Last season, Roma embarked on a campaign that even the club’s most ardent supporters could have never predicted. After the two previous years had ended in abject disappointment, a revitalised Giallorossi took Serie A by storm, providing Antonio Conte’s Juventus with their sternest title challenge to date.
Finally, the grand plans laid down by James Pallotta had begun to bear fruit: the US owner’s foresight and planning was rewarded with a second-place finish and a long-overdue return to Champions League action.
Since the club was purchased by Pallotta's American consortium in April 2011 it has endured a difficult fight to recover, with years of financial mismanagement forcing an uphill struggle. It is therefore somewhat fitting that this week they come face to face with Manchester City, a club who have undergone both a similar transformation and overcome a number of their own false dawns.
- 2014/15: 2nd (as it stands)
- 2013/14: 2nd
- 2012/13: 6th
- 2011/12: 7th
- 2010/11: 6th
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan invested in the club at an unprecedented level, only to see Mark Hughes fail to convert his spending into on-field success. At Roma, Luis Enrique filled that role, as his coaching tenure instilled an entertaining but ultimately flawed brand of football. Like Hughes, he was a former Barcelona player who was liked and respected, yet never won the full backing of the club he was attempting to lead. A return for Czech schemer Zdenek Zeman followed, but he too oversaw a dire campaign, with both men failing to attain even a Europa League place despite the strong financial backing they received.
With Walter Sabatini taking control of the club’s transfer strategy, however, it wouldn't be long before Roma finally struck gold.
The appointment of Rudi Garcia last summer coincided with the sporting director’s complete overhaul of the playing squad, and only three players who were at the club four years ago remained. While one of those – reserve goalkeeper Bogdan Labont – may come as a surprise, the continued presence of Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti is a source of pride for the Giallorossi faithful.
Both born in the Eternal City, Rome’s most famous footballing sons now lead an exciting and talented side capable of demolishing even the most resolute opponents – and they regularly do so with ease.
Totti turned 38 at the weekend, yet marked his return to Europe’s elite competition this term with a vintage performance against CSKA Moscow. He may not have been the star of the 5-1 thrashing of the Russians, but the captain was still able to make a vital contribution, including a sublime assist for Gervinho.
Men in the middle
The Ivorian was undoubtedly man of the match on matchday one, netting twice after laying on the opening goal, and is unrecognisable from the forlorn figure seen at Arsenal. He has continued his excellent form of last term – discussed here
– into the new campaign, already weighing in with three goals and two assists in 2014/15. The winger is a constant threat on the left flank, and one City will need to monitor closely on Tuesday evening, with Juan Manuel Iturbe providing the same from the opposite side of the pitch.
Roberto Mancini identified the Argentine as a major threat when discussing the fixture with La Gazzetta dello Sport, saying the former Hellas Verona man “can create problems for City... in the counter-attack he can be devastating.” Fellow forward Mattia Destro stunned the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday with an incredible strike, meanwhile, but the strength of this term arguably lies midfield.
Even with De Rossi missing through injury, Roma’s central trio have barely missed a beat. Seydou Keita and Radja Nainggolan have combined seamlessly to provide both defensive solidity and attacking intent. Long-term absentee Kevin Strootman is also nearing a return, highlighting just how great this side could be, while the new contract handed to Miralem Pjanić may well have been the best business done this summer.
The Bosnian midfielder’s previous deal was set to expire in June 2015, and Roma held off some strong interest from Manchester United to secure his immediate future. After his late free-kick protected all three points against Parma last week, the 24-year-old was lauded by Totti, the undisputed king of Rome.
“Pjanic is our little prince, our Principino,” the captain said in a radio interview, admitting to “a real weakness” for his style of play “and the rapport we forged”.
Pjanic celebrates his brilliant free-kick against Parma
That unit will need to be at their best for their visit to the Etihad Stadium, with City’s own midfield beginning to click into form spearheaded by David Silva. Behind them, a Roma defence hit by the acrimonious exit of Mehdi Benatia has shown no signs of crumbling, conceding just a single league goal thus far. Kostas Manolas has slotted in as if he was a veteran of the side, proving to be yet another stellar signing from Sabatini.
Perhaps the one area for concern is at full-back, where Maicon’s form has suffered an alarming dip in recent weeks. The Brazilian still seems troubled by his off-field issues during the last international break, when he was mysteriously sent home by Brazil. City tend to play quite narrowly, but may seek to exploit this weakness through Jesús Navas, who could prove to be the difference for Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
Should the pacey Spaniard be deployed with that in mind, it would mirror the way Iturbe and Gervinho are used by Roma, drawing another similarity between two otherwise vastly different clubs – on the surface at least. While they continue to shine domestically, neither has made an impact in Europe, with Roma’s 2008 quarter-final the best either side has managed in the Champions League era. As they aim to carve out a place for themselves among the European elite, a win for either team on Tuesday would be a big step in what has already been an arduous journey for the pair.