Coach Rudi Garcia has transformed AS Roma from last season’s bickering, erratic outfit into one of the toughest sides in Serie A, yet despite all the changes they are clearly not the same without Francesco Totti in the team.
The numbers speak for themselves. With the 37-year-old talisman playing, AS Roma won their first seven league games of the season, scoring 20 goals at an average of nearly three a game.
Since his thigh injury, their last six matches have produced three wins, three draws and only six goals.
One club-man Totti, who limped off in the first half of the 2-0 win over Napoli on October 18, is in a remarkable 22nd season at Roma and shows no signs of letting up.
Playing just behind the forwards, his ability to find space, produce a defence-splitting pass or rifle in a long-distance goal from out of the blue means he is still hugely influential on the team.
“Roma are a very strong team and the captain clearly makes the difference, finding answers which no tactical system or model can give you,” wrote columnist Alessandro Vocalelli in La Reppublica.
“Totti is a man who inspires, invents and concludes. The music is different when he is around because Totti is Roma’s soundtrack.”
Described by Garcia as “a humble guy like all the great players”, Totti, who scored three goals and produced eight assists before the Napoli game, is not expected to return for at least another two weeks.
In the meantime, Garcia will have to hope that Gervinho and Miralem Pjanic can provide some inspiration in Totti’s absence.
The Frenchman had apparently adapted well to Serie A but this week admitted he was taken aback by the media attention in Italy,
“After the match, it takes me an hour to get to the media conference with the written press,” Garcia told the French newspaper La Voix du Nord in an interview.
“I have to answer questions from four television stations, in an exact order, and one radio. What took me 15 minutes to do at Lille takes me one hour here.”
Garcia has closed off training sessions, banning even the club’s own television channel from filming, in an attempt to relieve the pressure.
“I had to pull down the blinds,” he said. “There were old, bad habits, but everyone has adapted quickly. It was indispensable so that we could work and I could protect the group.”
Roma have drawn their last three games against modest opponents Torino, Sassuolo and Cagliari and face more midtable opposition on Sunday when they travel to Atalanta (1400 GMT).
Monday’s goalless draw at home to Cagliari meant they were knocked off the top of the table for the first time this season and replaced by defending champions Juventus who are one point ahead.
Juventus, who have won their last five games without conceding a goal since their 4-2 defeat to Fiorentina, host Udinese on Sunday (1730).
“Our results have improved over the last month and a half, but I don’t think the
performances were that different,” said coach Antonio Conte. “When you get the slap in the face we did against Fiorentina, it dented our pride.
“As I always say, I trust this team because I have great men even more than great players, so they know when something is wrong and are critical of their own performances.”
AC Milan, who moved out of crisis mode with a 3-0 Champions League win at Celtic on Tuesday, can put their troubles further behind them by winning at bottom club Catania on Sunday (1130).