Midfield shines in Roma's opening win
Roma's opening game of the Serie A season was a battle of two sides missing key players on opposite ends of the pitch. In Saturday's 2-0 win over Vincenzo Montella's Fiorentina, it turned out that the home side was able to compensate far more for their defensive injuries than the visitors could for their attacking absences, but the real star of the show was the midfield.
After so many summer friendlies and meaningless tournaments, the return of Serie A could not have been more exciting or welcoming. Big things are already expected of Rudi Garcia's men, who held on to key players besides central defender Mehdi Benatia and reinforced with experience and depth this summer. Montella had never beaten Roma as a manager but his side announced that they would hold onto Juan Cuadrado this season, giving the visitors a boost in morale for this campaign.
However, the wide player was suspended and star striker Giuseppe Rossi absent via (another) knee injury. Mario Gomez is often enough to trouble many defences, but a very new-look Roma backline neutralized him and his teammates throughout the entirety of the first half. Davide Astori and Kostas Manolas in particular impressed, with the Greek defender completing five interceptions, three clearances and 100 percent of his passes (all stats courtesy of Squawka). One match is far too early to draw conclusions, but more displays like this from Manolas will go a long way in keeping Roma a formidable defensive unit.
Of course, the real key to Roma's success is the system, built as it is upon a fantastic midfield. As ever, the trio of Daniele De Rossi, Miralem Pjanic and Radja Nainggolan shone brightly. The Italian dropped deep when he needed to and helped his new centre-back pairing to cope under pressure, winning back possession for Roma seven times, while the Bosnian was in terrific form and ripped through Fiorentina's defense with his precise passing and dribbling, completing five of his seven take-ons. It was, however, the underrated Belgian who did the most, scoring Roma's first goal of the season with a vicious strike off a rebound and closing the game out with seconds to spare by delivering an assist that Gervinho was able to finish.
If the front line were slightly less impressive, it was mostly because Roma truly missed the presence of Mattia Destro up top. Francesco Totti was his influential self, winning free kicks and playing passes over the top, but both Juan Iturbe and Gervinho like to stay out wide and are most effective playing off a more traditional striker. Rudi Garcia's headache will be to juggle an attack that lost no one and added Iturbe this summer; the new recruit did well enough on his debut, not afraid to take shots outside of the box (something Roma could have used more of last season) and switching flanks with Gervinho as needed.
A notable mention should be made for Morgan De Sanctis, who parried a strike early in the second half to keep the game even. Fiorentina inevitably came out of the break stronger after being thoroughly dominated in the first 45 minutes, but Roma refused to break as the side picked up their first three points and clean sheet of the season.
The following couple of weeks seem favorable on paper, and one week is far from enough time to draw judgments, but Rudi's Roma have so far picked up where they left off.