AS Roma enjoyed an amazing start to 2013-14, reeling off 10 straight wins as coach Rudi Garcia seemingly transformed them from a struggling side outside the European places into a genuine title contender.
That initial impact eased somewhat, as injuries to Francesco Totti and Gervinho slowed their momentum and four insipid draws followed that incredible opening run.
They then clicked once more to demolish rock-bottom side Catania, 4-0, in the last game before the winter break, setting up a mouthwatering top-of-the-table clash with Juventus in the first game of the new year.
That match, played at Juventus Stadium earlier this month, saw Antonio Conte outthink his opposite number, and Garcia was left stunned as his side collapsed to a 3-0 defeat. The Bianconeri surprised most observers by sitting deep, reducing the space behind the ball and then breaking at speed to pick off their overmatched opponents.
Given the tumultuous nature of the past two years, that result should really be no surprise, and Roma have responded perfectly, picking up six points from their two league games since. Comprehensive victories over Genoa (4-0) and Livorno (3-0) have them back on the right track, and the Giallorossi still rank as the league’s best defence with just 10 goals conceded.
Despite amassing a remarkable 47 points from 20 matches—a tally bettered by only four teams in Europe’s top-five leagues—they remain eight points behind two-time champions Juventus. La Madama have been in blistering form, registering 12 consecutive victories in which they have seen just four goals scored against them.
Netting 34 times themselves in that same period, it is difficult to see anyone preventing Conte’s men lifting a third league title and, with Napoli already 12 points adrift, Roma are their only realistic challengers.
What can Roma do to close the gap?
That will largely depend on the Bianconeri dropping points but, as they have over the past four months, the capital side must continue to match them blow for blow as they await mistakes.
This week’s Coppa Italia win over Juve will be a huge fillip to the side, and they deserve huge credit for the manner in which they outplayed Conte’s men. Miralem Pjanic made a superb cameo as a substitute and he, along with Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman, form a midfield trio to rival any on the continent.
The arrival of Radja Nainggolan and Michel Bastos provides depth in both central and wide areas, while in attack they have no such concerns. With no fewer than 13 different players scoring goals for Roma, Garcia has weapons he can rotate further up the pitch, while nine members of the squad have registered at least one assist—showing creativity is also not lacking.
That dominance is reflected by the statistics, which show the club appearing to have held onto the flowing midfield interplay of Luis Garcia and the attacking prowess of Zdenek Zeman’s time in charge. Combining the best of their former coaches shows that—according to WhoScored.com—Roma rank third in shots per game (16.3), second in possession (59.2 per cent) and first in pass completion (86.9 per cent).
With such an abundant, effective attack and the league’s toughest defence, the most important factor in their title challenge appears to be remaining calm, as episodes such as those which saw De Rossi and Leandro Castan receive red cards in Turin will harm their cause.
They added to a league-high five red cards, and the Giallorossi need their best players to avoid suspension, as—particularly in defence—the difference without them is clear.
It is no surprise to see they have won just one of the five Serie A games in which reserve central defender Nicolas Burdisso has seen action, the Argentinean stopper nowhere near as reliable as the regular duo of Castan and Mehdi Benatia.
Indeed, their first 20 games have been all but flawless, and asking more of them now seems somewhat overambitious. Rudi Garcia has won titles before and knows the road to silverware is long, which is probably why he is charged with ensuring Roma keep calm and carry on as they have begun.