It is still early in the year to be talking about “crucial” weeks in a club’s season but, for all that, Roma would appear to be heading into one right now, starting with their away tie to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League tonight and ending with a top of the table away clash with Fiorentina next Sunday.
As far as the Champions League is concerned, it seems fairly obvious that Roma’s survival in the tournament depends on the outcome of their next two games against the German side. With just one point on the board, following an opening game home draw to Barcelona and a disappointing 3-2 away defeat by Belarusian team, Bate Borisov last time out, Roma desperately need more points.
When the Group phase draw was made, most of us presumed that Bayer, Bate Borisov and Roma would be battling for second place behind Barcelona. So far, it looks that way as Barca lead the group on four points, with Bat Borisov and Bayer on three and Roma last on one.
Currently, joint second in Serie A on 17 points alongside Inter, the Rudi Garcia coached Roma started the season impressively, not only holding Barcelona to a 1-1 draw but also playing champions Juventus off the pitch in a 2-1 second day of the season win. After a season marred by that 7-1 Champions League drubbing by Bayern Munich last year, a season in which Roma finished a distant second in Serie A to Juventus, 17 points behind the Old Lady, were the good times about to roll again?
Well not quite. A defeat by Sampdoria and draws with Verona and Sassuolo, whilst not catastrophic, were certainly a long way from their spectacular 10 match winning run right from the start of Serie A, two seasons ago. More worrying for Roma, however, was their poor showing in that 3-2 away defeat by Bate Borisov.
3-0 down after less than half an hour, the side seemed almost distracted for the first hour, as witness the absurd second goal, conceded in only the 12th minute by normally reliable Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, caught out of position by Bate’s Filip Mladenovic.
It was only in the last half hour that Roma started to play, scoring two and almost picking up an unlikely draw when Alessandro Florenzi, who has made a terrific start to the season, hit the crossbar in the 83rd minute.
With Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko likely to come on, if at all, only as a late subsitute, there is plenty of responsibility on the shoulders of his compatriot, Miralem Pjanic, currently in spectacular form, especially from the free kick spot. Garcia will be looking to Daniele De Rossi and Belgian Radja Nainggolan in midfield as well as the front line of Florenzi, Egyptian Mohamed Salah and Ivorian Gervinho to deliver the goods tonight against Bayer, currently seventh in the Bundesliga, 13 points behind leaders Bayern Munich.
After that it is onto the Franchi in Florence where a win would obviously put them back on top of the table. In a so far strange season in which three points cover the top six and in which Milan and champions Juventus currently lie in 13th and 14th places respectively, all is up for grabs.
The two “big games” of last weekend, Napoli’s 2-1 home defeat of Fiorentina and Inter’s 0-0 home draw with Juventus, make the point. Both 4th placed Napoli and Fiorentina continue to look like the real thing after arguably the best game of the season so far when Fiorentina would have stolen nothing with a draw.
Likewise, Inter’s draw with Juventus suggested that for both sides, still in their different ways trying to get their acts together, better days like up ahead. For example, were Inter to beat Palermo away and Fiorentina and Napoli to draw, then Inter would go top again next Sunday.
A table that reads Fiorentina, Roma, Inter, Napoli in the first four, not to mention little Sassuolo on 15 points alongside Napoli in fifth, certainly makes for a difference. In the meantime, for Roma it is over to the BayArena and the Franchi, with all to play for…