5 Things That Can Turn Roma from Contenders to Serie A Title Winners
With Antonio Conte gone from the bench at Juventus and the rest of their rivals still scrambling to catch up, this looks like it could finally be Roma's year for Serie A success.
The Giallorossi haven't won a Scudetto since Fabio Capello led them to a memorable triumph in 2001, but after Rudi Garcia's impressive debut season and a number of exciting editions to the squad this summer, it looks like Roma are finally ready to climb back to the top of Italian football.
Keep Mattia Destro Fit
With a respectable 13 goals for Roma last season, it's easy to forget that Mattia Destro made just 14 starts and didn't feature at all until the Giallorossi met Fiorentina in December.
Recurring problems with a meniscus injury—which have lead to some heated exchanges between the club and Italy's U21 staff doctors—have hampered the young striker's development since he moved to the Stadio Olimpico two seasons ago, but if he can stay fit there's no telling how good Destro could become.
The 23-year-old is still a little rough around the edges, but having invested a lot of time and money into the player, this season should finally see Roma reap the rewards. On his day he's one of the finest young attackers in Europe, and certainly among the most exciting players in Serie A right now.
Getting a whole season from him, uninterrupted by fitness issues, would make all the difference to a title challenge and a European campaign.
Find a Rotation That Works
Last season's success at Roma was due in large part to the fact that Garcia discovered a formula that worked from the outset and he stuck with it.
There were generally very few changes to the manager's starting XI last season, apart from switches forced by injury, but this year, with the added stress of European football, the 50-year-old Frenchman will have to be clever about how and when he uses his best players.
Young players like Adem Ljajic and Alessandro Florenzi will have to be kept motivated, because it's unlikely they'll start every game, and senior key players like Leandro Castan, Mehdi Benatia, Daniele De Rossi, Miralem Pjanic, Francesco Totti and Gervinho will need to be watched closely to protect them from injury.
Roma have added a lot of quality to the squad over the summer, and it looks like Garcia has the tools for the job. But striking the right balance between continuity and caution is never easy.
Avoid a Late Medhi Benatia Sale
These days, everyone has their price, and while Romanisti won't want to see Medhi Benatia leave the Stadio Olimpico after just one season, there's little doubt he'll be allowed to go if the money's right.
Holding onto a player who doesn't want to be there doesn't make sense—especially in the context of a dressing room that Garcia's obviously worked hard at turning into a united and harmonious place. If a bid comes in—like the £30 million one rumoured to be on the table from Manchester United—it would be better for the club to take the deal.
There is one caveat: Any deal should be done in time to allow that money to be spent wisely on strengthening the team. Last season, Walter Sabatini ignored critics, took the big-money offer from Tottenham for Erik Lamela and the astonishing sums of money Paris Saint-Germain were willing to exchange for Marquinhos, and then set about making the squad as a whole a lot better.
Roma don't need to make a big sale for the balance sheet, but for the sake of balance in the squad it might make sense. Because if Benatia really wants to go, then there's no place for him in a committed and close-knit group.
Make Sure Ashley Cole Settles
Last season, Roma signed an ageing full-back on a free transfer from an English Premier League club, and most people scoffed.
Maicon hadn't been himself since Inter's treble-winning season in 2010, and after a hit-and-miss time of it with Manchester City, the general consensus was that his move to the Giallorossi was little more than a swan song for the once great defender.
One season later, we have proof, as if we needed it, that most of the time the general consensus doesn't know what it's talking about. Maicon set Serie A alight and was absolutely fundamental to the Lupi's success in 2013-14.
Ashley Cole can have a similar impact.
The transition from Stamford Bridge to the Olimpico will be harder for Cole than Maicon's move from Manchester, since the Brazilian had already proven himself in Italy, but the ex-England international has been the best in his position for more than a decade, and once he's motivated, there's no reason to think he won't be a glittering success.
Penetrating width is something that most Serie A sides lack, and adding Cole to the flanks gives Garcia a precious advantage because his players will now be able to spread the ball wide on both sides to great effect. He's also gained an experienced head who knows how to deal with the pressures of the Champions League—something many of his other key players have yet to master.
Don't Allow Pressure to Build on Any One Player
For almost as long as anyone can remember, Totti's been shouldering the weight of expectation and the heavy burden of disappointment that often spills over from the stands onto the players.
But now, Roma has a team full of stars, and if one of them doesn't shine as brightly as was hoped, a barrage of criticism will be inevitable. The Giallorossi can't allow it to derail their season.
Dealing with the pressure from fans after an underwhelming performance is all part of being a top club, and if Roma want to be Serie A contenders and Champions League regulars, they'll have to deal with it.
High-profile, expensive additions to the squad this summer, especially the young Juan Iturbe, will be closely watched and keenly criticised, and the club will need to make sure that they've got the support to be able to shake it off and continue regardless.
Fans and the media, for their part, need to maintain a long-term perspective—something that has always been a problem where Roma's been concerned.
Yes, they're title contenders, and yes, the squad is full of talent, but this team still needs to develop and there's definitely room to improve. They need to be allowed to do so.
Colin O'Brien lives and works in Rome, covering Italian football. You can contact him on Twitter.