“Donkeys will fly before Chievo are in A,” Hellas fans used to mock, when their Veronese counterparts Chievo toiled in the lower divisions. But, their fortunes turned with the millennium, and the donkeys finally had top-flight lift-off in 2001. After emerging through a bout of mid-flight turbulence, under the stewardship of Captain Di Carlo, they’re seemingly soaring once more.
Domenico Di Carlo had a dismal last campaign, guiding Sampdoria from Europe to the relegation zone before being replaced by Alberto Cavasin. But, his credentials have been somewhat restored by Chievo’s comfortable top half position, carrying on the work started by the equally pragmatic Stefano Pioli.
There were pre-season fears that the Blucerchiati blotch on Di Carlo’s CV would combine with the loss of important first team players Kevin Constant and Andrea Mantovani to ensure that Chievo were set for a long slog for survival. As it is, they’re in the top half of the table and are only four points short of their highest total since their return to Serie A three years ago. The coach said that Mussi Volanti want to have a campaign that gives them: “more than just achieving safety from relegation,” and as it stands, they’re on course.
They’ve stuck with a 4-3-1-2 formation for the majority of the season, spearheaded by their talismanic captain Sergio Pellissier. He’s played over 300 times for the Gialloblu netting over a century of goals, and has generally played up front alongside Milan loanee Alberto Paloschi this season. After Paloschi scored his first Serie A goal 17 seconds into his debut for the Rossoneri in 2008 his development has appeared to have stalled, scoring only five times this season.
In fact, scoring has generally been Chievo’s main issue, with only 30 goals in total thus far. Only hot relegation favourites Novara and Cesena have fewer. But what Paloschi has lacked in goals he’s made up for in defensive contribution, embodying the side’s hard-working stereotype. They’re a team who press well, with excellent performances from full-backs being vital to their success. Nicolas Frey and Boukary Dramé provide width with defensive solidity, with the former’s 59 interceptions and 14 key passes testament to his industrious work on the flank.
Veteran goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino has reaffirmed his position as one of the most solid in Serie A. His five clean sheets are more than the likes of Morgan De Sanctis and Maarten Stekelenburg, despite having faced 140 shots – considerably more than both of the aforementioned duo. Di Carlo has followed the defensive principle laid down by former coach Pioli, and it comes as no surprise that Chievo have made more tackles (788) and interceptions (699) than any other side in Serie A.
One of the most influential players for Chievo this season has come from an unlikely source, with American Michael Bradley having adapted perfectly to Italian football after an unsuccessful spell at Aston Villa. He’s averaged 1.5 key passes per game – as many as the likes of Hernanes and Marek Hamsik. His 97 tackles this season have proved just as important. Tommaso Franco, the Gialloblu press officer, beamed: “he’s bravissimo.”
“Bravissimo” is a neat summation of Chievo’s season overall. With six, very winnable games of the season remaining, a late charge could see Mimmo Di Carlo’s side fighting for more than just a top half finish. But, whatever happens in the remainder of the season, it can’t be denied that the Flying Donkeys continue to perform far beyond their means. Not bad for a town with a population of just 4,500.