“It’s a growth process.” These were the words of Roma Coach Eusebio Di Francesco after his team narrowly beat Qarabag in the Champions League, and they were as honest as they were obvious.
The team from the Eternal City has a bright and intelligent tactician who understands Roma and the city. This is more important than one may think. His predecessor, Luciano Spalletti, is also on a similar journey at Inter and it would be unfair to think that either can play their normal brand of football is such a short time. In the Capital, the team is certainly a work in progress, but the project is solid.
Results so far have hardly been disappointing. The Giallorossi sit in fifth place after winning all their games bar one, a 3-1 defeat to Inter, in which they played exceptionally well in the first half and rattled the woodwork several times. They also have a game in hand, as their trip to Sampdoria was called off due to weather warnings. They have scored 12 goals and conceded four, so why are they not talked about in the same way as Napoli, Juventus, Inter and Lazio?
Perhaps one reason is that, other than Inter, they have not played anyone who should have tested them. Atalanta are perhaps the only one and the victory against them was hard fought. Hellas Verona, Benevento and Udinese could easily make up the bottom three at the season’s end, so perhaps the media are waiting for that first notable result against a ‘big team’.
The Champions League has also not been unsuccessful, as on paper they have four points after drawing with Atletico Madrid and beating Qarabag. In truth however, they relied on goalkeeper Alisson to keep them in the game at home against Diego Simeone’s men and had a few scares in Azerbaijan.
This is where Roma’s season starts looking like a ‘glass half full or half empty’ situation. As Di Francesco mentioned after their last Champions League game, if they continue like this, they have a great chance of qualifying for the group stage: half full, right? In reality, they have a double header against Chelsea to go, as well as a trip to Madrid: now it’s looking a little emptier. In Serie A they have won their last three league games, however, their next fixtures are against Milan, Napoli and Torino, so that won’t be easy.
It must be said, even if Roma fall short in these upcoming games, it does not mean they have taken a backwards step. After all, Gregoire Defrel and Diego Perotti are now injured, as is their new starlet Patrick Schick, and so it may not be a true representation of Roma in full flight.
Di Francesco has a style of play he is trying to impose on the team and even he would admit that they are nowhere near as free-flowing as he wants them to be, but this doesn’t mean they are static. These players, after all, played under Spalletti and the styles with him and their incumbent Coach are not too dissimilar. It is not unrealistic to predict that, with the team fully fit, they will be a force to be reckoned with, especially if Schick can hit the ground running.
The positives for Roma are that they are winning games and Edin Dzeko is finding the net. They are a dangerous outfit to face, even when not at full throttle. Alisson is proving a worthy replacement for Wojciech Szczesny and some of his performances, especially the game against Atleti, have shown promise. If they can cut out some individual errors and keep relatively injury free, then they can continue to grow.
Di Francesco has made Roma look extremely quick, exciting and direct at times, but unfortunately this has only been for 20-30-minute spells. This mental block could be removed if they beat one of the big guns, for instance Milan on Sunday.
The future is bright in the Eternal City and whilst Rome wasn’t built in a day, Roma could be built by the end the season.