Roma V Real Madrid: What Rudi Garcia Learned in International Champions Cup
It was only a pre-season friendly, but the opposition and the winning goal will have made Rudi Garcia a very happy man.
Like Roma fans everywhere, the French coach will have been doubly delighted by the Giallorossi's performance in Dallas, firstly because they managed to beat the current European champions and secondly because, well, who doesn't like a bit of panache from Francesco Totti?
Real had the run of the first half in this game, and it was only an excellent defensive performance from Mehdi Benatia and Leandro Castan that kept the Lupi in it. The Italian side improved considerably in the second half, putting in a respectable team performance and ending the game deserved winners.
Francesco Totti's Ready for the New Season
Roma's veteran captain is usually a model of professionalism, so it's not a huge surprise that the 37-year-old has taken good care of his fitness over the summer.
Even so, Garcia will have been delighted to see Er Pupone get on the scoresheet and make the difference for the Giallorossi like he has so many times in the past.
The Italians had turned the tide of the game in the second half, but there were still few chances—until Totti dummied a pass in classic trequartista style to find Alessandro Florenzi's overlapping run. The young Roman quickly returned the favour, crossing the ball perfectly to find Totti ready to strike in the box.
Roma fans everywhere will be hoping that there'll be plenty more of that to come from the two home-grown heroes over the course of the campaign.
There's Very Little Radja Nainggolan Can't Do
Again, this might not be news to the coach who works with him week in and week out, but Radja Nainggolan was impressive in a more technical role against Real, passing well and spreading the play.
A lot of people rightly admire the Belgian for his physicality, energy and versatility, but his skill with the ball shouldn't be overlooked, and it shouldn't surprise anyone who watches him regularly that his favourite players growing up were Ronaldinho and Gennaro Gattuso. His play is an odd mixture of both of them.
Since moving to Cagliari in 2010, he's been one of Serie A's best tacklers—and also one of the league's most accurate passers.
With Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman and Miralem Pjanic, Roma already had one of the best midfields in Europe, but adding Nainggolan last winter, they strengthened it considerably. Now, with the experienced Seydou Keita as cover, even with a more congested calendar, Garcia's got a central line-up that will trouble the best in the Champions League.
He's not as integral to the club as De Rossi, or as elegant with the ball as Pjanic, but Nainggolan is the type of midfielder that any manager would love to have on his team sheet, and after his performance against Real, it wouldn't be surprising if even Ancelotti cast a few admiring glances in his direction.
Mehdi Benatia Looks Settled
If Mehdi Benatia is upset about the contract problems he had earlier in the summer, he's not letting it affect his work.
The Moroccan was superb as usual against Real, partnering brilliantly with Leandro Castan and generally making life difficult for the Spaniards in front of the Roman goal.
It's true that Carlo Ancelotti started without a traditional centre-forward, and as such might have made Benatia's job a little easier, but Gareth Bale is hardly a pushover, and as the world's most expensive player, you'd expect him to be able to trouble a goalkeeper more than he was allowed to at the Cotton Bowl.
Ashley Cole Wants to Impress
If Ashley Cole wanted one last comfortable job before retiring, he'd have headed to the MLS or to Asia on a massive contract rather than taking a pay cut to join Roma.
The English full-back is still hungry for success, and against Real, he's shown he's up to the task. Cole was one of the best players on the pitch in Dallas, and speaking to reporters after the game, via SkySports.com, he sounded happy with his new side:
With me joining a new team, it's nice to see the young players so enthusiastic and ready to work for each other. To win against a great team like Real Madrid, the European champions—okay it's pre-season—but it's good for our confidence.
It's gone well [with Roma so far]. I've played two sets of 90 minutes.
I'm trying to learn Italian. I'm taking my time but I think it's good to try and bond with the players by understanding their language.
On the pitch, it's easy because football is football but if I want to interact with them off the pitch, then of course I have to learn Italian.