By Brian Homewood
Sept 27 (Reuters) - It has taken new coach Rudi Garcia only five games and less than three months to turn AS Roma from a bickering outfit prone to defensive calamities into the most efficient unit in Serie A.
Roma go into Sunday's match at home against Bologna (1845 GMT) with a 100 percent record from five games, 12 goals scored and only one conceded. Yet, when Garcia took over in mid-July, the team was in disarray.
Despite a highly-talented squad led by the talismanic Francesco Totti, Roma finished sixth last season, missing out on European football after conceding 56 goals in their 38 games, one of the worst defensive records in the league.
The maverick leadership of Czech-born coach Zdenek Zeman, fired just over halfway through the season after one defensive fiasco too many, produced great entertainment but had their fans living on their nerves.
Roma, however, left the worst for the end when they lost the Coppa Italia final to arch-rivals Lazio in a performance overshadowed by a public spat between controversial striker Pablo Osvaldo, who has since joined Premier League Southampton, and interim coach Aurelio Andreazzoli.
Garcia quickly brought order to the dressing-room, patched up the defence and gave the players back their confidence.
The arrival of central defender Mehdi Benatia from Udinese, described by Garcia as the symbol of the team, and Brazilian right back Maicon from Manchester City have bolstered the backline, as has the signing of goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis from Napoli.
Daniele De Rossi, overlooked by Zeman for part of last season, is back to his swashbuckling best in midfield and Miralem Pjanjic has found a new lease of life.
Totti, now in his 22nd season and 37 on Friday, continues to defy the years while the arrival of Gervinho and Adem Ljajic have give the attack a new dimension.
"Juventus are still the favourites for the Scudetto, but Roma are there too," said Dutchman Kevin Strootman after Wednesday's 2-0 win at Sampdoria.
"The thing that struck me was the way we celebrated the win last night, with everyone together including the kit men.
"Garcia has improved everything that wasn't working before. Pjanjic has great talent and De Rossi can do everything."
Bologna have yet to win this season but were one of Roma's tormentors last term when they overturned a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 at the Stadio Olimpico.
Napoli, Juventus and Inter Milan are all two points behind Roma, with four wins and a draw each from their first five games.
Napoli, who dropped their first points on Wednesday in a 1-1 draw with promoted Sassuolo, travel to Genoa on Saturday (1600) with coach Rafael Benitez defending his rotation policy after making six changes in midweek.
"I have faith in the team, if we want to get better in a consistent way and get the maximum number of points, we have to use as many players as possible so we get to the end of the season in good form," he said.
Inter, who ended Fiorentina's unbeaten start on Thursday with a 2-1 win, visit Cagliari on Sunday (1300) and champions Juventus take on neighbours Torino (1030).
Milan, who have five points and are already 10 behind the leaders, are at home to winless Sampdoria (Saturday 1845) and will again be without forward Mario Balotelli, who is serving the second game of a three-match ban. (Reporting by Brian Homewood; editing by Martyn Herman)
- Sports & Recreation
- Rudi Garcia
- Francesco Totti