Are AS Roma Ready to Challenge for the Title?

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Last season Roma stunned many by winning their first ten matches, yet ultimately drifted behind Juventus in the Old Lady’s surge to the title. Is this Roma’s year?

There are two off-season story lines which will be followed with a close eye both by the casual observer and club executive alike. The most obvious is the vacancy created by Medhi Benatia, now of Bayern Munich in the heart of the back line. One of the top performing centre-backs in Europe, let alone Serie A, Benatia has left the club branded as a mercenary and a traitor by supporters.

Are AS Roma Ready to Challenge for the Title?

Who now is the new starting defender to pair with Leandro Castan? Astori, Yanga-Mbiwa and Manolas were brought in with De Rossi utilized at centre back also in preseason. Manolas and the loaned out Alessio Romagnoli  are the projected long term starters, yet sliding an aging De Rossi back in defence allows Nainggolan, Strootman and Pjanic all to start in midfield which might be ideal for the Champions League. Leandro Castan was the undisputed, unheralded worker beside Benatia – which matches will he predominately take part in? The battle between Astori, Castan, Manolas and deadline day signing Yanga-Mbiwa will be an interesting development, especially with Manchester City, CSKA Moscow and Bayern Munich looming and a domestic campaign in which Roma looks to challenge for the title. Perhaps a selection struggle is not the worst struggle to occur.

The other issue is the striker dilemma. Mattia Destro is coming off of the strongest season of his career, whereas the King of Rome, Francesco Totti, who has traditionally led the charge from the centre forward position does not look ready to give up his starring role. Gervinho and Iturbe are no doubt the preferred wide attackers for either of these game-changing strikers.

There is a strong case for Mattia Destro, who has one of the best goal-to-game ratios in the peninsula and reached double digits in goals despite missing half the season due to injury and suspension last season. His positioning is his strongest suit, as is his versatility in the area, capable of utilizing his head as easily as his feet. His snub from the Italian national team was a little bit of a surprise, what with the absence of a true finisher not named Balotelli or Immobile; Cassano really was not up to the challenge. Strongly pursued by Chelsea among other clubs, this is his year to prove he is the real deal.

At 37 years old, Francesco Totti must be used sparingly to guarantee results. Much of his game is common knowledge; his playmaking abilities in the final third are legendary. As such the pair of Destro and Totti will have to be interchanged regularly to not only allow Totti to rest but to maintain sharpness. They add quite different dynamics in the formation of the team; Totti is the focal point of the attack, creating chances for those around him, whereas Destro is the clinical finisher ready to pounce in the box. More than willing to drift across the line or into midfield, Totti, despite a lack of pace, is not afraid to track back and win a challenge. Destro on the other hand is single-dimensional and the classic attacker in every sense. Completely different personalities on the pitch, and it will be interesting to see how Rudi Garcia deploys the pair of attackers with the draining campaign that is to come.

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