By Leo Linden
If there is any side that finally looks up to the task of unsettling Juventus from the top of Italian soccer this year, it has to be AS Roma. The capital city club has often been overshadowed by many others around Italy, but it just secured a couple of massive wins and now prepares for a matchup with the Old Lady that could very well go a long way towards deciding the next champion in the Serie A. There is a good portion of the season still to be played, but this December fixture between the top two teams is nothing short of critical, especially for a Roma side trying to take down a giant.
The roots of Associazione Sportiva Roma came from this exact situation. Founded in 1927, the club was the result of a merger between three Roman sides, cobbled together with the goal of having enough talent to put up a serious challenge against the Northern Italian sides. And, in the beginning, it looked like they would be able to do so. In the second season of the Serie A, in 1930-31, Roma finished second by four points to Juventus. That bright start had Roma hoping for an early title, but it took the side more than a decade to finally break through that barrier when they took home their first of three Serie A championships in 1941-42.
However, I Giallorossi –– the Yellow and Reds –– could not turn that championship into more titles, instead starting to descend down the table. In 1950-51, Roma were relegated for the first and only time in their history. That failure was immediately cancelled out the next season, and when Roma did rejoin the top flight, they again found moderate success.
Though Roma never really approached a Scudetto in the 1950s and 60s, with a best finish of third in 1954-55, they were finally able to break through and win their second and third major trophies, Coppa Italias in both 1964 and 1969.
Those successes bridged the gap to the 1970s, where I Giallorossi were able to get a stronger foothold at the top of the league. After back-to-back Coppa wins in 1980 and 1981, Roma finally broke back into the Scudetto winners podium, winning the 1982-83 title by four points over Juve. The following season saw the best continental run in the club’s history, as Roma made it all the way to the European Cup final before falling on penalties to Liverpool.
However, Roma did capture another Coppa Italia in the spring of 1984, which they followed up by winning that tournament again in 1986 and 1991. But, despite coming agonizingly close in the league multiple times, Roma could not find a way past Juventus, who were continuing their long running domination of the league. Then, approaching their 10th season without any trophies, Roma finally snagged back the Scudetto in 2001, edging the Old Lady by two points.
Since that title, however, Roma have been Italy’s maid of honor, coming runners up in the Serie A eight times (and most recently finishing in third). They
This year, while Juve has again solidified themselves as clear favorites for the title, Roma has a great opportunity to steal it out from underneath the most successful side in Italian football history. Things didn’t look good coming out of the gate for I Giallorossi, who lost two and drew once in their first six Serie A contests, as they dug themselves into an early hole. But Roma quickly turned that form around and have only lost once since while steadily climbing the table.
That led to a critical stretch of fixtures with Roma battling with Lazio, AC Milan, and Juventus in quick succession. The four teams currently comprise the Serie A’s top four, so getting quality results, especially back-to-back-to-back, was never going to be easy. But through the first two legs of the three-headed monster of matchups, Roma have six points, as they dispatched local rivals Lazio 2-0 before sneaking out a 1-0 win over AC Milan last weekend.
Much of their success has been attributed to Roma’s attack, which currently leads the Serie A with 36 goals through 16 games. Striker Edin Dzeko –– who joined the club permanently from Manchester City after a loan spell last year –– is tied for the league lead with 12 goals. He is well supported by 24-year-old Egyptian attacker Mohamed Salah, who has eight goals and four assists in his first season since joining permanently from Chelsea, and Argentine winger Diego Perotti, who has tacked on five goals and four assists of his own. They’ve also gotten two goals and two assists from 40-year-old club icon Francesco Totti in just one start and six substitute appearances.
The backline, as expected from a quality Italian team, has also been in standout form often this season. The centre back pairing of Kostas Manolas, a 25-year-old Greek star, and Tottenham loanee Federico Fazio has proven to be a good mix at the heart of the defense. They also have quality cover sitting in front of them with Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan forming
On Saturday, Roma face their biggest challenge of the season so far, an away trip to Juventus, whom they trail by four points in the table. They have done well so far to defeat their bitter rivals Lazio as well as Milan, but without at least earning a draw against Juve and keeping their deficit at four, Roma will lose all that progress. Juventus has a history of running away and hiding with titles, and a win for the Old Lady would give them a seven-point lead over the rest of the league just two games shy of the halfway mark, putting them in prime position to do so yet again.
However, if Roma can get any result, they will keep the five-time reigning champions within reach, and the longer they can do that, the more the pressure will build on Juve. It is only December, and the two teams will meet again at the Stadio Olimpico in May in what could be an even bigger contest. But, for now, Roma have their eyes set on closing the gap at the top of the table, and the road goes through Juventus.