The 2014/15 season promised much for Roma. Their main title rivals, Juventus, had lost Antonio Conte; the coach that steered them to three consecutive Scudetti, while they themselves had strengthened by bringing in experienced, high-calibre players in Ashley Cole and Seydou Keita as well as young talent in Kostas Manolas and Juan Iturbe. With Kevin Strootman also set to return from injury, there was optimism that Roma could seriously push Juventus, if not finally unseat the reigning champions.
Everything started swimmingly. Roma won their opening five league games before a late goal saw them lose 3-2 in the Juventus Stadium. In the Champions League, they thrashed CSKA Moscow and earned a valuable point away to Manchester City. And then the wheels gradually came off. A catastrophic 7-1 reverse at home to a vibrant Bayern Munich side was a serious comedown; suddenly the positivity fostered in previous games was eroded. The defence began to look vulnerable and the attack toothless as Roma put consecutive wins together on just three occasions throughout the rest of the Serie A season, with none of those sequences lasting longer than three games.
To make matters worse, Strootman suffered another damaging injury in January and missed the rest of the campaign, while several of the exciting new signings, particularly Cole and Iturbe, underwhelmed. Eventually Roma secured second place thanks to a 2-1 win in May’s Derby della Capitale, but their league performance had declined from the previous year and they had sunk without trace in European competition, bowing out of the Champions League at the group stage before losing to Fiorentina in the Europa League round of 16.
Despite a poor second season in charge, coach Rudi Garcia has held on to his job, at least for the time being. His squad has been bolstered by the arrivals of three new attacking players in Edin Dzeko, Mohamed Salah and Iago Falque; a clear acknowledgement of the Giallorossi’s deficiency in the final third last season. Roma drew 13 times in Serie A last season and the primary reason for that was a lack of cutting edge. They’re certainly not short of quantity or individual quality up front; instead the issue for Garcia is finding a functional forward line amid the wealth of options.
Rudi Garcia found himself under pressure towards the end of last season and there was some speculation as to whether he would still be in charge come this weekend. The Frenchman has survived, but he will be expected to deliver an improved challenge to Juventus.
After winning a French league and cup double with Lille, Garcia has as yet failed to deliver silverware for Roma. He has installed a neat, possession-based style of play, but his team lacked punch last season in a Scudetto bid that faltered early. As a result, Garcia must reconfigure his attack.
The club’s signing of Dzeko suggests that Garcia will modify his 4-3-3 formation to include an out-and-out striker, potentially meaning Roman legend Francesco Totti spends more time on the bench than on the pitch. Certainly, in order to inject greater dynamism into his attack, this is a decision Garcia may find to be unpopular but vital to his team’s success.
Whatever Garcia does, he must find a more effective system. Both Milan giants, as well as Napoli and Lazio, have added to their squads over the summer, meaning Roma will probably need to improve just to keep hold of their second-place spot.
After some good performances for Greece at the 2014 World Cup, Kostas Manolas left his home country and Olympiakos for Roma, joining the club for a fee of €15 million. Roma have made a habit of buying and selling centre-backs for profit in recent years, with the likes of Marquinhos and Mehdi Benatia making the club millions. Manolas is unlikely to follow down the same path however, he’s far too important.
Manolas handled his first season at the heart of the Roma defence with consummate ease. With the necessary basic defensive attributes including aerial ability, strength and positioning, combined with technique and athleticism, the 24-year-old is one of the finest central defenders around today.
Arsenal, among others, have reportedly shown serious interest in him over the last six months but Roma, having already allowed Alessio Romagnoli and Mapou Yang-Mbiwa to leave, would be hostile to any bid for their Greek star. Instead, expect Manolas to lead their defensive line for years to come.
One to Watch
For whatever reason, Chelsea just did not fancy Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian, signed from Basle for a fairly substantial fee, was given little opportunity before being loaned out midway through last season to Fiorentina as part of a deal that took Juan Cuadrado the other way. The deal may not have worked out perfectly for Cuadrado or Chelsea, but it did for Salah, who thrived in his six-month loan spell in Florence.
Fiorentina then wanted to extend Salah’s stay, only for the player to reject the notion of returning to the Artemio Franchi. There then ensued a protracted transfer saga as Inter revealed their interest, only for Roma to steal in and sign the winger on loan with an option for a permanent deal.
As a left-footed inverted winger, Salah will face competition at Roma from Iturbe and fellow new signing Falque, though with his explosive turn of pace and attacking moxy, he is guaranteed to play and should provide an injection of vim into a forward line that appeared staid at times last season.
Edin Dzeko’s arrival gives a clear indication of the way in which Roma are likely to line up this season. While in recent years the club has often utilised a 4-3-3 with a false nine – Totti – flanked by inverted wingers, they now look likely to play the same system but with Dzeko; a more orthodox centre-forward, the focal point of the attack.
Salah will probably start on Dzeko’s right, aiming to cut in onto his favoured left foot and cause havoc with his speed and incision. Roma have a plethora of options for the other attacking spot, including Adem Ljajic, Iturbe, Falque, Gervinho and Victor Ibarbo. Ljajic may get the nod on account of his being able to drift inside from the left and find dangerous pockets of space.
On paper the midfield looks good, but the harsh reality is that only Radja Nainggolan was at the top of his game last season. Strootman continued to suffer with injury, De Rossi looked unwieldy and Miralem Pjanic failed to find his best form.
Alessandro Florenzi could be used in central midfield to add vigour, though he is currently needed just as much, if not more so, at right-back, due to the paucity of quality there; Maicon is well past his best and Vasilis Torosidis is really no more than a decent squad player. Roma also lack on the other side of the back four, where Jose Holebas was surprisingly shunted off to Watford after a solid season and Ashley Cole terminated his contract.
Worryingly, Roma also lack depth in central defence after selling off Romagnoli and Yanga-Mbiwa. Leandro Castan is back from a long-term injury but, Manolas aside, there are currently no other options in this area. In their recent 6-4 friendly victory over Sevilla, Roma looked bright going forward, full of attacking interchanges and opportunism, but were not so clever at the back. They absolutely must reinforce their shallow backline if they seriously intend to challenge for the Scudetto and compete in the Champions League, something recent reports have suggested Roma realise and are close to addressing by signing Stuttgart’s Antonio Rudiger.