Roma look very much a work in progress under Di Francesco on eve of season
Turning over to the Italian Super Cup would have made for some sobering viewing for Romanisti on Sunday night. While their hapless second string were being slapped about the park by middling La Liga side Celta Vigo, city rivals Lazio were limbering up for what would turn out to be a spectacular, dramatic and eventually victorious curtain-raiser against Juventus.
As Lazio kicked off at the bubbling Stadio Olimpico, Roma were flailing around in front of less than 7,000 spectators, four goals down after an hour having made six changes at half-time in a desperate effort to save some kind of face from a preseason humiliation.
By the time Roma had walked off 4-1 losers, and fans switched over to check out the events in Rome, Ciro Immobile had just slotted the first of his brace from the penalty spot. The rest of the first half showed a compact, fiery and purposeful Biancoceleste team giving the reigning champions a terrible going over. The remaining 45 minutes -- a proper ding dong in which Lazio threw away a two-goal lead in the final five minutes only to win it in the dying seconds of injury time, -- showed a team ready for the coming season. That's despite having lost midfield linchpin Lucas Biglia to AC Milan and having to deal with the ongoing Kieta Balde Diao soap opera, with the itchy-pants forward dropped against Juve as he agitates for a move to Turin.
The comparison with the pitiful display Roma offered up was stark, and although it is only August, it was only a friendly and coach Eusebio Di Francesco will probably never start that XI ever again -- someone, eventually, will put Juan Iturbe out of his misery, right? With the new season now less than a week away Roma do not look like a team ready to challenge.
Di Francesco was reportedly bouncing off the walls with rage at half-time in Vigo, and it's easy to see why given the manner of goals his team conceded. For the second, Roma's defence almost tripped over the advertising hoardings behind the goal they backed away so quickly from Pione Sisto before he lashed in an admittedly fine shot. Then for the third, both full-backs were caught napping, with Bruno Peres deep in the land of nod when Sisto nipped in front of him to tap home his second just four minutes later.
The team has struggled to implement the coach's high-pressing, direct style, with the 2-1 defeat at Sevilla highlighting similar problems, although thanks to the stronger starting XI they weren't quite as obvious. Just as worrying as the slack defending is the attack, which looks a lot less incisive, a consequence of losing the searing pace and goalscoring talent of Mohamed Salah and Roma's unwillingness to shell out the £40 million Leicester want for Riyad Mahrez. Gregoire Defrel, who was brought in as competition for Edin Dzeko rather than as a winger in Di Francesco's 4-3-3, doesn't offer the same penetration on the right.
Early summer business looked pretty encouraging, with Lorenzo Pellgerini, Maxime Gonalons, Aleksandar Kolarov and Rick Karsdorp all solid additions to the squad, but the key gaps left by Salah's departure to Liverpool and centre-back Antonio Rudiger's transfer to Chelsea (which bizarrely only took place because Kostas Manolas' move to Zenit St Petersburg collapsed when the Greek refused to be paid in roubles) mean that if anything, Roma look weaker than they did at the end of last season.
New central defender Hector Moreno, as yet, doesn't look on the same level as Rudiger, and in truth none of the signing's thus far, beyond buccaneering right-back Karsdorp (once he finally returns from his knee surgery in October), improve on what Roma already had.
Kolarov has been largely excellent in preseason but Emerson Palmieri showed last season that he's on the same level as the Serb, while midfielders Pellegrini and Gonalons have Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan in front of them for the three midfield places. Any future signings will have to both take into account the returns from injury of Stephan El Shaarawy and Alessandro Florenzi, and improve on them. Otherwise Roma will just be padding their squad rather than strengthening it.
It's obviously not time to panic yet -- the team walloped on Sunday was a reserve side and there were enough encouraging signs against decent opposition during the tour of the United States that suggest Di Francesco will eventually get everyone with the programme. That being said, Roma are starting yet another transitional period after hiring their sixth manager in as many years, and maybe some lofty ambitions will have to be put to one side while both team and manager adjust to the new era. Whether they're given the time to do so by Roma's famously impatient fans and the city's local media is another thing altogether.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley