In the midst of an injury crisis, Alex Mott ponders whether the wheels are about to come off the Roma title challenge.
It was the news that no Roma fan wanted to hear. After limping out of their 2-0 win over Napoli last Friday, the Giallorossi confirmed that inspirational captain Francesco Totti would be out for the next month with hamstring damage. After an early season in which the veteran had become probably the best player in the League, it was a real kick in the teeth for the capital club’s tifosi.
Totti has been directly involved in nine of Roma’s 22 goals this term, playing as a deep-lying forward and bamboozling defenders half his age. His early performances have been so brilliant that Italian national team boss Cesare Prandelli has been slowly coming round to the idea that the 37-year-old could be persuaded to come out of international retirement and take his place on the plane to Brazil next summer. “Totti deserves a lot of credit,” the Coach told Sky Sport Italia earlier this week. “It’s impossible not to think about Totti at the World Cup. But I don’t want to talk about it at the moment for luck.”
His presence on the pitch and exemplary leadership will be sorely missed then by Roma, but if that wasn’t bad enough for the Lupi, what came next was in some ways even harder to take. On Tuesday evening, after tests had taken place, Rudi Garcia’s side confirmed another injury to another forward player – this time it was Gervinho who would have to be sidelined. It was another hamstring pull, and it would keep the Ivorian striker out for the next fortnight.
If Totti has been pulling back the years in a Roma shirt this term, then Gervinho has been performing like his Arsenal days never even happened. Derided in England where he spent an unhappy two-year spell, since reuniting with his former Lille boss the 26-year-old has been a phenomenon, described by Garcia as: “an unpredictable player and difficult to stop. There are not that many players who can dribble like Gervinho. He is rare.”
His movement, pace and confidence on the ball have been superb at this early stage, and the combination play with the captain and fellow forward man Alessandro Florenzi has seen Roma become one of the most exciting sides to watch in Europe. For at least the next three games, that will be disrupted.
Upcoming matches against Udinese, Chievo and Torino are now set to be real tests of this Roma side’s Scudetto ambition. Unbeaten so far, they are the favourites to upset another Juventus procession. Never before has a team won its first eight games and failed to lift the title, but the next few weeks will really quiz the mettle of the Stadio Olimpico side.
Adem Ljajic, brought in over the summer as a direct replacement for Erik Lamela, will now get his chance to show why the Giallorossi fought such a public battle with Fiorentina to sign him. And Marco Borriello, for so long the nearly-man of Italian football, will also likely be placed in the XI.
Pre and post-Halloween will be make or break for this Roma team – get over this mini injury crisis, and they will be immortalised in the Eternal City. Get it wrong though, and the wheels may just come off their title challenge.