The Olympic Winter Games might have captured the headlines in Turin, but in the Italian capital AS Roma are hoping to take centre stage on Sunday.
Victory against Empoli FC at the Stadio Olimpico will make the Giallorossi only the fourth team to win ten consecutive Serie A matches and the first since Bologna FC in 1964. Their stunning form is in marked contrast to the struggles of the last two seasons, when a frantic turnover of players and coaches left them more concerned with battling relegation than setting records.
The form of Francesco Totti often provides an accurate barometer for the team's fortunes and the Roma captain is back at his best, galvanising a side that had little ambition after finishing last year in eighth position, just three points above relegated Bologna FC in 17th. He has become a father for the first time this year and is showing more maturity on the pitch. "He is the feather in our cap, the real coach on the pitch," said coach Luciano Spalletti, a former Empoli player and coach.
Totti, however, refuses to rest on his laurels. "The next [win] is always more important," he told uefa.com. "I want to congratulate Spalletti and his technical staff because they've managed to build a very good and united squad after a difficult season." The Italian international, who has already scored 15 league goals, has often played as a lone striker following the sale of Antonio Cassano and injuries to Vincenzo Montella and Shabani Nonda. When he drops deeper, space is created for attacking midfielders Mancini, Rodrigo Taddei and Simone Perrotta to provide a cutting edge.
It is never easy to replace a coach of Fabio Capello's stature and Roma have found it particularly difficult since he left for Juventus in 2004. Four different coaches came and went before Spalletti was appointed last summer. Roma have had to wait, but it appears they have finally got the right man, one who has brought discipline and unity with him from Udinese Calcio.
The side's new-found determination was in evidence again on Wednesday night against Club Brugge KV in the UEFA Cup. After 27 minutes, Daniele De Rossi's dismissal reduced the Giallorossi – already playing without Totti – to ten men. While previous Roma sides would have folded, the present version gritted their teeth and brought home a precious 2-1 win from Belgium. "I have to congratulate my players on how they handled the situation playing with ten against eleven," said Spalletti. "I can't complain about my players' mental fortitude."
Roma are just two points behind fourth-placed ACF Fiorentina and Brazilian winger Mancini is sure they will soon bridge that gap. "We have fun when we play together, that's one of our main secrets," he said. "We are a fantastic group and I'm sure we'll finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League." Roma was not built in a day, but with a tenth straight win in sight, the foundations have surely been laid.
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