The majority of the Serie A discussion this summer focused on Juventus' bid for a third straight title and Napoli's emergence as the likeliest team to wrestle the trophy away from the Turin giants. AC Milan's Mario Balotelli predictably grabbed a few headlines, while questions were posed as to how Inter would bounce back from last season's woes. Meanwhile, Roma flew under the radar, with uncertainty over how long it would take for the scars of previous years to heal and for new manager Rudi Garcia to settle in one of the league’s hottest hotseats.
The answer has been emphatic. With Garcia at the helm, the Giallorossi have exploded out of the blocks, registering seven consecutive wins and sending a clear message that they are genuine title contenders.
Saturday's 3-0 victory over Inter was the latest statement of intent, masterminded by Francesco Totti but reliant on another fine overall team display. It was fitting that Totti scored twice at the weekend. His 37th birthday was celebrated extensively in Italy at the end of September, with sports daily Corriere dello Sport issuing an extra supplement largely focused on the Roma captain's career, and he remains the team talisman.
As for Garcia, his role in the Roma revival has been enormous. The Frenchman, whose resume includes spells at Lille and Cannes as a player and Dijon and Lille as a manager, arrived in June to help lift the club out of the gloom from the Luis Enrique and Zdenek Zeman eras. The 49-year-old has made winning the top priority, sacrificing attractive football where necessary and has made grit and work ethic the buzz words for the new look Roma. It is no coincidence that Garcia's men boast the league's best defensive record, led by the impressive duo of Mehdi Benatia and Leandro Castan. Roma have conceded just once in their seven-game win streak. But, make no mistake, there is still an array of attacking weapons on show and Garcia’s 4-3-3 formation ensures that Roma maximise their opportunities in the final third.
There was speculation over the summer that Daniele De Rossi's Roma career might be nearing an end, but Garcia succeeded in keeping the influential midfielder at the Stadio Olimpico. The experience of De Rossi and Totti would be a welcome advantage for any new manager and Garcia moved quickly to blend that experience with younger, willing runners.
He has also put two Premier League flops back on track. Gervinho and Maicon both struggled in English football but have bounced back impressively thus far under Garcia. The January transfer window will open up more possibilities to strengthen the squad, with several names already linked with a move to the Italian capital, including Tottenham anchorman Sandro and Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis.
As Garcia has frequently pointed out, it is the Roma squad that have particularly caught the eye, demonstrating depth, quality and experience on the way to the top of the table. With the win streak developing, there is a real confidence and swagger to everything the Roma players do. But Garcia has made every effort to keep the squad grounded.
"What interests me is going down in history at the end of the season", Garcia explained. "It is too soon to, but I am happy with the squad – I have a fantastic group and that is important for the future.”
Totti added: “The club put the players in place and when you have the right frame of mind good things happen."
Despite Roma’s strong start, the heavyweights are already snapping at their heels. Juventus, who earned an important 3-2 win over AC Milan on Sunday, and Napoli are just two points behind and have pieced together some impressive performances of their own. Garcia is well aware that Roma need to take things one step at a time as they bid to become a force again, domestically and in Europe.
"Our objective is to qualify for Europe by finishing in the top five. If we finish fifth, fourth, third, second, first", the Frenchman pointed out.
The sentence remained unfinished, just as Garcia's work at Roma remains unfinished, but the Frenchman's impact has already transformed the club's ceiling for this season. With AC Milan making a sluggish start and chinks appearing in the armour of Fiorentina and Inter, among others, Roma deserve to be taken very seriously. Winning seven straight games has provided more than just 21 points – it has built chemistry and trust, it has marked the start of a new era and it has breathed new life into the fans. Roma are a threat for the Serie A title. The bar has been set high; it remains to be seen how their rivals will react.