Are Roma genuine challengers for this season’s Scudetto? Niall McCloskey looks at how the side from the capital may just surprise a few people, as he reflects on the weekends defeat of fellow contenders Inter Milan.
In the week following Roma’s total annihilation of Bologna, the “S-word” was thrown about more than a few times on social networking sites such as Facebook & Twitter, it even had a mention on The Guardians Football Weekly podcast, although, the general response to this question was “it’s too soon”.
The Giallorossi travelled to the San Siro on Saturday night to play an Inter side who have also had a great start to the season under the former Napoli tactician, Walter Mazzari. Inter, like Roma, had been unbeaten in the league, winning four and drawing two of their opening six games, scoring 16 goals and only conceding 3 in the process.
While Rudi Garcia’s team had won their opening 6 fixtures, scoring 17 goals and conceding just the 1, the general view before the season started was that Roma were collectively weaker than last season with the sales of Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, the top goal scorer, Erik Lamela, the second top goal scorer and arguably their best defender Marquinhos.
Roma lined up in their usual 4-3-3 formation with De Sanctis, a back four of Balzaretti, Castan, the criminally under rated Benatia and Torosidis filling in for the injured Douglas Maicon. A midfield of Pjanic, De Rossi, Strootman as well as a front three of Florenzi, Totti and a revitilised Gervinho who has been an absolute joy to watch this season, a testament to how much of a difference a manager can make to a certain indivdual.
It took just 18 minutes for Roma to take the lead with their two wide men Florenzi and the aforementioned Gervinho combining to set up who else but Francesco Totti, who beautifully struck the ball past Samir Handanovic from 20 yards out.
The second goal of the night, came from Totti again but this time from the penalty spot which was awarded thanks to a tackle made on Gervinho from Alvaro Periera. Needless to say Totti converted the penalty without any trouble and Roma were 2-0 in the 39th minute.
Inter’s misery was only added to on the 43rd minute as Roma countered from their own 18 yard box when a turn and pass from the exceptional Totti (See below) set off Kevin Strootman, who in turn assisted Alessandro Florenzi in scoring his 4th goal of the season.
A dumbfounded Inter went in 0-3 down at half time and after the break, Mazzari took off the extremely poor Alvaro Pereira, switched to a back four and brought on the Croat Mateo Kovacic ten minutes into the half to try and light the creative fuse which the Nerazzurri were lacking.
In the 72nd minute, Gervinho left the Inter backline staring at his heels as he raced into the box only to have his shot saved by Handanovic. With ten minutes to go, Balzaretti received his second yellow card of the game and was subsequently sent off, however it was too late in the game for an Inter revival which meant that the points belonged to an increasingly impressive Giallorossi.
Gervinho has been receiving praise from every angle since his debut and rightly so, according to WhoScored.com, 40% of Roma’s attacking play this season has come from the right hand side of the pitch, the position that he occupies. Having an average score of 8.1 so far this season shows us just how in form the Ivorian winger is, needless to say that this Gervinho has Arsenal fans scratching their heads as to what has happened to the player.
The answer is simple, Rudi Garcia. Gervinho won the double with Garcia from their time in Lille together and has now got the confidence needed from his manager to perform, something that he lost with Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
The Romans now sit 1st in the Serie A table on 21 points, seven wins out of seven, twenty goals scored, one conceded. Impressive, no?
Post match, the quotes came from Totti and Garcia when they were questioned about their form and mounting a challenge for the title;
“I think now people can say anything they like. It’s a long season, however we are a team that can compete with anyone. There’s too long to go to be talking about winning the league.”
Wise words from Totti, Roma’s talisman for well over a decade.
“What we had was a leader up front in Totti who showed us the way.”
Added Garcia, who clearly knows the important role that Totti plays in the Roma team.
Indeed, Totti who recently signed a new two year contract for the club has been in outstanding form as of late, being the main man on and off the pitch. This new two year contract will take him past his 40th birthday and at the current level he is playing at, we’ll still be obsessing over him when he turns 50.
A lot can happen over the course of a season, maybe it is too soon to talk of a Scudetto challenge. With Roma’s next game being at home to Napoli after the international break and an away trip to Udinese the following week, we really will see if this Giallorossi side has what it takes to challenge Juventus.
However, we do know that with a manager like Rudi Garcia, a captain like Francesco Totti, and in-form players like Strootman and Gervinho, its safe to say that one side of the eternal side will be dreaming of partying come the end of the season.