Peter Sharland looks at Roma's record-breaking start to the season under new coach Rudi Garcia...
Last weekend Roma made it nine straight victories in Serie A thanks to a 1-0 win over Udinese. This provoked much debate in Italy, as the capital club had technically equalled Juventus’ feat of the 2005/06 season, but many, including Roma boss Rudi Garcia, refused to acknowledge that achievement due to the infamous scandal that saw the Old Lady stripped of that year's title.
You can therefore imagine the scenes in the capital when Roma recorded an unprecedented tenth victory in a row, defeating Chievo by the same scoreline that had seen off Udinese. One more victory, on Sunday against Torino, would match the record set by Bill Nicholson's double-winning Spurs side of 1960/61 season, one that applies across Europe’s top five leagues.
Were you to have cast an eye over any sort of pre-season predictions regarding Serie A, the same three names would have constantly cropped up: Juventus, Napoli and Milan. If anything, the club from the capital that people were talking about were Lazio, Italian Cup winners over their neighbours back in May. Very few people were thinking of this Roma side as potential title challengers - for most involved the main priority was getting back into European football.
After 10 matches, Roma have an 11-point cushion over fourth placed Inter Milan. This is clearly a sizable boost to their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League, but since their opening day victory over Livorno back in August, their aspirations have changed somewhat. This has been down to, in no small part, to the best defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues. Only one goal has found its way past Morgan De Sanctis this season and that was when Jonathan Biabiany opened the scoring for Parma back in mid-September.
This is a remarkable improvement on last season, when only Inter and relegated Siena and Pescara conceded more Serie A goals than Roma. Admittedly, only Fiorentina and Napoli scored more, but Garcia has shown previous bosses that defensive solidarity and attacking prowess do not have to be involved in a trade-off.
Signing Mehdi Benatia was something of a masterstroke; the Moroccan international had been one of the most consistent defenders in Serie A at Udinese and he has carried this form over to Roma. Maicon is looking more like the player that was rampant under Jose Mourinho at Inter, not the forlorn figure humiliated by Gareth Bale and forgotten at Manchester City.
ROMA'S RECORD-BREAKING RUN
- Livorno 0-2 Roma
- Roma 3-0 Hellas Verona
- Parma 1-3 Roma
- Roma 2-0 Lazio
- Sampdoria 0-2 Roma
- Roma 5-0 Bologna
- Inter Milan 0-3 Roma
- Roma 2-0 Napoli
- Udinese 0-1 Roma
- Roma 1-0 Chievo
There is also something less tangible that is working in Roma's favour - a desire from each and every player to fight to the last for the cause. This was evident in recent matches against Udinese and Napoli, where Benatia and Leandro Castan (vs Udinese) and Daniele De Rossi (vs Napoli) saved what looked like certain goals with excellent last-ditch interventions. Under Garcia, Roma have a belief that suggests the players are more than willing to buy into their coach's philosophy.
Take Michael Bradley for example, the man who scored the winner against Udinese. The American has been a peripheral figure recently, due to injury and the form of those around him, but when he came on he was determined to secure victory for the team, and did exactly that.
Their victory over Chievo on Thursday was definitely their most frustrating, ironic given how Roma have themselves frustrated their opposition this season. Their organisation has been such that most of their opponents have been restricted to shooting from outside the box. Chievo had just two shots, both of which were out of the box. Udinese had 10 outside and just three inside while Napoli (11 against four) and Inter (13 against four) continue this trend.
In contrast, across those four games Roma had 24 shots inside the box and 30 shots outside the box. Their statistics are far closer to an even spread and their 54 shots in total outweighs their opponents’ total of 47.
Another strength for Roma this season has been their absence of over-reliance on one player in particular. Both Francesco Totti and Gervinho have been missing recently and yet the 100% record remains in tact. Additionally, the Giallorossi have benefitted from having eleven different scorers across the course of the league season. That is more than the rest of the league leaders from across Europe’s top five leagues.
Alessandro Florenzi is the top scorer with four whilst Miralem Pjanic, Totti, Gervinho and Adem Ljajic all have three to their names. The talismanic Totti is reported to be recovering well from his hamstring injury and his return will only strengthen Roma as they chase a first scudetto since 2000/01.
Losing Erik Lamela, a man who contributed 15 goals and five assists last seasons, was claimed to only weaken Roma by sections of the Italian media but his absence has barely been felt as Pjanic, bizarrely marginalised by Zdenek Zeman, in particular has started to show exactly what he is capable of.
As Roma head to Turin to take on Torino and make it eleven out of eleven the whole scenario cannot help but be graced with a strong sense of irony. When Rudi Garcia flew to Rome to talk to the club’s director of sport, Walter Sabatini he was told in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t be offered the job. The club’s first choice was Max Allegri of AC Milan or failing that the newly available Walter Mazzarri.
Circumstances dictated that neither of these would be appointed and the club had to make a sheepish return to Garcia who, to his credit, still took the job and has produced results beyond all reckoning. They are 11 points ahead of Mazzarri’s Inter and a further 18 in front of Allegri’s Milan. Talk of a scudetto simply won’t go away from here on in, it is up to Garcia and his players to see through the job they have started so well.