What is so dispiriting about Roma’s Serie A season is that, at least on paper, there is nothing that impressive in being second to Juventus, especially when the Scudetto champions have looked so dominant throughout. Competing with the Old Lady has no margin for error, making any runner-up look like an also-ran.
Even third-placed Napoli (who are a point behind) have gained more plaudits by performing well in the Champions League (where Roma failed to even make the group stages), playing some of the most beautiful football on the continent and reinventing Dries Mertens to replace €90m departure Gonzalo Higuain.
Roma, it seems, can’t get much love, a problem compounded by their ruthless dispatching of club legend Francesco Totti, or their tiff with Coach Luciano Spalletti, who is set to move on to Inter.
While the future appears to be uncertain, however, we can’t let this colour our judgement of the Giallorossi’s present: for a start, their 84 points (and they can beat their all-time record of 85 if they win their last home game against Genoa) are better than the 82 that Jose Mourinho’s Treble-winners managed in 2010.
What is perhaps so impressive about the Lupa holding onto second place for most of the 2016-2017 exercise is the sheer number of things that have gone wrong, from selling their own big name (Miralem Pjanic) to Juventus, to the numerous injuries in defence - promising left-back Mario Rui tearing his ACL within minutes of putting pen to paper.
Though many of these issues are of the Giallorossi’s own doing, Rome’s red half has endured, and its success owes to the Certaldo native doing his best with what was essentially the same team as last year.
With most of Roma’s £85m outlay going out on settling their “loan-to-buy” deals (Mohamed Salah, Gerson, Stephan El Shaarawy), Spalletti has rebooted last season’s laughing stock, Edin Dzeko, and reinvented a defence brutally torn apart by injuries to Alessandro Florenzi and Antonio Rudiger.
Hounded by Press and fans alike after an early Champions League exit at the hands of Porto, Spalletti turned things around by resorting to a 3-4-2-1, jettisoning Thomas Vermaelen and resurrecting another career, that of Federico Fazio. Roma’s habit of developing defenders was further evidenced by Emerson Palmieri’s rise on the left to replace Rui.
Even perennial injury risk Kevin Strootman has returned to his dynamic (and diving) ways, helping Radja Nainggolan and a galvanised Daniele De Rossi (another man who is back to his best) play both spectacular football and develop a mean streak - Roma defeating both Milan and Lazio in late 2016 by pressing deep and regaining possession.
While Napoli took a while to get going - still only sixth by Week 14 - the Giallorossi quickly recovered from a rocky start to spend 27 matchdays in second place. While their pursuers (who have a tougher away feature to Sampdoria, and need Roma to draw or lose) have made the most of vintage seasons from Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon, the Lupa has performed despite a few disappointments. Diego Perotti has yet to score in open play, while El Shaarawy has been dogged by inconsistency, as has Leandro Paredes.
For a club that is constantly juggling clever buys and is often forced to sell its best, Roma has done just fine this season, instilling a winning culture that would be the envy of many clubs, especially those in Milan…
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