Four things we've learned after six matches

Posted by Julian De Martinis

Roma's Mehdi Benatia his goal against Bologna.GettyImagesThere has been much cause for optimism at Roma this season.

With 15.78% of the Serie A season in the rear view mirror, now would be an early yet apt time to take a look at some of the more overlooked aspects of Roma this season. Sure, it's common and delightful knowledge that the side have yet to drop a point in the league, but what else is going on behind the surface?

1. Morgan De Sanctis is the unsung hero of defense.

Medhi Benatia and Douglas Maicon have received most of the plaudits for exceptional performances so far this season (in the latter's case, until his injury). Rightly so -- they're an enormous part of why the side have only conceded once all season. However, De Sanctis was arguably a much bigger gamble. Benatia has been one of Serie A's best center-backs for seasons, and Maicon is a treble-winner who could put in a great shift in hopes of being called up to Brazil's squad for next summer's World Cup.

De Sanctis, conversely, has no hopes of making it into Cesare Prandelli's side and looked shaky for Napoli last year. The four men in front of him haven't left him much work, but he's been more than capable of meeting whatever has snuck through.

According to Opta, he has the highest save percentage of all goalies in Europe's top five leagues this season with a superb 90.1%. At best it seemed he would be an upgrade on Maarten Stekelenburg due to his very vocal nature in organizing the backline; so far, he's proven to be a more than suitable shot-stopper as well.

2. Halftime Changes Are Key.

Before last weekend against Bologna, Roma had not scored a single goal in the first half. How vital have second halves been under Rudi Garcia? If matches ended after the first 45 minutes, Roma would lie twelfth in Serie A, with just one win (this past weekend's) and seven points. The side have scored at least two goals in every match from Livorno until Bologna, earning eleven points on top of what they had at half-time on each match-day.

3. Adem Ljajic -- early season super sub.

In his first match for the club, Ljajic came on as a second half substitute against Hellas Verona and scored. The following game against Parma, he started and was subbed off for Marquinho without having much of an impact. One gameweek later, he once again appeared as a second half substitute to score the late penalty against Lazio, before not making it onto the pitch against Sampdoria at all.

Against Bologna the pattern continued: a second half substitute's appearance and another goal. It's a small sample space, to be fair, but so far Ljajic has proven to be most valuable when against tired defenses late in games, especially after players like Alessandro Florenzi and Gervinho tire out opponents with their running.

4. No Mattia Destro? No problem.

The side have done remarkably well in scoring goals given the transfers of Erik Lamela and Pablo Osvaldo, along with Destro's continued absence due to injury. No side in Serie A have more goals than Roma's 17 and few are as neatly balanced in terms of chance generation.

Six of Roma's goals have come from open play, a league-leading four on the counter, four from set-pieces (only Atalanta have scored more in this respect), two from penalties, and one from an own goal. When compared to other top teams in the league, the extent of this variety can be more fully appreciated.

Juventus, for example, have scored eleven goals and nine have been from open play, none on the counter and a mere one from set pieces. Napoli have scored twelve of their fourteen goals in open play and just twice on set pieces. In fact, only Torino have scored more than once on the counter this season, illustrating the effectiveness of Rudi Garcia's counter-attacking system that has worked very well until now.


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