5 Reasons Why Roma Have Impressively Remained Unbeaten in Serie A
After eight games, there are few who would still expect a team to remain unbeaten in one of Europe's major leagues, let alone have conceded just a solitary goal in that time.
Instead it is Roma of Italy's Serie A. Approaching the quarter-way point of the season, the capital club boast a superior record: Played eight, won eight, conceded one.
After finishing sixth last season—25 points behind winners Juventus—this colossal reversal of fortune is, despite it still being early stages of the domestic season, an unexpected revival.
Changing managers halfway through a season is always a gamble, and exchanging Zdenek Zeman for Aurelio Andreazzoli last February, stability was restored albeit with one of the worst defensive records in the league.
As the interim Andreazzoli stepped aside to let Rudi Garcia assume control during the summer, the change has been astronomic.
Last weekend's 2-0 defeat of Napoli, a team tipped by many to better their position last year of runners up, was symptomatic of this newfound belief.
Let's take a look at the five reasons that have caused the Rome team to boast the meanest defence in Europe and to become the only side to still preserve a 100 percent record.
These reasons have primarily been established following a breakdown of Roma's performance statistically by Squawka, an assessment of their players' positioning and impact by WhoScored and an analysis of their results thus far by Soccerway.
The New Coach
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When Rudi Garcia joins a new team, he brings with him something akin to the Midas touch.
Still only 49, he has already achieved promotion with one side, steered an unfancied team to the latter stages of a domestic cup competition and delivered a league and cup double.
It was the latter achievement that caught the eye of many around Europe. At the helm of Lille in northern France, he presided over a talented yet raw team that boasted the likes of Eden Hazard, Gervinho, Moussa Sow, Yohan Cabaye, Ludovic Obraniak, Adil Rami and Mathieu Debuchy.
Following stints in charge of Saint-Etienne, Dijon and Le Mans, the young coach experienced success: Unlucky not to make it to the final of French cup competitions, he oversaw Dijon's rise to Ligue 2.
Despite only being at the helm for one season at Le Mans, he gained kudos domestically after taking the north-western club to the semifinals of the Coupe de la Ligue.
It was at Lille, though, where his reputation soared. In a league dominated by Olympique Lyonnais, Marseille and, less so, Paris Saint-Germain, Garcia presided over a remarkable conquest in the 2010/11 season, winning a domestic double.
Through doing so, he hoisted his charges into the spotlight where the majority were then swooped upon by Europe's bigger teams.
Garcia, however, remained in charge until this summer when Roma's president, James Pallotta, highlighted him as the man to restore a competitive streak to the Giallorossi.
The Frenchman himself probably did not expect to make such a rocketing start, but with an average of 53 percent possession in their eight league games and 85 percent pass accuracy, it is clear he has bestowed the same pass-and-press ethos that brought silverware at his previous team.
The Summer Signings
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As is typical when a new coach takes charge, the hierarchy lavish the funds upon him to bring in his new players (although David Moyes of Manchester United may take umbrage with such a remark).
Rudi Garcia at Roma was no anomaly. Being the first Serie A team to have the first owner with a controlling and majority share, they have often been met with a premium when bidding for a player.
Even so, this summer's transfer window saw them augment their squad with a phalanx of new talent, and they even ended with a positive net spend.
As Erik Lamela, Pablo Osvaldo and Maarten Stekelenburg depart for the English Premier League, as well as Brazilian defender Marquinhos jumping ship to cash-rich PSG in France's Ligue 1, fans of Giallorossi would have understandably been worried.
Whilst signing Arsenal's derided Ivorian striker Gervinho would not have necessarily assuaged those fears, seeing him reunite with Garcia, the coach who coaxed the ability out of him to end as one of the French league's top five scorers in that fateful 2010/11 season, would have got them excited.
And then there were the marquee signings.
Once tipped with a move to Manchester United, according to Ben Jefferson of the Express, Roma pulled off a coup by winning the race to the 23-year-old's €16 million signature.
In his seven league appearances, he has looked assured: Playing alongside Daniele De Rossi, the Dutch international has settled in well.
Another masterful signing has been that of Fiorentina's Serbian playmaker, Adem Ljajic. Feted as one of last season's best performers in Serie A, the 22-year-old declined a move to AC Milan in favour of joining Roma late in the transfer window.
If once deemed maverick, Ljajic appears to have moved on from the tempestuous displays that saw him row on the touchline with former Fiorentina boss Delio Rossi.
With three goals in his five league appearances, his decision to move to Rome looks justified.
The Indomitable Midfield
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As explored, the newly acquired Kevin Strootman has deemed himself to be indispensable to the Roma team with a number of composed performances.
A notable example of which being in last weekend's 2-0 victory over Napoli where he annulled the threat of Marek Hamsik, the Partenopei's spiky-haired trequartista.
It is the partnership and understanding he has forged with his teammates, though, that really proves advantageous.
Alongside the talismanic Daniele De Rossi in the centre of midfield, Strootman, like the Italian, rarely ventures out of his own half: Preferring the opposition to encroach them, he comes into his own when breaking down play.
While De Rossi is often the one who gets his shorts muddy with a series of heroic, sliding tackles, Strootman picks up the pieces, collecting stray balls and dispersing them around the pitch to his teammates.
With this deep-lying telepathy that Roma have adopted, there is room for other members of the team to surge forward: Full-backs Dodo and Maicon have, like so many of their Brazilian compatriots before them, spent a lot of time rampaging forward.
It is in midfield, though, where the capital club have looked masterful.
In addition to the defensively oriented Strootman-De Rossi combination, the attack-minded triumvirate of Alessandro Florenzi, Miralem Pjanic and the virtuoso Francesco Totti have scored 10 goals between them.
Taking it in turns to rotate as the secondary striker to Gervinho, they have pulled opposition defences apart, helping their team accrue an impressive 15 shots per game.
The Experienced Veterans
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Having turned 37 last month, Roma's inspirational leader, Francesco Totti, is hailed as one of Europe's modern greats.
Alongside Manchester United's Welsh wizard Ryan Giggs, countryman Paolo Maldini of AC Milan (before the Italian lynchpin recently retired), Liverpool's dynamic captian Steven Gerrard and Real Madrid's World Cup-winning goalkeeper Iker Casillas, Totti is held in remarkable esteem: A rare breed who has spent his entire career with one club.
Closing in on 550 career appearances, it is over 20 years since Roma's No. 10—raised and reared in the capital—made his debut.
Despite being seven years his junior, Daniele De Rossi—bearded and resembling a present-day gladiator in Rome's contemporary coliseum—is equally revered.
Regular for club and country, the 30-year-old was linked with a move away from the Stadio Olimpico during in the summer, in favour of a move to Manchester United.
But having paired up with Kevin Strootman, another player United missed out on, and experiencing one of his best season starts to date—his country automatically qualifying for next summer's World Cup is an added bonus—it would not be surprising if De Rossi sees out his career in Rome.
As well as these two, goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis is, at the age of 36, one of the club's verterans, joining countrymen Federico Balzaretti and Marco Boriello—both past the age of 30 yet both regulars in Garcia's side.
An integral part of Jose Mourinho's treble-winning Inter Milan in 2009/10, Brazilian full-back Maicon is another integral addition who will exude experience and expertise, sure to be exploited by the club's younger players.
The Belief in Beleaguered Players
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The last time Rudi Garcia coached Gervinho, he was a winner: Having scored 18 goals, he had played a pivotal part in helping Lille win a league and cup double.
Understandably, the Ivorian piqued the interest of a number of Europe's top clubs, including Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid and Arsenal. It was the latter who won the race to sign him but whilst this should have represented a logical and organic step in his career, he instead regressed, and what followed was a miserable time.
More famed for his head shape than his scoring prowess, Gervinho made 63 appearances for the north London side but only started 31 league games in two seasons and only troubled the scoresheet 11 times (less than what he scored in that victorious season at Lille).
Whilst former teammates thrived and relished the chance to perform on a bigger stage—Chelsea's Eden Hazard, Newcastle United's Yohan Cabaye and Valencia's Adil Rami (soon to be of AC Milan) have all earned adulation from their new teams' fanbases—Gervinho stuttered.
Following a move to Roma this summer, though, he was reunited with the man who had signed him for Lille, from Le Mans, six years previously. The transformation was remarkable: He can now be seen charging at defenders and scoring goals with a predatory instinct. Arsenal fans will be astounded.
Maicon was another player who endured a turgid spell in England. Signed by Manchester City from Inter Milan in 2012, Maicon linked up again with former boss Roberto Mancini, who had brought him to the San Siro in 2006.
However, despite having played 24 games for Inter in the preceding campaign, he could never gain a sustained run in the City side and was restricted to nine league appearances.
Maicon's four Serie A medals and two Coppa Italia successes paled in comparison to the talent brought in courtesy of the backing from City's Abu Dhabi owners.
Now at Roma, though, the 32-year-old is experiencing a renaissance: Having started six of Roma's eight victorious league games, his perpetual stamina and ability is well deployed.
Federico Balzaretti was another risking obscurity following less game time. Whilst leaving now-relegated Palermo was a smart move in hindsight, the Italian defender ultimately lost his place in the national team by moving to Roma.
Having found his niche and another to feel the warmth of Garcia's confidence, he is blossoming.
Thriving in his preferred position as a full-back on the left, Balzaretti operates on the opposite wing to Maicon but mimics his surges up the pitch and barrelling runs back to defend.
It is unfortunate that two weeks on from scoring an impressive goal in the 2-0 win over Lazio, Balzaretti accrued a misdemeanour by being dismissed in Roma's 3-0 away victory at Inter Milan. Prior to that, the Italian was displaying to everyone—most notably to national team coach Cesare Prandelli—his credentials for why he should travel to next summer's World Cup.