With 5 Italian teams qualifying from the the round of 32, a quarter final derby was naturally expected. AS Roma limped through to the last 16 on the expense of Feyenoord and were not handed any favors in the draw as they were matched up against Fiorentina.
A familiar opponent for years. Additionally, travelling to Florence means no fatigue from massive travel – a trip to Zenit or Kiev would have been physically taxing – but it also means they face an in form team that is straight out of a confidence boosting win against Tottenham in the round of 32.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and for the sake of relevancy, review the games between both clubs withthe current coaches ( Rudi Garcia and Vincenzo Montella) present at the helm. In the last 5 games, Roma has won 3, drawn 1 and lost 1.
The numbers speak of no horror, especially given that the loss came at the start of the year, when Roma were (hopefully its a case of the past) in their worst form and were a depleted squad due to injuries and AFCON.
But why did every Roma fan breathe a bit uneasy when Fiorentina was announced as their opponent? A more focused look between their last match hold the answers. The Viola had lost their key player Juan Cuadrado in the winter transfer window, and was replaced by Mohammed Salah. Salah is definitely a talent but not the same league as Cuadrado. So on paper, at least, Fiorentina were weakened .
They came to the Stadio Olimpico and dominated the key aspects of the match, despite being away they managed to share almost equal possession which not a lot of clubs have done against Gracia’s squad and came out as worthy 2-0 winners.
In previous matches, Montella had seen the Giallorossi dominate the possession when they defended too deep and when they defended to high, they were torn to shreds by the pace of Iturbe and Gervinho. Knowing this the wily manager perfectly set up his team, which was made easier by both Iturbe and Gervinho missing the match. He packed the middle of the park by playing 5 midfielders and denied Roma’s prized midfield space to play their pretty football.
They packed a bite and brought out an aggressive physical play, conceding small niggling fouls to stem the flow of the play. On the other end, the physical presence of Mario Gomez continued to dominate Manolas and Astori. The German striker expertly converted a Manuel Pascual cross to give Fiorentina an early lead. The Viola continued to defend with consummate ease while David Pizarro dictated play and ensured they managed to hold on to the ball. As Roma got desperate in the later stages of the second, Gomez delivered a sucker punch to kill off the tie.
Despite this match taking place only a month ago, both teams have had a starkly different last 30 days. With AFCON over, Gervinho and Doumbia ( Roma’s big winter signing) was supposed to reinvigorate the club, but they have faltered. From the 5 matches played since, then, Roma has won just two, from which one was against Feyenoord against 10 men for majority of the game and one against Cagliari. They have not lost a single game however 2 of their 3 draws are against bottom ranked Parma, a club currently in middle of administration problems, and 16th placed Hellas Verona. It is more worrisome when you realise that Parma is the only team Roma have managed to keep a clean sheet against and both the wins are by one goal difference. Defensive instability and the failure to convert chances have been defining Rudi Garcia’s misfiring wolves.
Meanwhile in the other corner, Montella’s men have had a polar opposite last 30 days. From the 5 games played, they have won 3 and drawn 2. The drawn games were against Tottenham at White Hart Lane and against high flying Torino. From the immeasurables statistics, the transfer of the “inferior” Salah is looking like a master stroke. He has more than capably replaced Cuadrado in effort and output; having already scored 3 goals in 5 appearances. Their last game against Tottenham displayed a confidence and swagger on a team in full stride.Their dominance and attacking verve is something that Roma fans have craved for all season.
With the first game to take place in Florence on 13th March, I for one would be a bit worried, as Roma are stuck in 2nd gear while Fiorentina are playing their best football. As murmurs against Rudi Garcia continue to get louder, Montella might want to take this opportunity and show to the Roma management what he is capable of. Given how it goes for both coaches, L’Aeroplanino might be back to the stomping ground where he made his name as a footballer.