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“All roads lead to Rome” defines the expectations located within the Italian capital. The new manager of A.S. Roma, Rudi Garcia, hopes by the end of the 13-14 Serie A season that the Champions League competition travels to Rome. It is an ambitious goal for the manager but the Roma fan base always expect big things from their club, and to have a manager as eager as them is music to their ears. In the Serie A 3 clubs can make it to the grand stage of Champions League play, and 3 other clubs make it to the Europa League tournament. Last season Roma lost their chance at Europa League qualification by losing the Derby della Capitale, the Coppa Italia final against Lazio 1-0. It was a bitter defeat to Roma’s biggest rival yet their lack of European competition this season could benefit their goal of Europe qualification. The league competition is already a very long and grueling one and it is made more difficult when you have to battle on different fronts in European competition. Deciding on your best XI is challenging when your star players get little rest after continental action because 3 days later you travel to play in league competition. A lack of depth in quality players results in too many minutes for your best players. Fatigue could set in and ruin your ability to win during the business end of the season, as well as leave your team drained against another club that could have more depth to compete in two legged fixtures. These deciding factors can lead to bad results against weaker teams in the league and that could cost you qualification.
In the Coppa Italia final Roma played in a 4-2-3-1 formation and that is likely to change this season. Garcia has a background of a 4-3-3 formation with Lille, which was known for “attacking, short passing, interchanging philosophy”. Roma has made big splashes in the transfer market to accommodate Garcia and to bring that fluid play that won a Lille a league title in 2011. Kevin Strootman was purchased from PSV Eindhoven and looks to have the capability to step in to that midfield seamlessly. Strootman was reportedly linked with clubs like Manchester United, and Chelsea. He is definitely going to receive many international caps for the Dutch. His presence in midfield is obvious: big and strong, capable of moving box to box and a skilled passer. Strootman is going to be a great link player to get to the forwards. The rock that is holding MF De Rossi, and playmaker Pjanic, plus Strootman will make a strong versatile midfield that will not be bossed around. They have quality depth in midfield with American international Michael Bradley also in their ranks. Bradley works tirelessly as he drops deep to receive passes from the CBs and also to get up to the 18 to link up with forwards.
Another great addition to the team was Gervais Lombe Yao Kouassi aka Gervinho. The forward from the Ivory Coast played for Garcia in 2009-2011 before moving to Arsenal. In two seasons at Lille he netted 36 times in 93 appearances. His past two seasons in London have not been as successful, but many believe a reunion with Garcia will restart that fine goal scoring form of before. As well he will have the great maestro, Francisco Totti, helping him along the way. Add in to the mix Eric Lamela, Destro, and Pablo Osvaldo and there are plenty of options up front to bag goals and get the points necessary to qualify for Europe. What is ultimately more promising, or disheartening, depending on your view on life, is the departure of young Marquinho. The young defender, with so much raw talent yet to be polished, was the gem of the Roma defense last season. Yet when PSG offers that much money, 35 million Euros, it is hard to turn down. No matter how fantastic a season the young Brazilian had, it was still one season and the verdict on him is still out. If PSG are willing to spend that money on an unfinished product Roma can invest that money wisely. It was only a decade ago that Manchester United spent 34.8 million Euros for Rio Ferdinand. Roma with cash in hand are financially capable of buying one or two more CBs that will make their Europe ticket possible.
They will need to spend that money wisely because the crucial points of their season are right before the break and right at the end of the season, in December they host Fiorentina, travel to Milan, host Catania, and travel to Turin to play Juventus. The final month of the season is the same schedule with the venues reversed. Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina all finished above Roma and Catania was right on their heels in 8th place. This is where the season will be determined. Roma pulled the double and beat Fiorentina twice, and Fiorentina arguably has gotten weaker since the departure of their playmaker Steven Jovetic. They beat and drew against AC Milan last season, and they have not noticeably strengthened like Roma has through the transfer season. Against Juventus they were embarrassed in their first fixture but then got a gritty 1-0 win in the second half of the season. Juventus has definitely become a better team with Carlos Tevez joining the team. The results of last season do not mean much this season, but the results of those games are signs that Roma can match with the football capitals of Italy.
Nonetheless the stars seem to be lining up for Roma they have purchased more quality than their rivals and are without the grueling tasks of participating in multiple competitions. Even more promising is they are still sitting on a good amount of money to bring in two more quality players to really challenge for their European place. Rudi Garcia has had an impressive pre-season and his system is starting to produce winning futbol. His managerial skills will be tested this season in what will be his biggest challenge thus far. Still there is plenty of hope for me; this manager has won hardware before and is quietly bringing in players to make a real surprise this season.