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Totti Today #63: Lonely at the top

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In a world where Okaka is Belgium’s most lethal striker and Destro still has zero goals in Serie A, where Yao has already more than doubled his goal total from last season, where Salah scored more than Montella or Pruzzo in their first nine games for Roma and where Torosidis has gathered more minutes in Serie A than Totti, nothing amazes me anymore. One thing does however…

Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

After 9 rounds AS Roma suddenly found itself alone at the top of Serie for the first time since November 2013. Clearly a lot has happened since last weekend. I missed both match discussions of Fiorentina and Udine, so I kinda feel obliged to join the Chiesa afterparty. While everyone still has a hangover, I feel fresh. My brain functions normally. My head is clean and deprived of any lewd thoughts. Here we go:

The combo clicks

Okay, so what do we think of Rudi Garcia’s subtle switch to the 4-5-1 as the match progressed? Dzeko played awfully deep and seemed to buy a lot of time for the wide players to advance. Should we credit Roma’s performance for this change? Is this the optimal tactical set up going forward?

JonAS: Dzeko may not have scored since August but he’s proving his worth, keeping defenders busy all the time and therefor leaving space and opportunities for the rest. I think it’s no surprise wingers like Salah and Yao kept on scoring in recent weeks thanks to the double D (the Dzeko Decoy). For now it’s the only set-up we have. Totti is still struggling with fitness and Ponce or Soleri aren’t ready yet. Just pray Edin stays healthy.

Gervinho currently has five goals and two assists in all competitions and seems to be on pace to top his terrific debut season in 2013-2014 when he cracked double digits in both categories, but last season he was awful. So who is the real Gervinho? Can this Gervinho co-exist in the long run with Dzeko?

JonAS: Make that six goals including Udinese! I think Yao and Dzeko can co-exist because they bundle a lot of firepower. They are a nice combo of pace and strenght. Mix that with some Pjanic magic and two workhorses like Radja and Dani and no wonder it works like a charm. Maybe Salah and Yao are a bit one-dimensional but if it clicks… Never change a winning team.

What do we make of Antonio Rüdiger? The blueprint for a top class defender is there, but even for a young player, he’s been erratic--what can we expect from him going forward? Is the club better off with him or De Rossi back there?

JonAS: Dani belongs in midfield so I guess we’d just have to do with Antonio at the back for now. I’d like to see more of him, especially alongside a healthy Castan (who is less error-prone than Kostas). He’s better than Gyomber anyway, and only 22 years. Give him some more time to adapt to Serie A and we’ll talk again come January. Then a loan deal might be an option. I’d surely keep close tabs on the kid, we have waisted enough talent at CB (‘Hos, Jedvaj, Benatia, Romagnoli, Spolli). We need to give defenders faith and try to build something at the back that can last.

Circle of life

Free write: tell us about Alessandro Florenzi’s future with this club--where does he play? how long before he’s captain, what sort of legacy will he have?

JonAS: Ah my dear Alé. It is written in the stars he’ll take over once Dani retires. Let’s do the math: Dani’s 32 now, Flo 24. I reckon De Rossi won’t stay on board as long as Francesco so imagine Dani retires at the age of 36, in the Summer of 2019. In that year Florenzi will be 28, ideal timing no? Then Roma’s legacy is once again firmly set until 2025ish. And boom, welcome Christian Totti (then 20)! It’s the circle of life, boys, Elton John was right. But at 24 years, Alessandro still has a lot to prove and play for in Rome. If he keeps improving like this, who knows how many appearances he will gather in the giallo e rosso. My ultimate dream is to see Totti, De Rossi AND Florenzi holding a Scudetto in the sky.

Now that Roma have a two-point lead on the field, who is their biggest obstacle to winning their fourth title?

JonAS: Apart from the obvious answer (Roma itself), I’d say there is a pretty long list of obstacles: Napoli, Inter, Fiorentina and Lazio. Juve can still turn things around, Milan seem to be getting better. My money would be on Inter. Smart coach, very good attacking department and a sturdy defence. However, Napoli already faced Lazio, Juve, Milan and Fiorentina… and won all those games. Yikes.

Essential euros

How amazing was Maicon against Udinese? What can we reasonably expect from him going forward?

JonAS: Good old Dougie. But let’s keep it real: he’s 34 and those kind of performances are getting rare from Maicon. I have said this ever since he joined us: He’s our most talented RB, it’s a shame he was already 32 when he joined us. But until June he should at least be our #2 after Florenzi at RB. Torosidis only when Douglas is missing a right leg.

Very quickly. Maicon is a transformative presence in this lineup and, if he shows a fraction of that form week in week out, he’d warrant a new deal, but at his age and with his fitness struggles, would you offer him a contract extension?

JonAS: Sadly no. He seems a loveable guy and judging from team pics he’s quite popular. But it would be wiser to use that cash to bring in a younger version of him ala Bruno Peres. After every season the risk is getting higher to pay an extension, sad but true. I can see Dougie retiring in Brazil one day, he deserves it.

Okay, what about Pjanic. We’ve all read the rumors about Munich scouting him in recent weeks, and he is undoubtedly in the throes of a career year. Keeping in mind that he’s under contract through 2018, how much longer can Roma resist the beckoning calls of Europe’s heavyweights?

JonAS: Mira has undoubtedly been on fire this season, five goals already and one of our top scorers. Essentially he’s maybe the most talented footballer on this team besides Totti. At 25 he’s nearing his peak and let’s hope Roma can still enjoy his skills for many years. Then again, who knows if one of the big guns come in with a big fat bag of euros. This one’s entirely up to Miralem himself. He’s a popular guy and the management won’t let him go that easily. If he loves this team, he’ll stay. If he thinks he wants a new challenge, he might do a Benatia/Romagnoli.

Atari-Thereau

Give us one criticism of the performance against Udinese.

JonAS: Thereau’s goal. For sake of confidence, Woj really needs a clean sheet in one of the next games. Frosinone was the only time Roma didn’t let the opponent score this season in all competitions. That’s actually very worrisome.

Inter, followed by Bayer in the Champions League and a home derby against Lazio before the international break--can Roma run the table? Which match is the biggest potential pitfall?

JonAS: Pitfall, such a classic game from Atari! And the remake in 2001 on the Game Boy Advance! I’m sorry, I digress.

Well, that’s quite a busy and demanding schedule! From a realistic point of view, a draw in Inter and a win against Leverkusen will do. A draw in Milan is enough to stay in first place (albeit in the company of Napoli and/or Fiorentina). What the fans really need now is a confident display in the Champions League. When was the last time? 5-1 vs CSKA? 1-1 in Man City? We can’t risk becoming the laughing stock of Europe. A win against Leverkusen takes us to second place in group E and perfectly sets the stage for an entertaining derby! But first things first: Inter will fire on all cilinders this weekend since they can grab the first spot. I foresee some possibilities for Yao and Salah on the counter.