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Can Roma Tune Out The Noise and Defeat Verona in a Critical Match?

Dzeko and Fonseca will get all the attention, but this match is really about one thing: can Roma beat Marco Silvestri at the back?

AS Roma v Spezia Calcio - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

With an almost unprecedented level of chaos enveloping the club at the moment—the bitter and semi-public war of no words between manager Paulo Fonseca and star striker Edin Dzeko—it's only fitting that Roma returns to the scene of the season's first chaotic moment: their week one “loss” to Hellas Verona. You recall that match, right? Roma played to a disappointing scoreless draw with Verona on the road, only to see that hard-fought point erased when the league discovered that Roma had inadvertently listed Amadou Diawara, who was 23-years-old, as an U-22 player.

Due to this transgression, Roma were stripped of that point and the match was officially registered as a 3-0 victory for Verona. So far, that decision hasn't made a noticeable difference to Roma's spot on the table, but an extra point would give them a bit of breathing room in the increasingly congested upper quartile of Serie A.

Roma vs. Verona: January 31st. 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.

Roma have been unsuccessful in their attempts to overturn that decision, but for posterity's sake, let's revisit the fixture from last fall.

Last Match

September 19, 2020: Verona 3, Roma 0*

There's no removing the sting of losing a vital point from a rather benign administrative error, and it was absolutely infuriating when the man ostensibly responsible for that error—which provided Roma no discernable advantage on the pitch—took a job with Verona shortly after this match. But that's life in Italian football, I suppose; not much makes sense but the world keeps churning.

Administrative deduction or not, being held to a scoreless draw against last season's 9th place club wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement for year two of Fonseca Football® But Roma rebounded the following week with a surprising 2-2 draw against nine-time defending champs Juventus before going on a 10-match unbeaten run through the end of November.

Roma have ridden that form into third place on the table while Verona are hanging tough in eighth place. This match offers Roma a chance for revenge of sorts, but make no mistake: these are three critical points regardless of the controversial background.

Off the Pitch: The Edin-Sized Elephant in The Room

Football Serie A Lazio-Roma Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

It's not all doom and gloom around Trigoria at the moment, after all the club will soon announce two new signings: the return of Stephan El Shaarawy and the signing of American full-back Bryan Reynolds, but, let's be real, that all pales in comparison to the drama of the day: Edin Dzeko vs. Paulo Fonseca.

While neither man has addressed the situation in any earnest way (at least not in public), the story persists. When asked whether or not Dzeko would suit up for this match, Fonseca responded rather promptly: “I understand you’re curious about this but it’s not something I wish to talk about now. We’ll see next week.”

That's a perfectly fine deflection from Roma's manager—one of several questions he dodged in his pre-match presser—and the question continues to persist because GM Tiago Pinto hasn't been able to find a new home for the club's third all-time leading goal scorer. There was the brief dalliance with PSG that would have seen Dzeko and Mauro Icardi trade places for six months; a rumor that was shot down minutes after it broke.

With that trade vanishing in the wind, Pinto then pivoted towards Inter Milan, entertaining the sickening notion of a Dzeko for Alexis Sanchez swap, which would have been fine a decade ago, but Sanchez is a shadow of his former self. Roma needs a lot of things but another over 30-year-old attacking midfielder isn't one of them.

With little more than 48 hours remaining in the transfer window, Dzeko is likely to remain in Rome, so this controversy shows no signs of abating any time soon and should dominate the storylines whether Roma wins this match or not.

On the Pitch: Can Roma Slip One Past Silvestri?

Bologna FC v Hellas Verona FC - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Despite the fact that Roma stole one of their best and most promising defenders (Max Kumbulla), the Mastiffs of Verona boast one of the league's best defenses. Under the watchful eye of Ivan Juric, Verona have transformed themselves into a defensive juggernaut.

Through the first half of the season, Verona have conceded only 18 goals, the joint best mark in the league alongside Juventus. When you consider they've chalked up 26 xG allowed, Verona's record looks even more impressive. Similarly, despite the fact that opponents have fired 285 shots at Verona (third-most in the league), they're averaging only 0.05 goals per shot, the lowest rate in the league. In other words, opponents have no problem taking shots against Verona, but they seldom convert them into goals.

Of course, much of that is due to the stellar play of Verona keeper Marco Silvestri, who leads the league with a 77% save rate and ranks third in goals conceded per 90 minutes. When you consider the volume of shots Verona concedes, not to mention their relatively poor tackling success (both gross numbers and success rate), Silvestri starts to look even more heroic.

All of this should make for quite an interesting matchup. On the one hand, you have a Verona defense that concedes shots at an alarming rate yet, thanks to Silvestri, doesn't leak goals. While on the other, you have a Roma side that ranks in the top five to six in total shots and goals per shot.

The headlines will likely follow the Fonseca vs Dzeko narrative, but the real story of this match is Roma's forwards vs. Silvestri. We know Roma will generate a lot of chances, but whether they can beat Silvestri or not is the obvious and essential question in this match.