succeed; mostly because they're on the wrong end of the stick in virtually every 15 minute chunk. However, they have managed an even keel in the first 15 minutes, scoring six and conceding six, but after that the wheels come completely off: Torino has conceded 10 or more goals in every other 15 minute match segment.
So, if Roma sputter to begin Wednesday's match in Torino, have no fear: the goals will come. There is, however, one noteworthy exception to this rule: Torino usually get out to a hot start at home, outscoring opponents 5-1 in the first 15 minutes at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino.
We've seen Roma look sluggish in the opening 10 to 15 minutes over the past few weeks, but if they can bide their time in breaking down Torino's defense and prevent Belotti from wreaking havoc early in the match, the odds favor Roma coming out on top.
Roma's Shot Quality
In the run-up to last week's matches against Fiorentina and SPAL, we told you to keep an eye on Edin Dzeko's function within the attack. Against Inter Milan and later SPAL, Roma's center forwards (first Dzeko and then Kalinic) managed only one shot on goal, despite averaging 35 touches between those two matches.
Roma did correct that against Fiorentina, as Dzeko had seven shots while the club as a whole managed 22 shots. The problem, as you could probably guess, was the quality of those shots: none of Dzeko's were on target while the club only put 27% of their attempts on target. Do the math and you'll see that Roma under performed their xG by 0.93 against Fiorentina, pushing their season total to -2.96 xG.
It's a little late in the season to worry about longitudinal data, but Roma have to be more efficient and clinical with their shots against Torino. Haphazard shots from 30 yards out and clanging the woodwork could doom Roma tomorrow, especially when you have someone on the other side like Belotti, who is more than capable of pulling the rug from underneath Roma's feet on his own.
With two matches remaining, most of the Serie A table is settled but Roma will need all three points tomorrow to strengthen their grasp on fifth place. A failure to do so will result in Europa League qualification matches—a fate Roma must avoid at all costs.