Roma vs Juventus Preview

Paolo Bruno

Will this match determine the Scudetto? Of course not, but it might just separate pretender from contender. It’s week 18 and Serie A has saved the best for last, Roma versus Juventus.

Juventus is like the older brother of Serie A; he picks on you, he pesters you, and he even puts your underwear in the freezer, and, on the rare occasions when he's gracious enough to play sports with you, he shows no mercy. But here's the thing about little brothers, we get older, we get stronger and we exact revenge. This, of course, leaves the older brother with only one recourse; to cheat, to whinge, to coerce and to cajole his way to victory. As both a younger brother and a Roma fan, I know of what I speak.

While that's all well and good, take one look at the recent history of this match up (not to mention the table the past few years), and you'll be the one moaning. Not only has Juventus laid claim to the Scudetto the past two seasons, they're currently riding a nine match winning streak in which they've outscored opponents 23-2. So, the three-peat, at least at this point, looks like a foregone conclusion.

Roma vs Juventus:January 5 20:45 CET, 14:45 EST Juventus Stadium Torino, Italia

That is, unless...

You may remember a time when Roma laid similar waste to Serie A, winning 10 in a row and outscoring their opponents 24-1, but that was then, and this (cliché alert) is now. Right now, Roma, despite defeating Catania 4-0 before the break, are floundering, winning only twice in their last seven matches.

Roma can...

Wake Up From Winter

I don't quite understand the appeal, but people seem to love Disney World, even professional soccer teams looking to wring a buck out of anything holiday there. So, for a team struggling to regain its identity, losing out on a few Disney dollars is probably for the best in the long run.

But was that identity truly lost, or did Roma simply run out of luck?

Chances Created

Shots

Shot %

Passing %

Possession %

Season Average

12

11.2

39

85

55

Past Seven Matches

13

12.4

39

86

56

As you can see, their performances, at least offensively, have been on par with the season averages, so what gives? What is the straw that broke this particular camel's back?

Well, it doesn't take more than a quick glance at the ole +/- column to realize that Roma's defensive performance has taken a slight dip, but, really, what's done them in has been some poorly timed goals. Of course, when you only concede one in the first 10 matches, any goal allowed is bound to look bad. However, over their most recent seven week stretch, Roma has conceded in the 63rd, 94th (damn you, Berardi), 51st, 29th, and 77th minutes. Now, the middle few are manageable, but take away those Berardi and Muntari equalizers and Roma gains four points, putting them one shy of Juve instead of five, making this a true six pointer.

That we even have to make this sort of dissection speaks volumes about how far Roma has come under Garcia. Still in second place, still undefeated and still chasing the Scudetto, things are good, so we have to dig deep to find blemishes.

When it comes to Juventus, however, the world flawless comes to mind. Not only have they won 15 of their first 17 matches, dropping only one in the process, they're pretty much leading Italy in anything and everything, including being the only side to concede less than 10 shots per match. Nothing comes easy against Juventus, that's for sure.

This feels like a good place, so I'm just gonna leave this here for your enjoyment. Apropos of nothing.

But Juventus being the best in Italy is really no surprise, so let's take a look at a few of the caregivers keeping This Old Lady alive.

The Three Amigos

Carlos Tevez

The man they should call Captain Caveman trails only Giuseppe Rossi for this year's capocannoniere and has been a menace wherever Antonio Conte has deployed him, and, wouldn't you know it, he's set to return against Roma Sunday. Sublime.

While the 11 goals and four assists are nice, it's the extent and manner in which Tevez is ingrained in Juventus' offense that is truly impressive. Tevez's 11 goals have come at the cost of 72 shots (only three behind Balotelli's league lead), but he's put an impressive 65% of those on target (just outside the top 10), while converting 22% of those into goals. Put simply, whether Conte has used him as a midfielder, forward, or center forward, Tevez has maintained an impressive level of efficiency given how prominent a role he plays in Juventus' offense.

To top it all off, Tevez has four assists and averages 2.2 key passes per match, both top ten totals league wide. His career in Manchester ended so unceremoniously that one tends to forget what a great player he was and remains.

Arturo Vidal

What you, dear Serie A fan, are witnessing is an immensely talented player finally putting it all together. Vidal is on pace to meet or exceed his career averages in goals and assists, while his shooting statistics are actually ahead of his career norms by a slight margin. But what is really interesting is that Vidal is doing all this while seeing less of the ball, at least in the passing game, yet his play making numbers are even with last year (two chances created/match), while providing steady service Tevez and Fernando Llorente.

Paul Pogba

If you are prone to believing certain legends, the young French phenom was nearly a Roma player, which, if true, should elicit the firmest of forehead smacks. Ah, what might have been. Paul Pogba, all of 20 years old, has already entrenched himself into the bedrock of Juve's Starting XI, ranking top five in virtually all offensive categories, slotting home five goals and dishing out three assists, while averaging nearly two dribbles and key passes per match. Pogba, along with the aforementioned Vidal, has played the perfect attacking foil to Andrea Pirlo's deep lying playmaker.

Of course, that's just a quick look at three of Juve's more prominent offensive players this season. They are strong from front to back, so let's take a look at what must happen in order for Roma to escape Torino with three points.

Keep an Eye On

The Formation

Was the switch to the 4-2-3-1 against Catania simply a matter of injuries and suspensions forcing Garcia's hand, or a signal of an actual tactical change coming from the Frenchman? One thing is for certain, it worked well, but Juventus, Catania is not. With both Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman set to suit up for this one, it wouldn't exactly be prudent to leave one of them riding the pine.

Bringing us to our next point...

Winning The Midfield

Conte seldom strays far from the 3-5-2, and when that midfield is comprised of Vidal, Pogba and Pirlo, not to mention the wingback pairing of Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Liechsteiner, cutting off passing lanes and keeping the ball of the wings becomes paramount. Certainly, for Roma to stand a chance at slowing down Juve's forward momentum they'll need the defensive presence provided by DDR and Strootman to close down the space on Pogba and Pirlo, not to mention cutting off the supply line to Tevez.

The Forwards

Chances are Garcia will fall back on the 4-3-3 tomorrow, leaving one of Gervinho or Adem Ljajic on the bench. While the smart money says Ljajic will be the second half sub, the trio of Francesco Totti, Mattia Destro and Gervinho will be instrumental in winning the day. Scoring against Juventus never comes easy, and if Roma can burst through the Juve midfield consistently, you have to like the three v three match up of Totti/Gervinho/Destro versus Chiellini/Bonucci/Cáceres, particularly if Destro and Gervinho can disrupt the cohesion between the backline and open up space for Totti to create.

Sunday's Showdown

Despite their bleak history against Juventus in recent years, this is always one of the marquee fixtures of any season, except, you know, when Juve gets relegated for cheating. This time around, it's tinged with the aspirations and anxieties of a title chase. Will Sunday determine the Scudetto? Probably not, but if Juventus opens up an eight point gap over second place Roma, the chase becomes infinitely harder for the Giallorossi.

While the Scudetto may ultimately prove out of reach for Roma, a victory on Sunday should strike fear in the heart of Italy's older brother.

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