Are Roma getting the credit they deserve?
With as many points as league leaders Milan since the return from lockdown and an unbeaten record on the pitch this season – which extended with a convincing win over Fiorentina on Sunday – belief is starting to be restored in Rome.
Yes, the squad may have something of a Jekyll and Hyde identity at present, given the difference between the performances of the players Paulo Fonseca chooses in Serie A and the Europa League. But the domestic form is getting better and better, so maybe the formula is working.
The frustrations of Thursday’s draw in the Europa League against CSKA Sofia seemed long forgotten by the time Roma had dominated Fiorentina. If this is what it takes to keep the momentum going, then Fonseca’s policy is justified. And let’s not forget that Roma are still unbeaten in Europe this season too, even if the performances have been below par.
In the league, though, Roma are becoming a juggernaut – especially at home. They have only tasted defeat once at Stadio Olimpico since the return from lockdown, now boasting an eight-game unbeaten run on their own patch.
Nobody quite knew how playing football behind closed doors would affect the home and away form of clubs. For some reason, Roma seem to be benefitting at their own venue.
In their last 10 home games before lockdown, Roma won only half. They suffered defeats to Torino, Juventus and Bologna during that spell.
In contrast, the first 10 home games after lockdown have brought six wins but just one defeat. Importantly, that spell has also seen them claim draws with title challengers Inter Milan and Juventus.
In total last season, Roma earned 34 points at home – in contrast to 36 in their away games. Often backed by a large travelling support when it was allowed, La Magica did well on the road.
This time around, it’s beginning to become a bit of a role reversal. The Olimpico is becoming a fortress again – and that can only be a good thing.
Against Fiorentina, Roma weathered the storm for five minutes, before taking that storm to their opponents for the next 85. For the most part, their visitors didn’t have a sniff.Embed from Getty Images
Some of that was down to their own performance – questions have been raised of Giuseppe Iachini’s tactics – but that should not take the credit away from Roma.
It feels like this team is building towards something. The questions directed at Fonseca in interviews are becoming more ambitious every week. At the start of the season, he was asked if Roma could compete; later, he was asked if they could reach the Champions League; after Sunday’s game, he was asked if they could challenge for the title.
In response, he gave a familiar line – that of taking things one game at a time. It keeps the pressure off Roma, but would he say such a thing if he didn’t believe there was a chance?
It’s far too early to say where this form can take Roma, but why not dream? Imagine if Nicolo Zaniolo can return to this group before the end of the season. Imagine if Stephan El Shaarawy can rejoin the club in January and rediscover his best form. Until then, Roma have enough ability to keep pace.Embed from Getty Images
Maybe the outsiders role will suit Roma this season. With lower expectations from elsewhere, the Giallorossi could cause an unexpected disruption to their rivals.
Dreams of a Scudetto may be taking it too far, but if you aim high, then even if you fall short, you may land further than you would have expected if not.
As Pedro said when he arrived at the club, why should Roma limit their ambitions to just reaching the top four? It’s a competitive season and it could go either way. With the right belief, Roma can ensure they don’t fall short of their targets, but maybe surpass them.
Any place in the top four will do, of course. If Roma keep playing like this, then they should be able to achieve that target.
Now, the focus will return to the Europa League briefly. It is likely that Fonseca will rest his key men once again, so they can keep up their charge in Serie A.
When league football returns, Roma must continue to aim high. As long as they keep gaining points at the current rate, they will quickly earn the respect of others.