When bigger and more established clubs come after your players, it should be known that something is brewing. It is a sign that this ‘lesser’ side is doing something right and it's attracting attention from the big boys.
That is certainly the case with Ivan Juric's Hellas Verona, who seem to have taken everyone by surprise in Serie A this season. When the campaign started, Brescia were seen as the focus of attention for many. That was largely because of much more renowned players like Sandro Tonali, Mario Balotelli and Alfredo Donnarumma. But the contrast is rather obvious.
When Brescia have sacked managers on three occasions already - with Eugenio Corini fired twice – Verona have come up as an example for other smaller clubs in Serie A. They’ve done that with undervalued players playing in a stable and consistent system.
There was a point in the season when Verona had the best defence in the division. But at this stage, they’ve earned the reputation of troubling bigger clubs every single time. They held Milan and Lazio to draws in the space of four days. Roma and Juventus had to dig deep to pick up hard-fought wins, while the Rossoneri won 1-0 early in the season. Inter had to come back from a goal down to beat Juric’s side at San Siro.
All this shows how tough it is to beat Verona. Being organised has become their trademark. Playing constantly in a 3-4-2-1 shape has brought in stability, as they go on being tough to break down for bigger sides. When it comes to less prestigious opponents, Verona are just as capable going forward, despite not having one stand-out goalscorer.
The club’s highest scorers have three goals each. That long list includes right-sided wing-back Marco Davide Faraoni, Matteo Pessina, former Sampdoria man Valerio Verre, Samuel Di Carmine and the experienced Giampaolo Pazzini. The manner in which they combine sharp, short passing and accurate long passing in attack makes them unpredictable to play against.
Summer signing Miguel Veloso has been one of the best signings of the season. He sets the attacking tempo and acts as the chief creator, as well as the set-piece specialist. He helps out defensively too, while he and Fiorentina-bound Sofyan Amrabat set the tempo of the attack. Both of them have played the highest number of passes per game this season- 43.8 and 44.4 respectively.
The manner in which they prefer to keep the ball on the ground taps into the strengths of not just Amrabat and Veloso, but many other technical players. This has made sure that they’ve been dispossessed the fourth-least number of times in the division - 8.1 times per game.
They’ve beaten sides like Sampdoria, Lecce, SPAL, Genoa, Fiorentina, Parma and Brescia - a sign that they don’t struggle when given possession of the ball. There is cohesiveness in the way they play and the flexibility in approach allows them to be more pragmatic against quality opposition.
They currently have the fourth-best defence in the league. Per Whoscored, they’ve been dribbled past the least number of times in Serie A - seven per game only. They’ve also attempted the least number of tackles per game, 21.1, a sign of how economical their ball-winning is.
But Verona have been the best in the air this season, winning 20.8 aerial duels per game. That comes from how they force the opposition wide and have two very reliable central defenders in Marash Kumbulla and Amir Rrhamani. With Rrahmani off to Napoli in the summer and Kumbulla’s future up in the air too, that’s a reflection of how the club has made full use of undervalued talents this season.
What happens when the club loses Rrhamani, Kumbulla and Amrabat in the summer is anyone’s guess. But the Mastini have become an example of how teams that are new to the division have to operate. The manner in which Brescia had some better players and Empoli lost all their gems in one summer after relegation is in stark contrast to Verona.
Juric’s system brings them together and they thrive on it. This might not last long, but one can only hope it does