(Corrects typo in headline)
MILAN, May 14 (Reuters) - AS Roma have been confined to their Trigorio training ground ahead of Sunday’s match against Udinese (1300 GMT) as exasperated coach Rudi Garcia tries to breathe new life back into his faltering side.
The only surprise after a dismal campaign in the second half of the season is that Roma have somehow managed to cling on to second place in the table and are still on course for the Champions League next season.
However, that has been down almost entirely to the inconsistencies of rivals Lazio and Napoli who have failed to capitalise of Roma’s insipid performances, and the Giallorossi are still far from certain of the top-three finish they need.
Garcia’s side were neck-and-neck with Juventus and looked capable of mounting a serious challenge for the Serie A title in the first half of the season.
But, since the halfway mark, they have managed a modest five wins and eight draws in 15 games, scoring only 17 goals, to leave them 16 points adrift of Juventus, who wrapped up the title with four games to spare.
The long-term absence of midfielder Kevin Strootman, with a knee injury, and fullback Leandro Castan, who underwent neurosurgery after complaining of dizzy spells, have not helped and now winger Gervinho has also been ruled out for the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, the decision to loan forward Mattia Destro to AC Milan appears to have backfired, especially as he scored against them in Roma’s 2-1 defeat at Milan last Saturday.
Gervinho’s absence at the African Nations Cup was another hurdle while his fellow Ivorian Seydou Doumbia, who arrived from CSKA Moscow in January with a prolific scoring record in the bag, has failed to spark, scoring only twice.
“The Champions League is something we absolutely must achieve, regardless of this result,” said director of football Walter Sabantini.
“For the first few weeks of the season they were excellent with a great mentality and hunger, then we slipped back,” he said, adding that the Milan performance was “disturbing”.
Roma are second with 64 points followed by Lazio on 63 and Napoli on 60. A second-placed finish earns a place in next season’s Champions League group stage and the third-place teams goes into the final playoff round.
The good news for Roma is that Lazio have a tough match at sixth-placed Sampdoria on Saturday (1845 GMT), however, Napoli host relegated Cesena (Monday 1900).
Roma also face a derby against Lazio the following weekend, making it even more imperative they pick up three points against Udinese. (Writing by Brian Homewood in London)