AS Roma: The Giallorossi’s lightning start could sew seeds for title challenge

Following the 2-0 victory over Lazio on Sunday, AS Roma were awash with emotion. Manager Rudi Garcia, boasting a 100% record from four games after joining the club in the summer, became at one with the fans.

“I feel like one of you. I feel like a Romanista” he said, while his left-back Federico Balzaretti admitted he was forced to tears after scoring the opening goal. “I felt such incredible joy and emotion” said the 31 year old “this doesn’t happen very often, I tend to score once every four years, so to do it in the derby”.

If the scorer of Roma’s vital breakthrough goal was unfamiliar, it was his first for the club since joining last August, the provider was very much recognisable. Floating in the cross from which Balzaretti volleyed home was Francesco Totti, still showing his class at the age of 36 and just 2 days after signing a new contract that will see him stay with the club for two more seasons.

This season marks his 21st year with the Giallorossi which has yielded just the one Scudetto, though the early indications are that he could make a genuine bid to add to that this year after a fine start to the campaign.

Garcia urged caution, saying “we must stay humble, we shouldn’t forget that our aim is to finish the season in the top five. To be ambitious is a quality, maybe we can have a good season, but it’s too early at the moment”.

Ten goals scored with just one conceded have been the numbers behind the opening four games which have encouraged such ambition, though the former Lille coach will do well to bear in mind how quickly fortunes can change given the madness of the last few years in the Italian capital. Garcia is Roma’s fifth manager since the departure of Claudio Ranieri in 2011, two seasons that have seen them finish sixth and seventh, it will take a lot more than four games to validate claims for the title.

Encouraging signs have come in the form of Alessandro Florenzi, the 22 year old academy product who has scored two goals, and the excellent, ageless performances of Totti who has registered 3 assists so far. Miralem Pjanic has been impressive in forming a solid midfield combination with the ever-consistent Danielle De Rossi and Kevin Strootman, who arrived from PSV Eindhoven for £15 million in the summer.

Garcia’s other big money signings, Gervinho and Adem Ljajic, who got his second goal for his new club with a late penalty in the Rome derby, have both performed well in attack, ensuring the summer sales of Pablo Osvaldo and Erik Lamela will not be missed too much.

Roma made £92 million in player sales over the summer, £28 million of which coming off Marquinhos, the Brazilian centre-half who departed for Paris St Germain. His replacement was found in Mehdi Benatia, a Moroccan defender signed from Udinese for £11 million, to slot seamlessly alongside Leandro Castan in the centre of defence.

Garcia has operated shrewdly in the transfer market despite the talent he has lost, Ljajic for instance coming at a third of the price they demanded off Spurs for Lamela. Maicon, signed on a free after a disappointing spell with Manchester City, boasts a wealth of Serie A experience and has been installed as first choice right-back.

Garcia is staying true to the fluid 4-3-3 system that served him well in winning the Ligue 1 title over in France with Lille, with Totti as the roaming centre-forward and a fierce midfield trio providing a solid, combative defensive screen behind him.

As cover, Marco Borriello and Mattia Destro lurk to offer an alternative to Totti’s ageing limbs, whilst Rodrigo Taddei, Michael Bradley and Marquinho provide depth to the midfield. In Vasilis Torosidis, Nicolas Burdisso, Alessio Romagnoli and the promising young centre-half Tin Jedjav, the French manager also has an array of defensive options to call upon.

It is a well-balanced, well-stocked squad that has a fine blend of youth and experience, primed for an assault on the top five as Garcia’s target remains. If they stay together, displaying the same effusive team-spirit that was on display as they celebrated in front of their fans in the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday afternoon, there should be no limit to their ambitions.

One significant aspect of Garcia’s first few months in his job in the Italian capital has been to repair the relations within a squad that has been fragmented and disjointed in recent years. “I think it’s the same in Italy as it is in France, during training sessions we also work on the psychological aspect” he spoke after the win over Lazio, “The project and the playing style are more important than looking at the past, I like the enthusiasm that the team has now while they are playing. We’re working to make the fans happy and today it was magical.”

If Roma and Garcia continue the way they are, the Romanistas will have every right to be happy.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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