Garcia surfing Roma wave, but Europe remains objective
Roma coach Rudi Garcia is happy to accept the plaudits but insists he won't rest on his laurels this season as he continues his quest to lead the Giallorossi back to the Champions League.
Roma head into Sunday's home game against Sampdoria with a nine-point deficit on leaders Juventus but, with a game in hand against Parma, the capital giants' battle for this year's league title is far from over.
"We've lost only once in the league all season, away to the leaders and now we're out of the Cup, but we've had a virtually flawless season," Garcia told AFP in an interview.
"We're very happy with what we've achieved so far, but nothing's won yet. And our principal objective this season is to get back into the Champions League."
Having won the league and Cup double with French side Lille in 2011, Garcia arrived at the helm of a Roma side still smarting after a ninth place finish and defeat in the Italian Cup final to bitter rivals Lazio, which also deprived them of a place in the Europa League.
Roma's chances of making this year's final were ended by a 3-0 second leg, semi-final defeat to Napoli last week.
But barely six months into the job, the Frenchman is being credited with Roma's transformation from chokers to the only real threat to champions Juventus this season.
That transformation, capped by a new league record of 10 consecutive opening wins, has not gone unnoticed.
"I'm happy when I see Garcia's Roma play because it broadens our horizons," said Arrigo Sacchi, the wily Italian tactician and who steered Milan to domestic and European success in his spell at the club (1987-1991).
Marcello Lippi, who led Italy to World Cup glory in 2006, also heaped praise on the Frenchman, but Garcia added: "It's nice to get compliments, but you then have to go on and back them up.
"When Lippi visited our training ground he told me, 'We love watching your team play, and you can see that the team is united'. That is the kind of compliment a coach likes to hear."
Employing the 4-3-3 formation that worked wonders for Lille, insists Garcia, is only possible because of the players he has at his disposal.
And while other teams rely on one or two forwards for the bulk of their goals, Roma's 45 goals so far are spread evenly throughout the side.
No fewer than six players -- Ivorian striker Gervinho, defender Mehdi Benatia and forwards Alessandro Florenzi, Adem Ljajic, Kevin Strootman and Francesco Totti -- have scored five league goals apiece so far.
Most recently, Gervinho, who also played under Garcia at Le Mans and Lille, has hit top form to become a starting regular.
But the Frenchman insisted: "He's only playing all the time because he's in great physical condition. I don't do him any favours, I'm a lot more demanding with him but I know which string to pull on and off the field to get the best out of him."
Whether Gervinho and Roma can do enough to stop Juve winning a third consecutive scudetto remains to be seen. And despite the compliments, Garcia admits a flawless final run-in to the season may not be enough.
"We'll see. They've beaten us 3-0 and that says a lot, although we managed to beat them 1-0 in the Cup (quarter-finals)," added Garcia.
"Now they're well ahead of us so we're not masters of our own destiny. All we can do is to keep on collecting points and if they ever slip up we have to be ready."