Roma still in position to have a successful season, despite negative perception

Sunday is judgement day in Serie A.

A draw against Roma at the Olimpico will be enough for Juventus to win an unprecedented sixth straight title, and with the Coppa Italia final now rescheduled for Wednesday, two-thirds of a historic treble can be completed in a matter of days.

Roma, meanwhile, will be without Serie A capocannoniere Edin Dzeko and, possibly, their most dangerous midfielder Radja Nainggolan, who remains a doubt for a game the Giallorossi absolutely must win if they are to hold off Napoli and hang onto second place.

Maurizio Sarri has got Napoli within a point of automatic qualification for the Champions League. But it's really a point and a half because Roma have the better head-to-head goal difference. Come Sunday evening Roma will know whether they still have some margin for error or none at all.

The focus of Luciano Spalletti and his players will no doubt be on themselves, but one imagines Roma will also be hoping that Torino, who came within seconds of beating Juventus at the Juventus Stadium last weekend, do them a favour and upset Napoli at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino.

The best-case scenario for Roma is they go within four points of Juventus and put the same difference between themselves and Napoli. But the question is: would that be enough to change opinions of Roma's season among the local press? And how would it affect appraisals of Spalletti's second spell at the club? Not one jot, Spalletti presumably thinks.

When the history of Roma is updated to include the last 18 months, it will be dominated by the end of Francesco Totti's career and the handling of it. Much to Spalletti's exasperation, the rest has been overshadowed.

Roma were fifth when he replaced Rudi Garcia. They had been knocked out of the Coppa Italia by second division Spezia and had won just one of their last seven games in the league. Five points adrift of the final Champions League place, Spalletti had the job of chasing down an Inter side that had made its best start to a season since the days of Helenio Herrera. Going into the final day of the first half of the season, Inter had been top of the table.

Getting Roma onto the podium was definitely easier said than done. The team wasn't fit enough to play more than an hour at the intensity demanded and Roma's big money striker was in the midst of goal drought that would go on for almost 12 hours in the league.

Spalletti's impact, though, was almost immediate. He sidelined Dzeko, made treasure out of the players the club signed in January and began collecting points at a rate of knots by pushing Nainggolan further forward and playing a trademark strikerless formation. The team averaged 2.4 points a game and qualified for the Champions League preliminaries. In short, Spalletti made Roma regret not sacking Rudi Garcia earlier.

Flash forward to today and Roma are seven points better off than they were at this stage a year ago. They're second, rather than third, and boasted a perfect record at the Olimpico throughout the entire first half of the season. Sunday's win was their sixth straight on the road in the league and it resonated for other reasons too. Not only was it the first-time Roma put four goals past Milan at the San Siro since 1935, it was also only the third time they have beaten both Milanese clubs home and away in a single season.

This season has been a challenging one even without the whole Totti palaver. Roma lost Miralem Pjanic to Juventus in the summer and the money they received for him obviously wasn't what Napoli got for Gonzalo Higuain. Napoli spent €25m on centre-back Nikola Maksimovic (who never plays) last summer, a luxury Roma can't afford, and paid Genoa €18m for striker Leonardo Pavoletti (who also never plays), in January, which is the same amount Roma invested in Dzeko. The major difference in depth though is in midfield where Sarri can start Marek Hamsik, Allan and Jorginho one game and Amadou Diawara, Piotr Zielinski and Marko Rog the next. Given how much people sing Napoli's praises, you'd think this team with its deeper roster would be far ahead of Roma. But, with the exception of last Saturday night, Roma have been ahead of Napoli since Oct.14.

That's despite starting the season without Antonio Rudiger and losing Mario Rui to an ACL tear on his first day at training camp. Then just when Rudiger was coming back, Alessandro Florenzi suffered the same injury and later relapsed before his anticipated return in January.

Just how much of a loss the versatile Florenzi was to Roma shouldn't be understated. Neither should the fact that of the signings Roma made this season only Federico Fazio and (the recently criticized) Bruno Peres have come off. Help wasn't forthcoming in January either and the club acknowledges it should perhaps have kept some of Roma's uber-promising young players around rather than loaning them out.

Despite all this, Spalletti has still evolved the team. A slow and predictable side without a Plan B towards the end of the Garcia era, Roma have gone from playing a strikerless system to variations of a "three and a half defence" and a 4-2-3-1 with Dzeko as its focal point. A flop last year, Spalletti has transformed Dzeko's leaden feet into gold. He has got Kevin Strootman through his first injury-free season in two years and developed Emerson Palmieri into a player Italy have pushed to naturalise. Wojciech Szczesny is also enjoying the best season of his career, boasting the highest shot to save percentage in the league (77.3%).

If Roma manage to win their three remaining games, they'll establish a new club record points total and finish second for the fifth time in the last decade. We're talking about the most sustained period of high performance since the 1980s, if not ever and frankly it's hard to make a case arguing that Roma are heading in anything other than the right direction. The Mayor of Rome has given the green light for Roma's new stadium. Roma have appointed Umberto Gandini, Milan's longstanding foreign minister to give the club more presence at the European Club Association. They beat competition to sign Monchi as their new director of sport and Alberto De Rossi's youth team has done a combined treble over the past two seasons. There's a lot to be positive about.

But the focus remains fixed on Totti and how Roma blew it in both legs against Porto, Juventus away, Lyon away, and then Lazio and Napoli at home. Rather than assessing the season in its entirety, definitive judgements have been made almost exclusively on one week in April. All told, no one realistically expected Roma to dethrone Juve. True, it's disappointing they didn't go deeper in the Europa League or make the final of the Coppa Italia. Anything less than second would be a blow too but only because Roma have been in that position practically all season.

Ending the year with zeru tituli, though, doesn't make it a failure. Tottenham, for instance, have had a similar year in England and in Europe and yet the perception of it, compared with Roma's, really couldn't be more different. To acknowledge as much is a counter-cultural view and one the club shares. But Spalletti has had enough, and frankly who can blame him?