Eusebio Di Francesco at Roma: The first six months

Six months ago, Eusebio Di Francesco was appointed as Roma’s new head coach.

The reception to his appointment was mixed, and whilst he still has some doubters in the Roman fanbase, he has managed to win over many of the club’s supporters.

Di Francesco worked his way up through the ranks to be able to return as a coach to the club he once played for. After achieving success in Italy’s lower leagues, it was time for him to step up, and Sassuolo came calling.

He took the club to unprecedented heights, not only winning promotion out of Serie B, but then guiding them to unlikely Europa League qualification.

Under his guidance, players like Nicola Sansone, Domenico Berardi, and current Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini blossomed.

When Luciano Spalletti left Roma in the summer, the opportunity presented itself for Di Francesco to lead one of Italy’s biggest clubs, as many thought he deserved to. Roma negotiated a deal to bring their former midfielder back to the club.

The first few weeks of his tenure were a little shaky. Pre-season was rough, with mixed results. Players seemed to be struggling to grasp his ideas, having to adjust to a new shape, and, for some, new roles.

However, one thing that Di Francesco has always brought with him to any managerial post is a positive mentality. Unperturbed by the disappointing pre-season – also overshadowed by the departures of Mohamed Salah and Antonio Rudiger, as well as the failure to bring in Riyad Mahrez – EDF set up his Roma side to start the season against Atalanta with a win. Deploying his favoured 4-3-3 formation, as he mainly has done this season, his team withheld pressure from the Bergamo side to come away with a 1-0 win. Roma had won without playing particularly well – but the spirit and fortitude shown were a sign of good things to come.

Three weeks later, in his first bow in the Champions League as a coach, a similar pattern ensued. Atletico Madrid kept pushing to find a winning goal, but some resilient defending, an Alisson masterclass, and an astute tactical switch to a back three late on, meant Roma secured a 0-0 draw. It certainly wasn’t the last impressive result in Europe for the club this season.

Roma would go on to record a 3-3 draw away at Premier League champions Chelsea – a game they should have won – before deservedly getting the better of the London side at home with a 3-0 victory. Di Francesco was relishing the big occasions, and by this point, his Roma team finally looked like a force to be reckoned with once more.

Naturally, some doubts still lingered. Roma had sacrificed a 1-0 lead to Inter early in the season, to lose 3-1 in a game in which they had been the better side for an hour. And against Napoli, EDF opted to shut out the opponents rather than attack them. The gameplan worked, except for an individual error from Daniele De Rossi, which gave Napoli the win. Domestically, Roma’s Scudetto rivals were coming out on top.

Despite this, Di Francesco was ensuring his players were doing their job against smaller teams. A hat trick of 1-0 wins over Torino, Crotone and Bologna showed that EDF’s Roma were becoming an efficient outfit. These results were followed by the 3-0 triumph over Chelsea, meaning the team had kept four clean sheets in the space of ten days.

Indeed, Roma had earned a defensive resilience under their new head coach. Whilst last season Spalletti’s Roma broke the club record for number of goals scored, EDF’s side are more noted for their ability at the other end of the pitch. Considering the loss of Rudiger to Chelsea, as well as the fact that two of the club’s main centre-halves, Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus, were considered incapable of playing in Di Francesco’s back four, this is testament to the coach’s good work. He has added an impressive defensive rigidity to Roma.

By November, this Roma side looked, perhaps for the first time, to truly match their coach’s identity. His ideas were working, and the team felt like they were his. And, by now, he had also earned a sense of belonging from many of the fans who had initially questioned his appointment.

Buoyed by his team’s good form, EDF led the side into his first Derby Della Capitale as Roma boss. It was a game that would show his side’s newfound resolve and mentality more than any other – and he came out on top. A 2-1 win resulted, and EDF could bask in the admiration of the supporters.

Roma also completed their Champions League group stage success with a win over Qarabag, consequently topping their group for only the second time in history. With the draw for the Round of 16 pitting Roma against Shakhtar, there is a decent chance of progressing to match the club record of reaching the quarter finals. All this in his first campaign in the Champions League; Di Francesco has certainly taken the challenge in his stride and shown he deserves to be where he is.

Roma’s latest result, a 0-0 draw with Chievo, may have been disappointing, but can be more accurately attributed to luck rather than anything negative on the coach’s part. Indeed, this has been the case for many of the club’s poorer results under him this season – it has been luck, not tactics, that have denied Roma. Di Francesco is doing his job just fine, and has set the groundworks for a successful season, with only three defeats in all competitions to date.

Just five points off top, and with a game in hand, Di Francesco has put Roma in a really good position to be able to fight for the Scudetto. Not many believed he could, but six months into his reign as Roma boss, he has transformed the team into a tough, effective unit, able to compete at any level.

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