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Why AS Roma have an opportunity for the Scudetto

Rudi Garcia’s appointment has heralded improvement in Rome but not to the extent of removing Juventus’ iron grip on the Scudetto. However, with Juventus reeling from the loss of key figures and the Milan clubs still a work in progress, Ahmed Kalagy speculates if the side can have one last hurrah.

The appointment of Rudi Garcia as manager for AS Roma signaled a change in fortune for the Italian capital club. Garcia joined Roma from Lille after his 2011 exploits won them their first Ligue 1 title since 1954. They were by far the most exciting team to watch in France with an abundance of attacking talent in a fast paced and zippy 4-3-3 formation. With Hazard and Gervinho flanking Moussa Sow, they resembled a French version of the mighty Barcelona.

Eden Dzeko Roma 2016

A highly successful manager in his homeland France, Rudi arrived in Rome shouldering the hopes of the club’s fans and all Serie A neutrals in delivering one more Serie A title before the retirement of the legend Francesco Totti. Unfortunately for him, his arrival coincided with a Juventus team that ranks amongst the best Italian teams of this century, subsequently resulting in AS Roma coming second best in the last two seasons. With the likes of Buffon, Pirlo, Tevez, Pogba and Vidal hitting top form, Juventus clinched both titles 17 points ahead of Garcia’s men.

Tactics in Rome and New Signings

In Rome, Garcia still uses his favoured 4-3-3 formation. Why not when he’s had a plethora of attacking wingers, such as Gervinho, Iturbe, Falque, and Adem Ljajić, on his books. He is also blessed with a world class midfield. Kevin Strootman, Miarlem Pjanic, Radja Nainggolan, Seydou Keita, and Daniele De Rossi are the sort of selection headache that every manager in the world would love to have. While Strootman recovers from his injury, Garcia selects two of De Rossi, Nainggolan and Keita to sit at the base of midfield and provide cover to his defensive line, allowing Pjanic to operate as a free flowing central midfielder and make the Roma engine tick. His biggest tactical constraint was the lack of a world-class out and out striker, subsequently forcing him to play with Totti in a false 9 position. The legendary captain’s advancing age meant that he would be unable to play every game for the title contenders and forced Garcia to try a number of ineffective striking options such as Mattia Destro and Seydou Doumbia.

This summer, Garcia finally completed his attacking puzzle. Luring Salah after last season’s exploits with Fiorentina could prove to be one of the signings of the season. Salah’s goal scoring record and attacking influence last season drew most of the plaudits in pundits’ analysis. Yet it is his defensive work that will most likely appease Garcia. Roma’s Champions League thrashing against Bayern in last season’s edition is a stark contrast to their resilience against Barcelona earlier this month. Rudi Garcia singled out Salah for praise after the game.

The addition of Dzeko finally provides him with a true striker of genuine quality. It also provides him with a wide array of attacking options which he has already tinkered with in his first four games this season. The first two games of the season saw him play a 4-3-3 formation with Dzeko as an advanced forward supported by two wingers and the following game saw him line up in 4-2-3-1 with Totti in a number 10 position flanked by Gervino and Falque in support of Eden Dzeko. Finally, in the 2-2 against draw with Sassuolo he reverted back to a Totti based 4-3-3 false nine formation.

The Rebuilding in Milano and the Decline of Juventus

If a Milanese citizen was told after a Mourinho inspired Inter Milan team brought a second Champions League title in 5 years to the fashion capital of Italy that the 2016 Champions League showdown will be hosted in the San Siro, he would have most probably expected one of the two city giants to have a genuine hope of reaching that final. Fast track four years later and for the first time in sixty years neither Milan teams are featuring in any European competition this season. The two clubs went out on a summer spending spree that was not seen in their city for a number of years. If early season form is anything to go by, the summer signings have already demonstrated significant improvement to both squads. The Milanese giants will continue to rebuild and strengthen until they eventually get back to being title contenders. These rebuilding processes rarely happen overnight and a return to the Champions League for both teams would be a more realistic ambition for the season and would still be considered a noteworthy achievement.

Over in Turn, after almost winning the treble, the Juventus team has been disassembled with Tevez going back to his boyhood club Boca Juniors, Pirlo starting his retirement plan in New York and Vidal joining the German giants Bayern Munich. This coupled with Garcia’s astute summer investments opens up one last window of opportunity for Il Re di Roma (The King of Rome), Francesco Totti, to add to his maiden Serie A title before retirement.

The Italian capital has been longing for a title to come its way for so long. Just like with Gerrard two seasons ago when football purists wanted a legend to bow out with a title, the King of Rome is every neutral’s favorite this season. Rudi Garcia significantly strengthened his team and completed the missing pieces in his jigsaw. Totti, has finally given in to his advancing age and is for the first time in a long career content to sit and cheer his team from the bench.

Inter’s loss against Fiorentina demonstrated the sort of cracks in a team being rebuilt – it will take time for all the new signings to gel together – and with AC Milan and Juventus struggling for form will there finally be a Scudetto for the capital club?

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Written by Ahmed Kalagy

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Ahmed Kalagy
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