I'll take my hat off to the powers that be at FIGC for moving the start of the season up a couple weeks to give Antonio Conte more time to prep for Euro 2016—I am a giant Azzurri fan, after all—but the unintended consequence for folks like me was a more compressed pre-season. Due to this time crunch, we haven't been able to do a standard position-by-position preview (yet), so here is a brief look in keeping with our Know Your Enemy series entitled Know Your Roma, because we're sometimes our own worst enemy anyway, right?
Last Season: 2nd place, 70 points, +23 goal differential
Manager: Rudi Garcia
Key Additions: Edin Dzeko, Mohamed Salah, Iago Falque, Wojciech Szczesny, Antonio Rudiger
Key Departures: Andrea Bertolacci (sort of), Alessio Romagnoli, Mattia Destro, Seydou Doumbia
Where to begin? We find ourselves in a strange, and in some ways unprecedented, position. During the dark days of Luis Enrique and Zdenek Zeman the Roma faithful would've sold their mothers down the river for a second place finish and an automatic berth in the Champions League. And here we stand in August of 2015 and Rudi Garcia has managed this feat in each of his first two seasons, seemingly primed for a third, yet we've all aged horribly over the past two summers; blood pressure on the rise, hair greyed or gone and our teeth ground to stumps because it's simply not enough.
Call it perspective or simply rising expectations, but whatever the case may be, second place is no longer good enough. Roma spent big this offseason, seemingly with an eye on curing their stagnating offense, and while Dzeko and Salah will undoubtedly take our attack to a new level, the defense has been left woefully thin beyond Leandro Castan, Kostas Manolas, Maicon and Alessandro Florenzi.
The key to this season, and indeed the key to Garcia and Walter Sabatini keeping their jobs, is rediscovering the verve with which this side played in 2013-2014, a record setting season for Roma in case you'd forgotten. The attack simply cannot get stuck on the wings, they must be dynamic, they must overlap and they must confuse opposing defenses; constantly dancing on the wings hoping for an opening will no longer cut it. The defense, meanwhile, must be smarter, more resolute and more involved in the buildup play.
The pieces are there, but their biggest enemy may be complacency.
Style of Play
Well, we sort of just hinted at it, but there was a discernable difference between Garcia's first and second seasons in Rome; the offense scored less and the defense conceded more. The interplay in attack had virtually vanished, the club had no punch up front, and no real leader in defense. It seemed as though the league had figured out Garcia after only one season, but was this a matter of stale tactics or deflated individual performances?
The truth is probably a bit of both, but we've see what a Garcia-led team can accomplish. If Roma can get it right this season, Pjanic and Totti should control the attack centrally with everyone from Salah, Gervinho and Juan Iturbe creating havoc on the wings, running long, cutting in and switching positions, and with Dzeko waiting at the end, Roma finally has an undisputed number nine capable of finishing with a flourish.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, it's Dzeko. The Bosnian Batistuta has the size, tactical understanding and finishing ability to not only get on the end of a cross, but to move in tandem with Pjanic and Totti to cap off a synchronous run of play. It may take a while for Roma's new toys to settle in, but Salah, Dzeko and hopefully Lucas Digne, are all so well suited for one another, Garcia's attack should mirror the 2013-2014 vintage, which should spell bad news for Serie A
Biggest Question Mark
Come on, do you really need to ask? With Castan recovering from BRAIN SURGERY and little behind Manolas other than an exciting but injured German and a Catania cast off, Roma's defense could be in deep trouble. And despite how well Sabatini did outfitting the attack this season, he deserves just criticism for ignoring the back line.
Scudetto Threat Factor: 9/10
As we mentioned, the pieces are there, it's simply a matter of consistency. Roma started off well enough last season, but the doldrums they endured in the spring effectively killed any chance they had at catching Juventus. Dzeko and Salah will bring a new dimension to this attack, so Roma can and should outscore nearly everyone in the league, but the defense, not to mention their Juve inferiority complex, may ultimately hold them back.
Roma Threat Factor: 10/10
Let's face it, this team just has a knack for getting in its own way. As Roma fans we're always more weary of the Frosinones and Empolis of the world than we are Napoli, Fiorentina or Lazio simply because we tend to overlook opponents, but if Roma has any chance of unseating Juve, they must take maximum points from mediocre sides.
This is a make or break season for Garcia, Sabatini and probably a few of Roma's key players, and with Juve looking a bit more susceptible than last year, this promises to be one hell of a season.