Nine games into the Serie A season and a new title challenger has emerged in record-breaking fashion.
Roma have seemingly reclaimed their spot as one of Italy’s powerhouses, proving the majority of football commentators, experts and fans alike wrong – myself included.
Atop the Serie A standings, the Giallorossi sit on the maximum possible of 27 points after nine matches, a 100 percent record.
This amazing run now stands as the new Serie A record to start a season, although Juventus did achieve this in 2005-2006 before being stripped of their title as part of the Calciopoli scandal.
Having last achieved a top five finish back in the 2009/10 season, what has set this year’s team apart from previous seasons?
The squad itself has not necessarily been overhauled and one should not forget that Roma sold both their leading scorers from last season in Pablo Osvaldo and Erik Lamela.
Anyone who watched Roma play last year would be familiar with the influence Lamela could have on the team. He was arguably their strongest player of the 2012-2013 season, finishing with 15 goals and five assists.
The purchases of Gervinho and Maicon have provided some surprising positives for Roma, while the late pick-up of Adem Ljajic, who I’m a big fan of, from Fiorentina will continue to help fill Lamela’s gap.
Still, you would be hard pressed to say that the squad is abundantly (if at all) stronger.
One of the most influential aspects of the new season has been the ageless form of Francesco Totti, which has been a remarkable sight to watch. Up until last week’s injury, at home to Napoli, Totti was one of the form players of the league with three goals and six assists.
It is amazing to think that at 37 years of age, Totti is able to impact a game to such an extent, an ability which has already resulted in the Italian legend being re-signed for an additional two years.
The most significant impact on the record-breaking Giallorossi outfit, however, is the new man in charge, Rudi Garcia, who has reminded many in Italy of just how valuable a manager can be.
Despite some early resentment from the Roma fans with the Frenchman’s off-season arrival, Garcia has completely transformed the team and fan perception.
Roma finished the 2012-13 season conceding 56 goals in 38 games, the (equal) fourth worst defensive record in the league.
From almost 1.5 goals conceded a game, Garcia’s Roma have let through only one goal from nine games, an incredible turn around.
Six rounds into the season, I was still somewhat unconvinced as to Roma’s credentials given that their 2-0 win over Lazio in the Rome derby was their only notable scalp – with all due respect to Livorno, Verona, Parma, Sampdoria and Bologna.
Looking ahead to Roma’s fixtures, featuring an away trip to face Inter, followed by Napoli (home) and Udinese (away), I was sure this would truly prove where Roma stood.
They had already proven this Inter fan of their title credentials as I stared down the television screen displaying a 3-0 deficit at half-time of the week seven fixture.
It was my bemusement at what had just happened that almost personifies Roma’s success this season.
I remember being very impressed with the way Inter had started that match, pushing forward with a lot of confidence and controlling the early stages of the match.
Suddenly, against the run of play, Roma worked the ball swiftly across their forward line for Totti to produce a fantastic finish and take the lead.
As I hoped for a reaction from Inter, a couple chances did fall the Nerazzurri’s way, with Fredy Guarin hitting the post with a long-range belter.
As I began to contemplate my half-time coffee options, Gervinho won a penalty and soon after Roma rode the wave with Alessandro Florenzi scoring a third on the counter.
For large parts of the half, Inter were the better or more dominant team, yet the home crowd were left scratching their heads in Roma’s wake.
Despite pushing forward with the ball, Inter simply weren’t able to break through Roma’s last line of defence and were forced to try their luck from beyond.
In many of their games Roma have not necessarily dominated their opponents, but frustrated them. The team moves in a manner that makes their last line of defence so hard to penetrate. Yet when they have the ball, they are nothing but clinical.
Whether it be on the counter, in an attacking build-up or via set-pieces, Roma have used their opportunities like no other. Despite leading the league on 23 goals (equal with Inter), Roma’s shots per game does not sit within the top five for the league.
This ability to take control of a game without necessarily dominating is something Garcia has instilled in the 2013-14 edition of the Giallorossi. Together with a new found belief in themselves, Roma has emerged as a very dangerous threat for the Scudetto.
I am not one to get too carried away, and Garcia will be the first to emphasize that there are still 87 league points to play for.
The depth of Roma does not boast the same credentials of Juventus, who remain the firm Scudetto favourites with the bookies at $1.85. (Roma are now second at $2.80.)
But if Sunday’s away win at Udinese is anything to go on, the team continues to believe in their abilities even when times are tough – playing without the likes of Totti and Gervinho, and playing the last 30 minutes with 10 men.
I for one am immensely excited at the prospects ahead for the Serie A this season.
Roma are breaking records led by one of the most underrated tacticians in the game. Juventus and Napoli are producing their consistent quality, while Vincenzo Montella continues to emerge as one of Europe’s up and coming young strategists at the helm of an impressive Viola outfit.
This is exactly the kind of competition and intrigue Italian football needs to return to former glory as one of the world’s top leagues.
Forza Serie A!