Like a team of deadly assassins hunting in the silence of the night, Roma have quietly gone about the business of wreaking havoc in Serie A this season. Entering the game against Torino yesterday they were on a hot streak, having won all 10 opening fixtures, scoring 24 goals and conceding only one in the process. The achievement warranted attention and respect, especially since no one expected it from them.
Whilst Barcelona had that 16 game winning streak three years ago, the Giallorossi had already made history by becoming the first Serie A side ever to win the opening 10 games of a campaign. Alas it wasn’t to be 11 from 11, as a spirited Torino side held them to a 1:1 draw at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin. Alessio Cerci was the player to rain on the Roman parade as he brought Roma’s remarkable run of 743-minutes without conceding a goal to an end. The former Roma man cancelled out a first half strike from Kevin Strootman, finally ending a historic run of victories for the Roman giants.
Despite the draw however Roma remain at the top of Serie A and continue to surprise all neutral observers with their fantastic start to the season. So why have they had such remarkable success thus far? How can a team not qualify for Europe one season and become almost invincible the next? Here are a few possible reasons.
1. It’d be Rudi not to mention Garcia
Porto won the UEFA Champion’s league in 2004 with a fairly unknown manager by the name of Jose Mourinho. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Rudi Garcia similarly led Roma to European honours next season. The comparison between Mourinho and Garcia is a valid one. The Frenchman won the French league and cup double with Lille two years ago with the likes of Gervinho and Eden Hazard, unknown quantities at the time. Well respected for his articulate ways and an extremely strong personality, to say he’s got the best out of the Roma players this season would be an understatement. The style of play he’s adopted with the Giallorossi is not only effective but an exciting one for spectators and fans. Much like Mourinho in his early days, Garcia’s team is an extremely fit outfit which pressurizes the opposition much higher up the pitch. The pressing style combined with a fast paced attacking flair of the technically gifted players at their disposal, Roma have been formidable. Also, like Mourinho his relationship with the players is powerful and reflected in the comradery and morale shown on the pitch. If the change he’s brought to the team in four months is anything to go by, Roma fans have a lot of success to look forward to.
2. The Magnificent Seven
Rudi Garcia will point to the strength of his entire squad being the key reason for the success this season. However I’ve highlighted a nucleus of 7 players who are at the core of the Giallorossi’s strength this season.
Roma’s Bermuda triangle
Throughout the season countless oppositon strikers have wondered into Roma’s 18 yard box and mysteriously disappeared for large parts of the game in what I call Roma’s Bermuda triangle. This footballing phenomenon consists of Roma’s goal keeper Morgan De Sanctis and the two centre backs Federico Balzaretti and Mehdi Benatia. The understanding between these three at the heart of Roma’s defence is quite remarkable. The airtight nature of the defence was evident against Udinese recently when without Totti/Gervinho and down to 10 men Roma somehow came away with a 1:0 victory. Credit must, once again go to Garcia for reviving the careers of De Sanctis and Balzeretti but Mehdi Benatia, or "Mehdi the Magnificent" as he’s now known to fans, is a different beast altogether. The 6 ft 4 in Moroccan power house defender will remind many of a young Aldair. As well as his obvious aerial prowess and uncompromising defensive ability, Benatia is technically very gifted player. His habit of breaking up attacking play and embarking on surging runs (much like Brazillian Lucio in his prime) means it’s only a matter of time before he’s regarded as one of the best central defenders in Europe.
Pjanic first appeared on European football fans' radar 3 years ago whilst playing for Lyon in the Champions League. I remember his left foot volley thundered past Casillas, stunning a packed Santiago Bernabau into silence and sending Real crashing out of the competition. Francesco Totti may be the gladiator of Rome but Pjanic is fast becoming footballing royalty in the capital. It’ very difficult to liken the Bosnian to any particular playmaker of the past, he is definitely a unique talent. His technical ability and style of play may be similar to a young Djorkaeff, but unlike the Frenchman Pjanic is genuinely both footed and has electric pace. He has also developed a habit of scoring some spectacular long range efforts. If he continues to score these wonder goals, the 23 year old is well on his way to becoming one of Europe’s best attackers. (Some of Pjanic’s strikes for Roma can be viewed here)
Picked up at a bargain price from Arsenal where his performances were underwhelming, the Ivory coast International is a transformed man under former coach Garcia. Possessing blistering pace and exceptional dribbling ability Gervinho has already scored three goals and made one this season. He continues to show signs of fulfilling the immense potential first displayed at Lille. Providing he remains injury free, there's no reason why he can't help the Giallorossi attain that well sought after scudetto.
Daniele De Rossi
The unsung hero and the glue that holds the team together, De Rossi was just 17 when Roma last won the scudetto back in 2001. Twelve years of service later, the Italian international looks set to follow in the footsteps of club legend Totti and finish his career in Rome. An extremely intelligent footballer who’s anticipation in midfield and chess like approach to football has been instrumental this season. Currently only 30, he’s at the peak of his powers and is arguably the best defensive midfielder in Europe.
Francesco Totti’s Roma influence is obvious and I’ve written about it previously, thus I’ve gone for Adem Ljajic as the final man in my Giallorossi magnificent seven. Like Totti in 1994, there’s excitement about this 22 year old Serbian striker in the capital. A powerful dribbler with the ball, Ljajic has a very direct and single minded approach not too dissimilar to Messi. Whilst he’s not scored near enough goals to warrant a serious comparison with the great Argentine, Ljajic’s style of play has certainly won him a lot of fans. Plus, Roma have used him mainly as a playmaker or a winger to make best use of his acceleration and dribbling ability which could be another reason why he hasn't scored as many goals. None the less whenever he's put on the Roma jersey, the young Serb has rarely disappointed. A cross breed between Andrei Kanchelskis and Adrian Mutu, provided his knees don’t buckle attempting those Ronaldo step overs, the young Serbian could be one of the major stars in next year’s Champion’s league.
(Click here for a collection of Ljajic skills and goals)
Rana Malook is a sports writer for HITC. tweet him @rararana
image: © Damien Cansse