Believe it or not, 19 weeks of Serie A action have come and gone already, bringing with them the requisite highs and lows associated with being a Roma fan. We're going to win the Scudetto, we're going to shock Europe, Francesco Totti is a god, no wait, he's suddenly become an impediment other player's development. Rudi Garcia is a genius! Give him a lifetime contract, What, we drew a match? He's a charlatan, burn him at the stake! What the hell is Gervinho doing? Fuck, Inter Milan got Lukas Podolski, give them the title, I hate Walter Sabatini! Why am I shouting at my tablet...ooh, those jerseys look nice!
And that's but a glimpse into the fickle mind of a Roma fan, you don't want to peer into that subconscious, trust me. However, as Roma fans, we all know that nothing is ever okay until everything is okay, which will never happen because God hates us and Juventus has the referees in their hip pockets.
But has the first half of the season really been that bad, or will some morsel objectivity make us feel better? Less hyperbolic? A touch less maudlin, perhaps?
Probably not, but let's take a look.
What Has Gone Right
I am writing this under the assumption that Juventus will defeat Hellas Verona, pushing the Scudetto gap to five points (they did, it just takes me a while to hit publish apparently), meaning Roma still has a plausible chance at unseating the Old Lady before the season ends. Title hunt or not, Roma's prime ambition year-after-year must be qualifying for the Champions League. In Roma 2.0, let's consider this the bare minimum; we simply cannot be taken seriously if we are not in the game's most prestigious competition on an annual basis. So in that light, the eight point lead over third place Napoli is certainly a welcomed sign.
So let's dive right in...First off, the hard numbers.
Roma ranks fourth in the league with 32 goals forced (25 inside the area, 7 outside), while their 14 goals conceded are second only to Juve's absurd nine goals conceded, while their +18 goal differential also trails only Juventus. Much of this piece focuses on Roma's offense, which wasn't intended, but suffice it to say, much of Juve's success over the past several season has been predicated on a stern defense, so whatever measure of consistency Rudi Garcia can receive from anyone not named Maicon or Kostas Manolas will be welcomed.
Anyway, back to it...
In the friendly confines of the Stadio Olimpico, Roma has been just as stout as their northern neighbors. Through their first ten home matches, Roma has taken a league leading 24 points, while throwing up a league leading +16 goal differential in the process. On the road, however, their form dips a bit, as their 17 points are "only" the league's third best mark, while their +2 goal differential is tied for fifth in Italy. Under normal circumstances, we'd accept those figures with open arms, but if we're talking Scudetto, that shit won't cut it, not unless Roma runs the table at home in the second half.
However, at least on the surface, things are looking pretty solid and somewhat similar to last season, but let's take a look at some more minute statistics and trends and see how the club looks under closer scrutiny.
In terms of the things that matter-points, wins, and goals scored/conceded-Roma fares quite well when compared to the league mean. Through 19 weeks of play, Roma has averaged 2.16 points per game, well above the league average of 1.33, which obviously contributes to their impressive winning percentage (63%), which is also well above the league average 33%. Roma also bests the league average in terms of goals scored and goals conceded per match.
They may not seem as flawless as they did a year ago, but much like last season, Juventus' spotless record makes Roma's relatively innocuous struggles seem malignant, but the fact of the matter is, Roma are in as good a position as we could've possibly hoped, especially given how much turnover there was on the back line.
With respect to the things that lead to those goals--passes and shots--Roma also looks pretty rosy. Roma leads the league with 61.8% possession and 87% passing, while their 10.6 dribbles per match are good for third best in Serie A. Led by players like Seyoud Keita and Miralem Pjanic, Roma has put a stranglehold on the midfield nearly every week.
That all sounds pretty good, right? While some of these numbers were no doubt padded by Roma's early season performances, on the balance, we don't have too much to complain about, but is there cause for concern?
What Hasn't Gone Right
Well, for starters, when we pull back those offensive statistics, some troubling trends arise; trends that might suggest Roma's luck may run out sooner rather than later.
As we just discussed, Roma are among the league's best sides in terms of possession, passing precision and dribbling, but when we look a bit deeper, much of that possession and passing goes for naught. Despite being able to hold, pass, and dribble around defenses seemingly at will, Roma's actual chance creation hasn't been quite as prolific. Through 19 matches, Roma has averaged only 10.9 chances created per match, good for only sixth in the league. This, I think, is the real spot of trouble. There's a reason pointless possession was the bane of Zdenek Zeman's existence; eventually you're found out, passing and holding for the sake of it is a temporary tactic, not an ethos; sooner or later, your lack of creativity and initiative will be your undoing.
And, hey, wouldn't you know it, the numbers back this assertion up. Yes, Rudi Garcia's offense can pass, hold and move, but when we consider how (relatively) poor they are at actually creating chances, it should come as no surprise that Roma hasn't exactly left opposing keepers quaking in their boots. Roma ranks just seventh in shots inside the area, or, as they're more commonly known, "the ones with the best chance to score" and ninth in shots outside the area. We've seen it nearly every dropped point this season; Garcia's offense can pass and move, but when they stagnate, it's often because play gets trapped on the wings, lobbing in hopeless crosses and settling for shots from distance; which simply doesn't work over the long haul.
Don't get me wrong, these aren't terrible figures, per se, but they're not championship figures, nor do they portend sustainable success. Passing, holding and dribbling are all well and good, but if they don't amount to frequent high quality shots, you'd better be extremely accurate and deadly efficient; Roma has been a mixed bag in that regard this season.
Through the first leg of league fixtures, the club has put 47% of their shots on target, good for only sixth in the league, while their collective 12% conversion rate is right up there with Juventus' 13%...it was hard to find a reliable database for this particular stat, but as far as I could tell, Roma was among the better sides.
Point being, by wasting possession and not creating quality scoring chances, Roma only puts more pressure on themselves; every shot must be precise and every shot must have a legitimate chance of scoring, which only puts more pressure on Garcia's second half subs. That is not a sustainable trend no matter who is on the pitch.
In terms of actual results on the pitch, Roma's sieve like defense in the first half has been their Achilles heel. Through 19 matches, they've conceded 14 goals, 10 of which have come in the first half. Do the math, and it looks worse; 71% of all of Roma's conceded goals have come in the first 45 minutes, with 40% of those coming within the first 15 minutes. Despite all that, Rudi Garcia's crew has still lead at half time 52.6% of the time and has actually scored first in 57.9% of their first 19 matches, but falling behind early is seldom beneficial, particularly not for a side struggling to find goals at the moment.
Wrapping Up The First Half
Sustainability. Does Roma have it? That's the essential question for the next 19 weeks. Despite their travails over the past several weeks, Roma can still be regarded as one of Serie A's most potent teams, but how much of that simply stems from their hot start to the season? Will their inability to create genuine scoring chances come back to bite them in the ass when the season is truly on the line?
Make no mistake, with Francesco Totti's sustained excellence, the emergence of Adem Ljajic and the return of Kevin Strootman, Roma has the horses to win this race, but the more they stagnate, the more they look like they've simply run out of ideas, and the more they drop points there for the taking, the more people will question if Roma hired the right jockey.