Chievo Verona are one of the wonders of modern football. From a small, uninspiring suburb boasting less than 3,000 inhabitants comes a club that has somehow found itself competing in Serie A in nine of the last ten seasons.
Since winning promotion from Serie B in 2001, Chievo have only once returned to the second tier of Italian football, and even then bounced immediately back into the top flight. This season, however, the Flying Donkeys are once again threatened by relegation. Can Serie A’s miracle club, supported by so few that in home derby matches against city rivals Hellas the Chievo fans are still allocated the away end, cling on, or will it prove to be a bridge too far for the Marcantonio Bentegodi faithful?
If one were to glance over Chievo’s results this season, the instability of their position would seem implausible to say the least. They have taken maximum points from their two meetings with high-flying Napoli, beaten Inter, and recorded draws with Roma, Juventus and Lazio. On closer inspection, however, the downfall of the Gialloblu becomes apparent – they draw too many games.
Obviously drawing is far preferable to losing, but Chievo have picked up a solitary point when three are on offer in 11 of their 28 games so far this season, a collection of stalemates equalled only by Parma. If they had managed to turn even half of their draws into victories, they would be sitting comfortably in eighth on 42 points and with an outside chance of claiming a Europa League berth. Instead, they are perilously close to the edge, occupying the relative safety of 13th place but with only four points separating them and the drop zone.
Puzzlingly, Chievo’s problem is not their goal tally, nor deficiencies in defence. They have scored more goals than all but two sides in the bottom half, and the first-choice front two of Sergio Pellissier and Davide Moscardelli have netted 14 goals between them. They also boast the second best defensive record in the bottom half. The problem, it seems, is that they are doing most of what is necessary to stay out of trouble, but not quite enough to grind out crucial wins.
Nevertheless, despite their fondness for a draw and a precarious league position, Stefano Pioli’s men appear to stand a decent chance of staying up. Their future in the top tier is likely to be determined by their performances in relegation clashes with Bari, Sampdoria and Lecce over the coming month and a half.
Interspersed with those games, mind you, are trips to Roma and Inter. While these would be daunting for most bottom-half clubs, the Gialloblu have tasted some success against the giants this season and will look to raise their game for both of these encounters.
Whatever, it is essential that Pioli and company start converting one point into three more often in order to avoid looking nervously over their shoulders in the coming weeks and climb to safety with games to spare. Then, the least-supported side in Serie A can celebrate another campaign with the big boys when August comes around again.