It has been a nervous few weeks in the city of Verona. Fans have eagerly watched as their team inch ever closer to their goal. The anticipation and excitement has swelled. And for Serie B outfit Hellas Verona, this weekend could end a decade-long top-flight drought.
Meanwhile, quiet and unassuming in their small section of the city, Chievo have already achieved their season aim. That was to secure their Serie A status. It was attained with some comfort too. A midweek 1-0 victory over Roma – in the process becoming the only team to win both matches in Rome this term – means in 2013-14 they’ll contest a sixth successive Serie A campaign. The numbers crunch only backed the Gialloblu following that Week 36 victory, but in truth they have been safe for some time.
It’s another wonderful achievement for the tiny Veronese club, who have competed in Serie A all but one season since their historic promotion in 2000-01. With one match remaining – away at Atalanta – Chievo are 12th. Their end position could be one place higher or lower. When you consider the struggles more illustrious clubs in the bottom half have endured, the inconspicuous Ceo are a paradigm of tranquillity.
This is a side which has grown together. One major summer loss was midfielder Michael Bradley, who joined Roma. Yet the hardworking Luca Rigoni and Perparim Hetemaj covered this. Sergio Pellissier, so long a club symbol, struggled with injury. He’s netted five goals in 13 starts, but slowed post-Christmas as injuries took their toll. In his place was Cyril Thereau – nine goals, currently their leading scorer but set to depart – and Alberto Paloschi, seven. The Milan owned striker exploded late last year, scoring six goals between December and February.
At the back their ever-reliable shot-stopper Stefano Sorrentino moved to Palermo in January, but Christian Puggioni has kept seven clean sheets since. He was helped by those ahead, namely Dario Dainelli and Luca Andreolli in the heart of the defence. Wide man Boukary Drame was another to impress.
Yet undoubtedly the glue of Chievo’s survival was Coach Eugenio Corini. The inexperienced tactician was drafted in following a difficult start. Chievo had stuttered to three points from the opening six matches under Domenico Di Carlo and sat in the relegation zone. Nevertheless, Corini, in his first Serie A coaching position, would win 11 and lose just 12 times to achieve safety. Just like in his playing days, Corini brought a calming presence to the side and proved an influential leader.
And he was certain they would survive. “I’ve always believed in safety, even if I knew that it was always going to be a difficult championship for us,” said the former club captain following the Stadio Olimpico sealer. “We have become a cohesive and combative team. We have managed to achieve what we have thanks to hard work.”
This is not a team designed to entertain. As Corini says, it’s a hardworking unit. It has one goal in mind: survival. Chievo have scored a meagre 35 goals in 37 games – only Palermo and Pescara have netted less – and more than once in a match eight times. But they are tough to break down, especially in Verona. Only 16 of 50 goals conceded were in front of the home fans. Opponents found the Stadio Bentegodi visit a frustrating one. Chievo made no bones about their ultimate aim and in typically utilising a 5-3-2 formation, confirmed their ideals. “The players worked hard and very quickly absorbed my ideas. I have to thank the staff for all their efforts too. Being safe with two rounds to go is a great achievement,” said Corini.
While their more illustrious neighbours have a nail-biting weekend ahead, Chievo go into their last clash free of uncertainty. We may witness the Veronese Derby take place next term for the first time since 2001-02. But looking back at this season, given their position when Corini took over the Donkeys can be satisfied with another job well done.