- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

MILAN (AP) - No longer a surprise package, Roma is expected to be one of the main challengers to end Juventus’ hold on the league title.

Not much was expected from the club last season, but a record Serie A start of 10 straight wins saw Roma emerge as a genuine title contender under coach Rudi Garcia.

The capital side eventually finished second to a record-breaking Juventus but ended the season 23 points and four league places better than the previous campaign.

Roma may have lost the element of surprise this time but it has an added bonus of the experience of fighting for a title and has matured as a squad.

“We’re coming off the back of a positive season, but we know we can improve,” Roma goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis said. “The love of the fans makes me proud to be part of this club. We will try to reward them and to satisfy their desire to win something important this season.”

Roma will also be involved in the Champions League this year and much of its season will depend on how the club manages to balance playing among Europe’s elite with its domestic duties.

“In the Champions League we will be outsiders and that could help us a lot. The players are at 100 percent both physically and mentally,” Garcia said. “In the league I’m worried about the players’ attitudes in the games immediately before and after the Champions League. My job is to make sure that before Champions League games the team gives its all on the field. We are stronger than last year.”

Garcia has strengthened the squad with a number of shrewd signings. Roma shelled out 24.5 million euros ($33.2 million) for 21-year-old Argentine forward Juan Manuel Iturbe, who has been compared to Lionel Messi.

At the other end of the scale, veteran English defender Ashley Cole joined on a free transfer.

“It’s a great club with real ambition,” Cole said. “Last year they came second. I talked with the coach and he expressed the ambitions he had and showed a real will to win.

“I want to contribute to a team that will win the league. I received offers from other, small teams, but I didn’t want to just lie on a beach. I came here to win. I have won a lot in my career, but I don’t want to stop.”

Roma has also signed Davide Astori, Seydou Keita, Urby Emanuelson and Salih Ucan.

Much of its chances, however, will depend on whether it manages to hang on to key players such as Mattia Destro and Mehdi Benatia, who have already attracted a lot of interest from top European clubs.

The 23-year-old Destro scored 13 goals in 20 matches, despite only starting his injury-delayed season in December.

Destro and Benatia were two of a number of shrewd buys by Garcia last offseason, along with De Sanctis, Kevin Strootman, Adem Ljajic and Gervinho.

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