Talk of Italy's Scudetto is last thing Roma wants to hear

Roma retained its place atop Serie A with a convincing 3-1 win at Udinese on Wednesday, putting further pressure on the title holder in Turin, as a 1-0 loss by Juventus at Sassuolo dropped the four-time defending champions 11 points behind the leader in Rome.

No team outside Turin or Milan has won a title in Italy since the clubs in the capital did so back-to-back, as SS Lazio’s title in 2000 was followed by a third Scudetto for AS Roma (Associazione Sportiva Roma), in 2001. Roma’s efforts to reclaim the throne have fallen just short time and again since -- finishing second eight times in the last 14 seasons.

This could be Roma's best chance to win its fourth title, with Juve’s adjustment to the losses of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez rockier than expected. Juventus isn’t just facing an 11-point gap behind Roma; the champion will need to leapfrog numerous quality teams clamoring to ascend what appears to be a vacant throne.

Several suitable suitors. Roma’s recent pedigree, its chemistry and its talent have the Giallorossi deemed most likely heirs since Juve’s early stumbles turned calamitous. Fiorentina looks a dangerous team, one for which winning Serie A still seems a bridge too far. However, Napoli, Inter Milan and Lazio should join Roma in harboring title aspirations.

Lazio was third in Serie A last season and runner-up to Juve in the Coppa Italia, Napoli won the Coppa Italia in 2014 and finished top five in each of the last five seasons, and Inter Milan, which won the five Italian titles preceding Juve’s current run, finally brought in players worthy of its pedigree, after finishing 6th, 9th, 5th and 8th during the last four seasons. The biggest hurdle for Roma or Juventus will likely not be one another, but emerging from this talented herd, where every coach appears allergic to expectations.

"For me, the word Scudetto is still a swearword," Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said after Sunday’s 1-0 win at Chievo Verona. "You can use that word to describe Roma if you want because they're top.”

"Not Roma. Not so long ago we were all rubbish, from the players to the coach and even the sporting director,” said Rudi Garcia after Sunday’s 2-1 win at Fiorentina vaulted Roma into first. The French coach has been in Rome since 2013. "We can't be favorites now just because we're in first place. We just keep doing our job and right now we're first after a quarter of the season.”

"Napoli caused us more problems than Roma did," Fiorentina coach Paul Sosa told Sky Sport Italia, having lost to each, the rare Italian boss also backing his own squad. "Both are candidates for the title, but I like my team too. "

A collective effort. Roma does not have a signature star capable of carrying the club on its back, what it does have is a deep well of high caliber players offering a variety of skillsets, and a balanced offense that’s generated 25 goals in 10 league games, four more than any other team in Serie A.

Napoli’s Gonzolo Higuain leads Serie A with eight goals, no Roma player is among the top four, but Gervinho, Mohamed Salah and Miralem Pjanic are all tied for fifth, with five league goals apiece.

Salah brings speed and aggression; the 23-year-old Egyptian winger was loaned to Fiorentina last year before Roma bought him from Chelsea, one of many impact players recently on big EPL clubs. Edin Dzeko, the 6-foot-4 captain of Bosnia and Herzegovina, another summer addition, scored 116 goals in 241 league games for Wolfsburg and Manchester City. Wojciech Szczsny is on loan for the season after being bumped out of Arsenal’s goal by Peter Cech. Gervinho, an erratic live-wire, was also a Gunner before his 2013 transfer to Rome, where the Ivorian has thrived.

Roma’s back line is talented, and young. Left back Lucas Digne is a 22-year-old French international on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, Antonio Rudiger, also 22, is a center back with six caps for Germany on loan from VfB Stuttgart, both arrived this summer with options to buy. Kostas Manolas, at 24, already has 21 appearances in central defense for Greece, and 24-year-old Italian international Alessandro Florenzi, whose Champions League goal of the season nominee earned Roma a tie against Barcelona, plays primarily at right back.

Like Florenzi, Francisco Totti and Danielle De Rossi were born in Rome and came up through Roma’s youth system. The two former World Cup champions have long since been part of the fabric at the only club they’ve ever known. Totti’s played 746 games for Roma, his first in 1993 (the same year Digne and Rudiger were born), and his 244 goals are second all time in Serie A. De Rossi, who debuted in 2001, is the new guy, with only 501 games under his belt, and while the 39-year-old Totti is reduced to spot duty, the feisty De Rossi, at 32, is still a key contributor.

Radja Nainggolan, at 27, is a tireless Belgian international who brings bite to the midfield, but it’s the offense that makes this team a joy to watch, and how does one cut off the head of a Roman snake when every attacker can inflict damage?

None is more lethal at the moment than Pjanic, and his venomous free kicks. The 25-year-old Bosnian is off to a blistering start during his fifth campaign in Rome, Pjanic’s five assists lead Serie A, adding six goals in all competitions, including four goals from his first eight free kicks this season (for reference, as of Oct. 21, Cristiano Ronaldo had scored twice in his last 88 free kicks).

Crunch time in the capital. It’s early, but the next three games loom large for Roma. Dates with a pair of title challengers sandwich a must-win Champions League rematch with Bayer Leverkusen. Roma’s trip to Germany saw one of the wildest games in Europe all season. Trailing 2-0 inside 20 minutes, Roma scored four unanswered before allowing two goals in the last 10 minutes of a 4-4 draw. Roma now needs a win in Wednesday’s return leg to make progressing into the knockout rounds with group leader Barcelona a realistic goal.

The UCL will have to wait, as Saturday’s trip to the San Siro is also crucial, featuring a revitalized Inter Milan, with the former giant’s rebuilding project ahead of schedule. Things won’t get any easier the following Sunday, when the derby in Rome will, for once, involve title implications for both clubs, with rival Lazio coming off its best season in recent memory.

Boston-born billionaire James Pallotta bought a 25 percent stake in Roma four years ago, and took over as president in 2012, with the infusion of capital allowing several important additions. Pallotta's strong efforts to build new stadium have, not surprisingly, hit an impasse in Italy, and the American owner has also come under fire by Curva Sud of late, with Rome’s ultras boycotting recent games to protest police crackdowns at the Stadio Olimpico in response to unruly behavior.

Such distractions are par for the course in Italy, and shouldn’t derail the club's title bid, while it won’t come as a huge surprise if Roma fails to emerge from the pack to claim its first Serie A title in 15 years, it would be shocking if it’s because Juventus claws its way back atop Italy’s throne.

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