It may have taken nearly three months, but Roma are finally playing the way we all knew and hoped they could. Facing a temporary drop to second place, Roma wasted little time in showing Udinese who was boss, putting the visitors back on their heels without even breaking a sweat. Thanks to two beautiful goals from the run of play, Roma grabbed the early advantage over the Zebras and never looked back.
Without a doubt the man of the first half was Maicon. Big Doug made his return to the starting lineup after a month long absence and rewarded Rudi Garcia almost immediately, setting up a goal and scoring another.
Roma's passing in the first half, especially its attacking forays, was magnificent and much of that was due to Maicon. Take a look...
Miralem Pjanic: 4th Minute
Nothing too fancy about this one, just quick, crisp and decisive passing and movement. Maicon served up the perfect leading pass, catching Pjanic in stride in between two defenders, who calmly slotted it home into the near post. If that pass was a split second off in either direction, that ball gets deflected, intercepted or Pjanic has to reach too far and can't get the sweet spot of his foot on the ball.
Maicon: 9th Minute
Big Dougie, looking about ten years younger here, absolutely tore the left side of Udinese's defense to shreds, blowing past one defender and splitting two more before narrowly beating the splayed out keeper.
Maicon was certainly seeing the pitch well in the first half, reminding us all how integral he was to Roma's record setting 2013-2014 squad.
The first half wound down without any noteworthy events on either side of the spectrum, but Roma flat-out dominated Udinese, holding nearly 60% of the possession, passing at a 90% clip, dominating the aerial battle and generally running circles around their striped counterparts.
It was as close to vintage Garcia as we've seen in well over a year.
The second stanza started off with a scare, as Maicon fell to the pitch, grasping his shoulder. The initial speculation—a separated shoulder—was quickly nullified as Maicon resumed his first half role, bombing up the right flank, twisting and turning the Zebras as he saw fit.
The ensuing 20 minutes waxed and waned, with neither side really threatening—Udinese simply because they couldn't and Roma simply because they didn't really need to, but then The Predator got loose, devouring another goal, his sixth in Roma's last seven matches (all comps).
Gervinho: 63rd Minute
Granted, this was some lax defending from Udinese, but look at Kostas Manolas channeling his inner-Messi. Again, this was defense in name only, but that was a nifty little layoff from #44. From there, all it took was a touch and drag from Gervinho before he beat the keeper low and away on the far post.
Garcia wisely subbed off many of the key figures in Roma's recent run, removing Alessandro Florenzi, Kostas Manolas and Gervinho after the hour mark, replacing them with Gyomber, Juan Iturbe and William Vainqueur.
While Cyril Thereau ultimately pulled one back for Udinese, despite those changes, Roma was still in the driver's seat for much of the second half, nearly pushing the lead to 4-1 as Juan Iturbe tested Orestis Karnezis, forcing the Udine keeper into the save of the match.
What else needs to be said, really? This was the Roma we all remembered so well from two season ago. Gervinho wrought havoc on the wings, Pjanic was masterful through the center, and the defense was swift, strong and efficient. Udinese aren't exactly world beaters, but this win should go a long way towards maintaining Roma's confidence as they travel towards to the San Siro this weekend.
We'll throw up a poll anyway, but suffice it to say, Maicon was instrumental in this victory. His energy alone threw a seldom seen dynamic into this attack, but his runs were not only boundless, they were well-timed and well-designed, ditto for his passes, particularly the long ball to Florenzi late in the first half.
Speaking of which, Florenzi has done an admirable job as a right back, and may well learn the idiosyncrasies before long, but this match reminded us all how lethal Roma can be with a top-notch attacking fullback out there, particularly one who, in turn, allows Florenzi to move back to a more natural position.
With last winter's interminable stretch of draws and the stop and start football we saw through September, we'd almost forgotten just how formidable this team can truly be, a trait only emboldened by this summer's additions. Roma has depth, strength, creativity and speed for days. And don't you just get the feeling, they're only just realizing this?
Roma is rising, this is no fluke.