After last year's exceptional season, Roma are indisputably a renewed and growing power in Serie A. But for Andrea Tallarita, new demands and untested variables make the Scudetto still a little beyond their grasp.
The team that Rudi Garcia inherited at the beginning of the 2013-14 season had already reached second place three times, and in less than 10 years. The fact that he managed to equal that result on the first go is still something of a miracle, and the brilliant game shown by his team, along with an exciting mercato and the departure of Antonio Conte from main rivals Juventus, puts Roma as next year’s favourite in the eyes of many.
In terms of potential, there are good reasons to be optimistic. Roma’s starting XI was excellent last year, in no small measure thanks to a well-considered transfer campaign, and it has just turned even more impressive. Only two of the new acquisitions should be automatic starters – Juan Iturbe and Ashley Cole – but there is now much greater depth in the Roma squad.
The silent arrival of Davide Astori provides Roma with a talented and often underestimated central defender, and Urby Emanuelson – along with Cole – offers further options for the full-back position, meaning that the defence is no longer short of men.
The midfield is perhaps overflowing, seen how Garcia likes to play with only three men in that position, and the attack likewise – notwithstanding the fact that Marco Borriello, the only obvious replacement for Mattia Destro, may not be quite at his counterpart's level. Some of the players can slot into numerous positions, from jack-of-all-trades Alessandro Florenzi, who will likely be the first choice substitute for the midfield, to one Francesco Totti, who can cover pretty much every position at the front.
In brief, this is basically an upgraded version of the same team we saw last year, with the same formation and likely the same focus on fast attacking football, if the emphasis on Juan Iturbe is anything to go by. This is not a bad thing, but it shouldn't allow for over-optimist forecasts. It is true that, all things being the same as last year and Juventus possibly weakened without Conte, Roma would be fighting for the title. The reality is that things are not the same as last year, as there are at least two new variables that must be held into account.
Firstly, Roma will be competing in the Champions League, a tournament that demands an enormous surplus of energy, and one that for many of the players in the squad represents new territory. Even Coach Garcia has never taken any of his teams beyond the groups. Secondly, last year was characterised by what may be called the Milanese crisis, as both Inter and Milan – traditionally the two Italian strongholds alongside Juventus – performed very poorly in the League. Expecting this crisis to repeat itself would be unrealistic, meaning that Roma will have at least one, maybe two new rivals to contend for the top three spots, over and beyond the threats already posed by Napoli and Fiorentina.
Though yet another second place would be heart-breaking, if Roma can compound it with a solid Champions League performance – for instance, quarter-finals – then the season should be deemed successful. Unpopular as this statement may appear, the team’s focus should be on consolidating last year’s results, not on transcending them. Considering President James Pallotta’s aspiration to turn Roma into the new Serie A superpower, his men must prove that they have the ability and the resources to reach one of the first three spots in the table and go beyond the group stage in the Champions League. Only when the Lupi can do this consistently, and not once every four or five years, will Pallotta’s target have been met, and his cycle will begin. Inaugurating such a cycle should be Roma's target for this year.
Younger than his years in appearance and with a passion for idioms and witticisms, Rudi Garcia deploys a highly flexible 4-3-3, based on smart passers that start as far back as the central defence and fast, technical forwards on both sides. His tactical sagacity is not in doubt, but his management abilities may falter under pressure.
Roma have a very balanced team and a superb midfield, but Miralem Pjanic stands out as the most consistent playmaker and arguably the most difficult piece of the puzzle to replace should he go missing. Roma’s ambitions will necessarily pass through his silken feet.
Pressure will be high on Juan Iturbe to justify his tremendous price-tag, but the kid is fast, versatile, dangerous on the pitch and has outstanding dribbling skills. All in all he should fit well with Garcia’s tactics.
Mattia Destro had a promising season last year, and if he follows up on it, he could become one of the finest Italian strikers around. This is good news for the Azzurri manager Antonio Conte as he will be looking for alternatives to Mario Balotelli, who lost some of his prestige in Brazil.
De Sanctis; Maicon, Benatia, Castan, COLE; Pjanic, Strootman, De Rossi; Gervinho, Destro, ITURBE
A third place is a realistic target, and if paired with a strong showing in the Champions League, should be taken as a positive achievement.
|Svedkauskas (Pescara)||GK||Gaffi (Feralpi Saló)||GK|
|Golubovic (Novara)||D||Toloi (Sao Paulo)||D|
|A. Cole (Chelsea)||D||Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen)||D|
|Emanuelson (Milan)||D||Boldor (Pescara)||D|
|Astori (Cagliari)||D||Dodó (Inter)||D|
|Paredes (Chievo)||M||Taddei (Perugia)||M|
|Keita (Valencia)||M||Bastos (Sao Paulo)||A|
|Ucan (Fenerbahce)||M||Ricci (Crotone)||A|
|Arario (River Plate)||M|