Rewind back to week two of the Serie A season. Judas (Spalletti) was in town with his new Inter side looking to exact revenge on his old employer. And he did just that.
The type of result that we’d become all too accustomed to as Roma tifosi played out in front of our very own eyes yet again. Roma were the better side for the majority of the match at the Olimpico. However, it was Inter who escaped with all three points winning by a very misleading 3-1 scoreline.
The Giallorossi went up within 15 minutes thanks to Edin Dzeko and continued to push for a second goal. However, they couldn’t find that second goal after hitting the post multiple times. Then when Mauro Icardi found an equalizer in the 67th minute Roma crumbled. They couldn’t recover mentally from the shock of being level after coming so close to potentially being up by multiple goals. The fragile Roma psyche which we’ve seen too many times in recent years reared it’s ugly head again.
Fast forward just a few short months to today and it seems like so much has changed. Eusebio Di Francesco has seemingly been able to get this Roma side to shake that very undesirable trait which almost seemed to be ingrained in the Roma DNA. In recent weeks this Roma side has begun to do a complete 180 in pressure situations. No longer are they crumbling under the weight of the moment. Instead they have risen to every challenge since their 1-0 defeat to Napoli back in October.
Of late Roma have showed a newfound mental toughness and grinta that has not only enabled them to hold on to narrow margins of victory but also comeback when it looked like all hope was lost. The two most glaring examples of this mental toughness that come to mind are at Chelsea in the Champions League and this past weekend in the Derby della Capitale vs Lazio.
Roma went into Stamford Bridge coming off the aforementioned disappointing home defeat to Napoli just days earlier. To make matters worse Chelsea jumped out to a 2-0 cushion early on and the Giallorossi were in deep trouble. However, unlike in the past when Roma would’ve come completely unraveled and allowed the game get embarrassingly out of hand (see past Champions League games v Man United, Barca, and Bayern), the 2017/18 version of the squad saw Roma fight back impressively. Not only did Roma fight back to tie the game they eventually took the lead before conceding a goal that saw the match end 3-3.
Even though Roma couldn’t pull out the full three points, it was the kind of character building performance that showed that EDF’s Roma could play with the big boys of Europe. Roma drew plaudits both at home and abroad for a performance that had many believing that Chelsea were fortunate not to lose. All this after being down 2-0.
Meanwhile, this past weekend, in what was probably the most important derby in terms of league position in recent memory, the Giallorossi again showed their best. Roma were the better team for the majority of the match and were finally able to jump out to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Diego Perotti and Radja Nainggolan early in the second half. However, the last 20 minutes became nervy after the VAR found Kostas Manolas guilty of handling the ball in the box and Ciro Immobile converted from the spot.
Suddenly the momentum had swung in a game where Roma hadn’t had any difficulty. However, unlike in past years where Roma would have likely either sweated out or blown similar games that they’d had in hand, EDF’s side defended steadily and withstood the late Lazio push allowing only two shots on target to hold on to the deserved 2-1 result. Despite the pressure applied by Lazio, Roma never wavered and really never felt at risk of blowing the lead.
It’s these type of results along with narrow 1-0 victories against weaker provincial sides like Bologna and Crotone that has this Roma side feeling different. In the past even those types of games didn’t feel quite so secure and from time to time points were even dropped. If Roma are truly going to compete for the Scudetto then these are the type of results that Roma have to hold on to on a more consistent basis than in past years. Championship sides don’t blow games that they control and up to this point Roma haven’t since the Inter game in week 2.
This Roma team has shown a fighting spirit and mental toughness that has begun to separate them from Roma teams of the past few years. When this is coupled with the solid system that EDF has put in place, a deep group of players, and a will to impose their game on other teams (see the 3-0 win vs Chelsea) this Roma team can play with anyone. Serie A looks to be more competitive at the top than in recent years but Roma look to have established themselves as true contenders. Could their seemingly newfound mental toughness be the difference that gets them over the top this season?
Do you believe that this Roma side have a newfound mental toughness?
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Too soon to tell