AS Roma players celebrate at the end of their Italian Serie A soccer match against Bologna at the Olympic stadium in Rome

Roma finally breaks through before half, routs Bologna to stay perfect

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Roma’s 5-0-0 start to the Serie A  season had included one brow-furrowing curiosity: They’d failed to score a goal in the first half of any of their games. After intermission, they were scoring at a rate of 4.8 goals per game (12 goals in 225 minutes), but theoretically, it was taking a half of wearing down before Rudi Garcia’s attack could make their way through tiring opponents.

That theory proved more a hypothesis on Sunday, with the Giallorossi exploding in the first half of Bologna’s visit to the Stadio Olimpico. Alessandro Florenzi opened the scoring in the eighth minute (his third of the year), putting home the rebound of a Miralem Pjanic restart. Francesco Totti set-up Gervinho to double Roma’s lead nine minutes later, while on 25 minutes, Totti got a second assist on another spectacular goal from Mehdi Benatia (the defender second in two games).

Telling of their early success, this wasn’t even Roma’s quickest three goals of the season. Hosting Verona in round two, Roma scored three times in 11 minutes, though one came via a Fabrizio Cacciatore own goal. Today’s outburst — 18 minutes; three goals — had the virtue of all coming off Roma feet.

Garcia’s side went on to win the game 5-0, their most decisive win of the season, one which finally saw their dominance pay off before a mid-match regroup. Perhaps that’s a sign of Bologna’s struggles (now 0-3-3 on the season). Perhaps it’s just random. Or perhaps it’s just Roma gaining confidence from their 6-0-0 start – executing before their opponents fold. With the win, Garcia’s team stays two points clear of Napoli and Juventus.

[MORE: Serie A Sunday roundup: Juventus labor to win Turin derby.]

But the result leaves the same question we’ve been asking for two weeks: Are Roma for real? Perhaps Saturday, when they travel to Milan to face Inter, we’ll get a better idea, but across all the small indicators we’ve seen from their soft opening schedule, the answer has been Yes. Their 17 goals scored lead the league, while their single goal allowed make them the stingiest team in Serie A. The lopsided result not only shows their continued improvement but hints they may be less susceptible to the slips we’ve recently seen from Napoli and Inter. Firepower’s difficult for less-talented teams to match.

source: Reuters
Francesco Totti recently signed a contract extension that will keep him at Roma until he’s 39, and with his hot start of the Serie A season, there’s reason to think he could be valuable come 2016. The Roma icon has started the season with one goal, six assists in his first team’s first six games. (Photo: Reuters.)

And that Roma firepower includes convincingly strong starts from both their core and their new acquisitions. The 37-year-old Totti shows no signs of slowing, Daniele De Rossi’s off to one of his strongest starts in recent seasons, while Miralem Pjanic continues his understated stardom. Among the new signings, Benatia’s acquisition form Udinese has offset the loss of Marquinhos to Paris Saint-Germain, Kevin Strootman’s already provided three assists in midfield, while Gervinho and Adem Ljajic have combined for six goals. Maicon has proven surprisingly decent since returning to Italy, while Morgan De Sanctis has only conceded once since moving from Napoli.

Roma may yet prove a fluke, but talent won’t be an excuse, particularly with the likes of Ljajic, Michael Bradley, Marco Borriello and Nicolas Burdisso in reserve. And with no European commitments to distract them, Roma may be set to replicate what Juventus did two years ago.

Perhaps they won’t go on to win the title (as that regrouping Juve team did), but with a offseason’s regroup and a streamlined set of commitments, Roma may be set for bigger and better things. This start may turn out to be step one.

Alexis Sanchez leaves Arsenal match with apparent right hamstring injury

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  An injured Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (17) is given assistance during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Alexis Sanchez has joined Arsenal’s long list of walking wounded.

The Chilean subbed off after 60 minutes at Carrow Road after suffering what appeared to be a right hamstring injury.

[ WATCH: Petulant Costa tosses bib at Mourinho ]

Arsene Wenger has been critical of the use of his players on international duty when not at 100 percent, but that didn’t stop him from using Alexis on a hamstring injury.

Alexis was headed for a loose ball when he tried to leap over a defender and instead pulled up with the injury.

Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup: Vardy to Chelsea, Man City; Real wants Neymar

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 24:  Neymar of FC Barcelona controls the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between FC Barcelona and AS Roma at Camp Nou stadium on November 24, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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Neymar is playing as well as any player in the world, so it makes sense that anyone would be interested in signing the player were it a possibility, but would the Barcelona star considering swapping shirts with his current club’s biggest rival? Florentino Perez wants to woo the Brazilian to the Bernabeu, according to AS, though it’s an absolute head-scratcher as to why — aside from Perez’s wild ego — this move could go down.

Jamie Vardy could leave Leicester City, says the Independent. The thought here is that the Foxes couldn’t refuse a $45 million offer from a giant like Chelsea or Manchester City. Straight swap for Diego Costa (We kid, we kid; How would the mercurial striker possibly live with Tony Pulis?).

[ MORE: Chelsea’s Costa tosses bib at Mourinho | Jose reacts ]

Burnley defender Michael Keane continues to impress as the Clarets aim for a Premier League return, and The Sun says Aston Villa is joining Manchester United and Everton with interest in the 22-year-old back.

The same publication says Everton back John Stones is taking Spanish lessons in preparation for a move to Barcelona (although many people speak Spanish in soccer, of course). The Sunday Mirror says Arsenal could also move for Stones.

Sky Italia says Leicester’s Andrej Kramaric is looking toward, essentially, all the big names in Serie A. AC Milan and Juventus are among the clubs mentioned by the report.

Jack Butland is having a strong season for Stoke, and the young English keeper is wanted by both of the Merseyside’s Premier League clubs, according to The Sun. The price? $30 million.

West Ham United 1-1 West Bromwich Albion: Baggies come back to hold Irons

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  James McClean of West Bromwich Albion is tackled by Carl Jenkinson of West Ham United during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion at Boleyn Ground on November 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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A Winston Reid own goal undid a gorgeous Mauro Zarate free kick, as West Ham failed to take all three points from West Brom in a 1-1 draw at the Boleyn Ground on Sunday

The draw moves West Ham into 7th place, while West Brom stays 13th.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

West Brom had a good-looking buildup in the ninth minute, as Manuel Lanzini came close to meandering through a packed West Brom back line before passing to Mauro Zarate, who missed wide of the goal.

At the other end, Salomon Rondon smoked a fine effort just wide of Adrian’s far post.

The Hammers broke through off an 18th-minute set piece, as Zarate curled a free kick over the wall and into the upper 90.

Lanzini then stole the ball from Yacob and darted to the top of the arc, where he unleashed a whirling shot that Boaz Myhill was able to save.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]  

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29: Tony Pulis manager of West Bromwich Albion reacts as Slaven Bilic manager of West Ham United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion at Boleyn Ground on November 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Despite dominating the first half, West Ham soon found itself level when West Brom substitute Rickie Lambert struck a ball that changed course off Winston Reid’s arm to beat Myhill. 1-1. Game on.

Lambert later forced Adrian to push a low free kick out for a corner, but the Baggies found the ensuing chance cleared away from danger.

In the 61st minute, Adrian was called upon to make a strong save on Rondon’s powerful close-range header.

A break toward the other end saw Victor Moses cue up Diafra Sakho, but Jonas Olsson slid to block the West Ham chance out for a corner.

Pochettino trolling? “You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team”

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur huffed and puffed at White Hart Lane on Sunday but never really got going as they settled for a point at White Hart Lane.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Harry Kane forced Asmir Begovic into two good saves in the first half and Song Hueng-min should’ve scored in the second half with a header but even after after a grueling 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan on Thursday night for Europa League action which saw them arrive back in England at 6 a.m. local time Friday, manager Mauricio Pochettino wasn’t pleased his team didn’t win to move into the top four.

“No, not really happy. We deserved more than we got, so I was disappointed, but it’s true that I’m proud of the players. For me they’re big heroes,” Pochettino told ProSoccerTalk. “The effort was massive. Chelsea played one of their best games of the season, and when you make the effort we showed and the maturity, you have to be happy with your players but disappointed with one point.”

[ MORE: Mourinho calls benched Costa “privileged” ]

With Spurs now stretching their unbeaten run to 13 games this season — their one and only defeat in 2015-16 came on the opening day of the season, 1-0 at Manchester United — Pochettino was asked if his side, who sit five points off the top, should be pleased that a draw against Chelsea felt like two points dropped.

The Argentine coach then released his inner Jose Mourinho — the pair have a close relationship and before Poch came to coach in England he spoke at length to Mourinho — dishing out a backhanded compliment to the master of the backhanded compliment.

“This is a good thing. We play the champions. It’s good. You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team and Tottenham can win every game we play,” Pochettino said. “It’s very difficult, though. Not easy. We’re the youngest team in the PL and the maturity we showed today we have shown in different games. We have to feel happy. It’s a good thing that, maybe, we are a bigger club than Chelsea or that we deserve more. We showed good performances in the last few games, and I’m happy, but we have to keep working hard. We’ve only had 14 games in the PL and it’s too early to think about the end of the season.”

Whether or not those comments were lost in translation from a man who is still getting used to English as his second language, Pochettino clearly felt Spurs deserved more than the point they got and it’s apparent from the differing predicaments both teams find themselves in that Spurs have more chance of winning the title and finishing in the top four than Chelsea this season.