Just a few weeks ago on Across the Romaverse, we discussed just how favorable Roma’s February league schedule looked: Empoli (H), Lecce (A), Verona (H), Cremonese (A). A stretch in which we felt Roma should take at least 10 points, if not the full dozen. Unfortunately, that is no longer an option after last week’s hard-fought draw at Lecce. However, that trip to the heel of the Italian peninsula was always going to be the toughest of the bunch.
So, with four points against Empoli and Lecce, the Giallorossi return home after a tough mid-week loss in Salzburg in the first leg of their Europa League knock-round playoff. It’ll be interesting to see how José Mourinho’s side bounces back after consecutive negative results.
AS Roma vs. Hellas Verona: February 19th. 20:45 CET/14:45 EST. Stadio Olimpico, Rome
And while in theory, relegation zone Verona should be an easy conquest at the Olimpico, the Giallorossi would be unwise to count their chickens before they hatch, and here’s why...
October 31, 2022: Verona 1, Roma 3
Don’t let the scoreline deceive you. Roma was in a dogfight with the Mastiffs throughout this Halloween match that almost turned into a fright fest in the city of Romeo and Juliet. After seeing Tammy Abraham hit the post early and then miss with a header, Pavel Dawidowicz put the home side up 1-0 just 26 minutes in. But just as Dawidowicz giveth for Verona, he also tooketh away, and rather quickly.
The big Polish defender came in with a nasty tackle on Nicoló Zaniolo in the 36th minute that saw him see red. With the numerical advantage, Roma was able to level the score just before half through Zaniolo.
However, things didn't get easier for Roma in the second half as the Mastiffs fought tooth and nail like the dogs they are, nearly holding out for the draw. In the end, though, it was one of the youngest Roma pups that emerged as the hero as Cristian Volpato put Roma up in the 88th minute before setting up Stephan El Shaarawy four minutes later. It was a crucial victory during a busy stretch for the Giallorossi, but not one that came easily.
Keep An Eye On
Hellas On a High
At the World Cup break, it looked like Hellas Verona was destined to be relegated at season’s end to Serie B. Verona sat bottom of the table with just five points through fifteen matches. However, since the start of 2023, it’s been a completely different story in the northeast of Italy.
Verona took advantage of the extended break to push the restart button—firing Salvatore Bocchetti and hiring Marco Zaffaroni. And despite limited top-division managerial experience, the 54-year-old Zaffaroni has been just what the doctor ordered. In seven matches since the start of the calendar year, Verona has 12 points (3W-3D-1L), more than tripling their total in half the matches. That record, the seventh-best record in the league over that time, has moved Verona just two points off struggling Spezia and salvation.
Couple that good form with Roma’s historical record against the Mastiffs, and this could be another tough fight at the Olimpico. Last season, Verona took four points off Roma, including a 2-2 draw in Rome. In fact, of the sides that Roma has faced a minimum of 19 times, only Bari (15%) has lost a lower percentage of matches to Roma than Verona (17%). On the contrary, though, Roma hasn’t lost at home to Verona in 25 matches (19W-6D). Let’s hope Roma can make it 20/26 at the Olimpico in this one.
When Paulo Dybala is on the pitch, Roma is a better side; there's no doubt about that. The Argentine fantasista has provided eight goals and six assists in just over 1,100 league minutes this season. That equates to just over 1 G+A per 90 minutes played (1.07). When Dybala plays, Roma has a +10 goal differential. When he doesn’t, it’s all square. And that has equated to fewer points in the league table.
Roma’s 41 points through 22 matches mean the Giallorossi have averaged 1.86 points per match. However, when broken down between matches with and without #21, the contrast is stark. In the 15 matches that Dybala has started and played at least 30 minutes, the Giallorossi have earned 2.13 points per match. In the six that he’s missed due to injury, Roma has 2W-1D-3L and averaged just 1.17 points. (There was also the Torino match where he played just 22 minutes, and Roma drew 1-1.)
Why is this relevant? Well, Dybala left Thursday's match in Austria at the half with “muscular overload”. And he’s a major doubt for Sunday and likely to be rested with the return leg against Salzburg just days away. So, Roma will have to prove in this one that it’s more than a one-man show and is able to take three points off a pesky foe to keep the top 4 race tight.
Not only is Dybala likely to miss out on this one, but Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that Lorenzo Pellegrini was substituted with muscle fatigue against Red Bull. That means he’ll likely not be risked from the start. So, Roma’s attack will rely heavily on Tammy Abraham and Stephan El Shaarawy, who will likely be supported by the first Hellas match hero: Volpato.
There will also likely be some turnover in the midfield. Edoardo Bove will be projected to start ahead of Benjamin Tahirovic in the place of Nemanja Matic. Meanwhile, El Shaarawy being moved into the attack means Zeki Celik will get the nod at right wing-back. Also, keep an eye on the central defense, where Chris Smalling could be rested.
ROMA (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Ibanez, Smalling, Mancini; Zalewski, Cristante, Bove, Celik; Volpato, El Shaarawy; Abraham