Alasdair Mackenzie Date: 7th February 2020 at 11:30am
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Casting an eye back to the start of the season, there were the usual disagreements among pundits, journalists and fans about how things would pan out.

Debates raged over who would qualify for the Europe, finish in the top four, or even who would win the Scudetto.

But there was one thing most people were unanimous in agreement about: Verona were heading straight back down to Serie B.

The Gialloblu scraped their way into the top flight last season by their fingernails, finishing fifth before fighting their way through three playoff rounds against Perugia, Pescara and Cittadella to secure promotion.

They appointed former Genoa coach Ivan Juric to oversee their survival efforts.

But with the season about to begin, on paper they looked quite some way short of having a squad capable of competing in Serie A, having gathered a collection of journeymen, veterans and unknowns that included zero household names.

But the season they’ve had since has been simply outstanding, and Wednesday night’s draw with Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico was just the latest example of why this team deserves more plaudits than it has so far received.

Juric’s side defended better than any team Lazio have come up against at home this season, displaying a rock-solid defensive structure, sound positioning and terrific workrate to keep one of European football’s most lethal attacks at bay.

But they didn’t travel to the capital just to sit back. They gave as good as they got, matching Lazio for shots on goal and shots on target.

The home side’s goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha had a busy night, pulling off a couple of tremendous stops to prevent Verona from ending what has now become a club record 17-match unbeaten run.

It was only the third time this season Lazio have failed to win a home game, after earlier draws with Roma and Atalanta, and the result ended a run of 25 consecutive home Serie A matches in which Simone Inzaghi’s side have scored.

The impressive statistics don’t end there. Verona have the joint-highest number of clean sheets in Serie A this season with eight (level with Inter and Milan), while they are now on a seven-match unbeaten run in Serie A, their best run of form in 20 years.

They have, quite simply, been a phenomenon. When you consider expectations versus reality, there is little doubt that Verona have been the surprise package of the season.

Inevitably, their squad was raided in January. But two of the key men they sold, the classy, composed midfielder Sofyan Amrabat to Fiorentina and impressive centre-back Amir Rrahmani to Napoli, will crucially stay on at the Bentegodi for the rest of the season on loan, which should help them avoid a loss of momentum.

Teenage defender Marash Kumbulla has shown great promise and is constantly being linked with Inter and Napoli for a summer move, while Miguel Veloso has looked a man reborn.

They face a huge test next, with Juventus visiting Verona this weekend, but it’ll be a game they take to with confidence after shutting down a Lazio side that had scored 10 goals in its last two home games before Wednesday’s meeting.

As it stands, Verona are ninth in the table after 22 rounds. Relegation is no longer a serious threat, and now the conversation has started to turn to a potential Europa League spot, with sixth-placed Cagliari just one point above them.

It’s time to tip the cap to Juric and applaud Verona for proving everyone – and let’s be honest, it was everyone – wrong.

Who predicted that by the start of February they would be ahead of Napoli in the standings? Put your hand down, over there.