The column of the week from Richard Hough for all the Verona-lovers speaking english.
As Hellas Verona prepare to face Inter at the San Siro in the final game before the Christmas break, we take a quick look at the season so far, a season quite unlike any other in the club’s long and eventful history.
Hellas have slumped slightly to 9th place in Serie A, having won two, drawn two and lost one of their last five fixtures. While the official objective of the club remains salvation, a European finish is still a credible possibility, a remarkable feat given that many tipped Verona for relegation after the summer exodus of some of our highest performing players.
To put Juric’s achievements in context, Hellas have only had one top ten finish in the last twenty years (the famous 2013/14 season when Luca Toni scored twenty goals). For most of the last twenty years, we have struggled between the lower echelons of the league.
So, by any objective analysis, Hellas are enjoying one of their most successful spells in many years.
This season, only Juventus have conceded fewer goals. The remarkable thing about Verona’s formidable defensive record is that it has been achieved with a makeshift defence and one that was reconstructed following the departure of Rrahmani and Kumbulla in the summer.
But, with just 17 goals scored, lack of firepower up front remains an issue for the Gialloblù. Our three recognised number 9s (Samuel Di Carmine, Nikola Kalinić and Andrea Favilli) have managed just two goals between them all season. Resolving that deficiency will be a priority for Juric in January and beyond.
The two outstanding players this season have unquestionably been Mattia Zaccagni and Marco Silvestri.
Zac has played in every single Serie A fixture this season. His stats are formidable. He has scored three goals and contributed four assists. In terms of key passes, shots, dribbles, tackles, interceptions, counter attacks, clearances, fouls committed and won, Zaccagni is one of the highest performing players in Serie A. Against Milan he was particularly effective. In November, his exceptional form was rewarded with his first call up to the national team.
Marco Silvestri has been the other consistently outstanding performer this season. He has conceded just 12 goals in 13 Serie A appearances (only Buffon/Szczęsny have conceded fewer). A particular highlight was his decisive save from an Ibra penalty, having cheekily reminded the Milan striker that he had missed his previous spot kick. Like Zac, Silvestri’s form was rewarded with a call up for the National team earlier in the year.
In a memorable season, there has been no shortage of highlights. A hard-earned point against Juventus in Torino. An impressive 0-2 victory in Bergamo against Atalanta. A thrilling 2-2 draw with Milan at the San Siro. But perhaps the highlight, because of its historical significance, was the recent victory against Lazio, the first in Rome since 1984!
While Hellas have been impressive against the big clubs (taking points from Rome, Lazio, Juventus, Milan and Atalanta), they have been less consistent against so-called lesser opposition, losing against Parma and Sampdoria, and struggling for a point against Udinese, Cagliari and Genoa. Perhaps the most disappointing result, though, was the 2-0 defeat at home against Sassuolo. There is no shame in losing to Sassuolo this season but having hit the woodwork four times and been denied by a couple of remarkable saves, Verona deserved more from the game.
After emerging as a surprise package, few expected Juric to improve on his ninth-place finish last season. If anything, though, he has enhanced his reputation, with a team largely rebuilt over the summer. Against the odds, he has somehow managed to retain the identity, hunger and drive of last season. Juric’s forthright and honest personality has endeared him to the locals. He stands his ground, in confrontations with the likes of Conte, and his interpretations of results and individual performances are refreshingly honest
For the first time in years, Hellas have a manager who is adored, a team to be proud of and homegrown players who are breaking into the national team. The irony is that, apart from a very narrow window where up to 1000 fans were admitted for a few weeks, the Bentegodi has been closed to fans since that memorable evening way back in February, when a late Pazzini penalty secured a historic victory against Juventus. To be locked out of the stadium while all this is going on has been heart-breaking. For now, we look forward to the days to come, when we can once again meet at the famous Bentegodi.