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Apr 26, 2014

Roma can be just as good next year, even with Champions League


Roma's 2013-14 season has been a breathtaking and record-breaking one. Rudi Garcia's men have set numerous club records, from season wins to point totals to winning streaks, and with three games yet to go, are likely to only raise the bar higher.

Next season, the club will find itself with another competition to compete in: the Champions' League. There are those who seem to fear/hope (depending on the color of their shirt) that the side could not possibly be anywhere near as good with another competition next season.

The evidence, however, suggests otherwise: Roma are going to be in the Champions League, Serie A, and Coppa Italia next season. And in all likelihood, they'll probably be fine. Here are three reasons why.

1. Management

Roma have some of the peninsula's greatest managerial talent.

James Pallotta is one of the shrewdest, smartest presidents in Italy. As minority owner of the Boston Celtics, he has shown acumen in the NBA, winning the division (2008-2012), Eastern Conference (2008-2010) and of course the league championship in 2010. His ambitiousness extended to calcio when his group took over Roma from Rosella Sensi, and getting the side back into the Champions League was surely just one step towards a bigger, ultimate goal for him.

With one of the most impactful first-season coaches in Roma's history in Rudi Garcia, and perhaps the league's greatest transfer guru in Walter Sabatini, Roma have a trident of winning men who have demonstrated that they are in this for the long haul and for the right reasons. There is nothing to suggest that the side will not invest this summer to make the team even deeper than it is this season.

2. Squad depth

Whisper it quietly, but the depth is already here. One of the biggest concerns that comes with Champions League play is the need to rotate between weekend Serie A matches and midweek European ties. It may be surprising then to see that Roma has juggled players, at least by one measure, more than Juventus and Napoli, despite not being in Europe at all.

Even with long Champions League and Europa League campaigns, Juventus managed to have 10 key players play more than 2,000 minutes in the league: Gianluigi Buffon, Paul Pogba, Giorgio Chiellini, Kwadwo Asamoah, Arturo Vidal, Leonardo Bonucci, Carlos Tevez, Fernando Llorente, Andrea Pirlo, and Andrea Barzagli.

In other words, Juventus managed to play in Europe for most of the season in one tournament or another and still field their first-choice side in Serie A more often than not. They are certainly the deepest side in the peninsula and yet were able to have their most influential players very often play in the league despite involvement in Europe.

Napoli, too, have fielded stalwarts like Raul Albiol, Jose Callehon, Gokhan Inler, Pepe Reina, Lorenzo Insigne, and Gonzalo Higuain for over 2,000 minutes.

The theory here seems to be that Roma were somehow at an advantage in Serie A for not having European play, thus letting them rotate less than the other two of Italy's top three. In reality, the team had fewer players notching over 2,000 minutes than either side, with only eight reaching the mark, suggesting that Roma's squad depth was actually utilized more often anyway. This was largely because of injuries to the full-backs and forwards, as well as a long-term injury to Kevin Strootman. Assuming that Roma's injury situation does not repeat next season, there is already much more depth in the team than many realize.

When Dodo and Federico Balzaretti went down injured, Douglas Maicon, Alessio Romagnoli, and Vasilis Torosidis were able to step in without the side suffering much at all. Down went Kevin Strootman and up rose Radja Nainggolan and Rodrigo Taddei; Mehdi Benatia became injured, and Rafael Toloi has helped the side to four wins out of his four starts. The only time that depth truly became an issue was in the fall when Roma was missing an entire frontline, with Gervinho, Francesco Totti, and Mattia Destro hurt.

Even then, the side's "slump" was a four-match tying streak, which is perhaps more than most teams would hope for had they lost arguably their three best forwards as well. So Roma played fewer games than Napoli and Juventus and yet found themselves rotating through more players in the league this season, running contrary to this idea that somehow, having more games will stretch the side more than the injuries have.

And despite all this, the team still did perfectly fine. It was a record-breaking season, remember? Surely a lesser team would not have been able to compensate for so many injuries to so many big players.

Additions made over the summer will only help the side here, but looking over the team's roster, there are two options for many positions as it is, with only centre-back and a vice Miralem Pjanic the two holes that truly need addressing.

Thus while rotation because of additional games is a genuine concern, Roma found out this season that injuries are often just as dangerous, and the injuries affected their starting elevens in some ways worse than the additional European matches affected Juventus' and Napoli's squad depth.

3. Experience

Roma have Champions League experience already. It's often said that teams with Champions League experience are the ones that perform better; luckily for Roma, this side has quite a bit, in large part because of Sabatini's great acquisitions last summer.

Totti has 50 appearances in the competition throughout his career; Morgan De Sanctis featured 17 times total between Udinese, Napoli, and Sevilla in the Champions League and another 32 in the Europa League; Gervinho, 12 times in the former and 18 in the latter; Torosidis, 20 times in the CL with Olympiacos during his time in Greece; Daniele De Rossi has 38 matches under his belt; and Pjanic 21.

Leandro Castan won the South American counterpart to the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, in 2012, not to mention that Maicon was a massively integral part of the only treble-winning side in Italian history under Jose Mourinho.

Thus, most of the starting eleven has multiple season’s worth of Champions’ League matches, and while it has been a while for some of them, there are enough trophy-winners and experienced men on this side to be able to rise to the occasion and not crumble under the spotlight.

Challenges

Other factors favor Roma less intensively. Because of the side's long absence from any kind of European play, their UEFA coefficient has dropped, and they are almost certain to be in Pot 4 for the group stage seeding, massively increasing their chances of being handed tough ties against teams that are more often in the Champions League.

Few, however, would expect Roma to go on and win the competition next season, and thus a deep run is not necessarily a priority for the club as it would be for another side that routinely features.

This season, merely getting back into the competition was the target, and it was achieved handsomely. Next season, juggling the league and the Champions League will be key. Luckily, the evidence this season suggests Roma are deep enough, experienced enough, and ambitious enough to handle it.