Last summer, Roma were an unknown quantity.
They had a new coach and several new signings, and Marquinhos and Erik Lamela, the standout performers during the previous campaign, had both moved on. President James Pallotta had only recently taken a more hands-on approach at the club, too. The potential was clear, but few expected the new Giallorossi project to be so successful so quickly.
Now, 12 months on, they go into the 2014-15 season as favourites for the title.
Juventus would have probably still had the edge had Antonio Conte remained on the bench, but even with a talented squad of experienced players, Max Allegri's success is far from certain. Have Juve signed the coach who confidently led Milan to their first title in seven years back in 2011, or the manager who looked so devoid of ideas during his final months at San Siro? We'll have to wait and see.
The momentum, then, is unquestionably with Roma. The majority of the squad's star players are all tied to long-term contracts, and though there is interest in several of them, they're not under pressure to sell.
Not only that, but Walter Sabatini, Roma's director of football, appears to have been given a sizeable budget for this summer's transfer window and has already made enough acquisitions to make Roma even better than they were last season.
"Roma have their wings" was how the Gazzetta dello Sport greeted the arrivals of Ashley Cole and Juan Iturbe. The pink paper was clearly excited about the prospect of adding two high-quality players to the flanks, joining Maicon and Gervinho to give the Lupi the kind of devastating potential out wide rarely seen in Serie A.
Cole should be a success at the Stadio Olimpico, as Rudi Garcia will be thankful not only for his technical ability but also the winning experience that he can bring to the dressing room.
Iturbe is one of the most exciting young attacking talents around right now, and signing him not only improved the squad but also upset rivals Juventus, who had been closely linked to the former Verona forward's signature according to FourFourTwo.
Pipping local rivals Lazio to Davide Astori's services was another coup for Sabatini; the 27-year-old brings international experience to the Olimpico and is a proven Serie A performer. The Giallorossi were one of Europe's most impressive defences last season, but with the added stresses of Champions League football to deal with this year, Garcia needed more depth in his squad, so a player like Astori will be invaluable—even if he doesn't play every week.
Likewise Urby Emanuelson and Seydou Keita, who have been brought in to create more competition for starting places, as both have the kind of experience that the manager will be looking for in his squad players. Emanuelson wasn't always settled at Milan and has fallen out of favour with the Netherlands national team, but he's a fine player nevertheless and can be an able deputy to Cole.
Roma boast one of Italy's—and possibly Europe's—best midfields, so the 34-year-old Keita might struggle for regular football, but the two-time Champions League winner will be a reliable, mature option on the bench should Garcia be forced into a change.
Roma deserve credit for adding these finishing touches without breaking the bank, too. With the exception of Iturbe, who cost €22 million, the Giallorossi have been creative in the transfer market and targeted players whom other clubs chose to ignore in much the same way as they signed the out-of-favour Maicon, Gervinho and Morgan De Sanctis last summer.
Last summer was all about revolution in the Italian capital, but after a league campaign that would have been good enough to win the Scudetto most seasons, the focus this summer is on evolution. All Roma need to do is tweak an already impressive setup and cover up the few weak points they have.
It's early days, but it seems they've done just that by adding an in-demand attacker and a top-class left-back. More players might yet come in, but it's getting harder to identify what, if anything, they really need.
A lot can happen between now and next May, and Roma will have a fight on their hands if they want to win the league, but right now the Giallorossi are definitely Italy's best performers in the transfer market.
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