Destination: Earth

Claudio Villa

Well that escalated quickly.

Hey there. How are you going? Where have you been all this time? Undefeated? Home and away? Best defence in Europe?

That’s the thing about bubbles. The bigger they get, the more destruction there is when it pops. Roma’s 2013/14 under Rudi has been such a bubble. This match was never really going to be about the 90 minutes of football. It long loomed on the calendar as the litmus test. The ultimate validation or perhaps an overdue check-in to Hotel Reality.

There was something quintessentially Roman about the whole debacle. When Roma burns, it’s a motherfucking inferno.

This is what you signed up for. It’s not the best part of being a Roma fan, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the most visible or at least poignant. The Giallorossi colours are different. This match was never going to be a ‘backs to the wall’ battle where only a scruffy goal in the 85th minute falls in after rebounding off four players in the six-yard box. Roma aren’t going to do that. Take your cliché’ heroic sporting efforts and throw them into that Disney sponsored waste basket.

And then relax. You know all of this. Deep down you were actually prepared for this. Sure you pasted it over with some aggressive anti-Juve gifs or maybe a caps locked "Juve Merda!" here and there.

But you know Roma. You feel the weight of the chip on your shoulder. Hell you might even share a little of that Latin blood. The stuff, that makes you lash out with passion at the slightest hint of injustice. This isn’t rational Anglo-Saxon "Keep calm and carry on." Bollocks to that. If I’ve slightly blackened my toast, I’m going to set fire to the godamn couch!

Ten wins in a row doesn’t transfuse that blood. Beating Inter, Fiorentina, Napoli and Udinese doesn’t undo the genetic code. Bringing in a gifted Andalucian coach with a penchant for winning won’t reset the biological clock. Sure, you can promise to build a new stadium and beg a wave of bandwagon fans to get on board AC Disney (trade marked) FC. Hell you can even tour Toronto.

But this team, this living, breathing juggernaut of hostile emotions and irrationality that is AS Roma cannot be uncoupled from the tortured Eternal City it represents.

Losing 3-0 away to Juve and finishing the game with 9 men in the continent’s blockbuster of the week is a symptom of this.

So what the gosh darnations actually happened out there?

When my alarm woke me from my humidified sauna-esque bedroom at 5am this (Monday) morning, I wasn’t feeling too cheery. This may have had something to do with the heatwave that had camped itself above my hometown a couple of days previous, or it could have been the body’s riposte following a grandly decadent weekend. But it wasn’t, was it. It was the nagging horrible feeling at the pit of your stomach that comes before a big match. A match that matters.

One where despite the optimistic buzz that makes you want to believe more than Agent Fox Mulder, the negative yet factual knowledge you possess is dominant.

Thanks largely to the Christmas break the Italian sports media had whipped itself into a frenzy over this clash. From this prolonged build up stemmed a degree of trash talk. Although nothing too outlandish came from the Roman fortress, they were treading a fine line for a side outside of European competition coming up against the dominant squadra in Italy for the last three seasons. If that’s what it takes to fire the team up, then sure, cool, fill your boots, but come game day you’ve got to deliver like the milkman.

The match kicked off in the infuriatingly impressive Juve Stadium. It’s a bit like hopping into your workmate’s sweet new car as he drags everyone at the lights like a peacocking douche bag.

The atmosphere was pumping and for the first fifteen minutes things were looking good. Rudi left Destro on the bench, threw Totti into the false number nine spot and had young Adem drawing Juve’s defensive heat whilst Gervinho loitered behind the defensive line ready to J walk with the speed of twenty Funky Towns.

As Roma grew comfortable in possession, Juve sat back and soaked up the pressure as their 3-5-2 casually morphed into a 5-3-2 that was always going to be a pain to break down.

If you ignore the random dead end runs Maicon and Dodo were doing, the Roma midfield looked to be edging out their counterparts during this period. And as Juve tried to move the ball onto Tevez they were able to whisk the ball away and unleash a custom Totti counter-attack that fell to Ljajic who was unable to lift the ball past the onrushing Buffon.

Still, things were looking optimistic.

And then in the 16th minute, from a rather innocuous throw-in, the defence felt compelled to stand away from Tevez as he received the ball inside the area, held it up and slipped it through to the onrushing Vidal who slotted a quick shot into the near-post net as De Sanctis inexplicably hurled himself towards Vidal’s non-shooting left boot.

Not cool.

Both DDR and Castan will look back on the replay with the guilt of a sneaky midnight   kit-kat consumer while Morgan highlighted the gulf between himself and Buffon. Mehdi will also be cut that he was stuck in front of Llorente, playing the Chilean onside.

Shit defence or not, it was typical Juventus bullshit. First decent attack on our goal and bam. Now they could sit back like the jerks they so very much are and soak up the Roma passing game, occasionally unleashing their wing-backs.

Despite the scoreline, Roma continued with a relatively solid performance and carved out a number of chances.

In the thirty-third minute following a Tevez yellow (presumably for snood related offences) Giorgio Chiellini demonstrated his affinity for hacking down skilful players much smaller than him with a disgusting attempt at grievous bodily harm against Miralem Pjanic. The Bosnian had danced past two and was heading towards Juve’s right corner flag when old kick-a-shin thought it necessary to complete a full blooded swing against Pjanic’s right leg which had already received running repairs following an earlier knock. It was an unnecessarily cynical and callous attack that would fuel the eventual fires of Rome.

The rather eventful and (I’m sure for nuetrals) entertaining half came to a close on the back of some serious Juventus pressure on the Roman goal. Tevez, Pogba and Llorente all had decent pops at the frame and could easily have made it 2-0. Oh and Dodo got away with what usually is a cut and dry Juventus penalty for his elbow on Lichsteiner’s cross attempt.

After some presumably stormy and inspiring words from Rudi Garcia (that most certainly did not involve marking the far post on set plays), I Lupi emerged in the second half.

Why oh why, didn’t they just stay in that change room. Before most of us could return to our seats, Juve had a dangerous free kick on the edge of the area after an inept challenge by a clearly struggling Miralem on Asamoah. Predictably Pirlo delivered a killer dead ball to the far post and - to the abject horror of everyone around the world who does not subscribe to the black arts of supporting Juventus - the freaking centreback, Leo Bonucci was left completely alone to prod in Juve’s second goal. Castan was done like a dinner and Dodo was… well, Dodo.

Game….Over.

Rudi switched the team to a balls-to-the-wall 4-2-3-1 bringing on Destro for the obviously injured Pjanic and Torosidis entered for Dodo. Yep, he’s crap. Argue about it in your spare time.

Just to prove that he is absolutely as big a (insert your insult of your choice, I prefer, oxygen embezzler) as everyone thinks he is, Antonio Conte then brought on Mirko Vucinic for Tevez.

Mirko means a lot of things to a lot of Roman tifosi, the guy was a terrifically gifted footballer and a key contributor to Spalletti’s era. To see him run on the pitch in white and black was as bad as watching Bonucci’s goal.

I assume the game kept on playing, but I can’t be sure because the only bit I really remember happening was De Rossi’s attempted career ender on Georgio Chiellini. In the 74th minute old Kick-a-shin found himself with the ball out wide and made a run for it. De Rossi was struggling to catch him, and when Roma’s public enemy number one put an extra burst on as he neared the goal line, DDR let him have it. Two footed, old school lunge.

Remember that Latin blood? Remember Totti’s kick on Balotelli?

DDR does this. Roma does this. Its part of the deal. Don’t get all high and mighty and preach about setting an example for children or espousing the benefits of never giving in. This is Roma. You can’t tame this dragon, yet all of you presumably sit here, guilty of chasing it.

So DDR trudges off the field with a red card, and what happens? Castan freaking does his best goalkeeper punching clearance. Yep, that Roma, oh she burns alright.

So who steps up to take the resulting penalty from the red card offence? Is it Pirlo? Is it Llorente? How about Vidal?

Oh hell no, its Mirko–formally the favourite son of Roma-Vucinic. Of course he scores. But then he wheels away and celebrates. And if you are anything like your humble scribe, a little bit of you died. Maybe you reacted like DDR and kicked your dog, or maybe you sat there feeling like you had just stumbled upon your first born’s One Direction album.

So that pretty much sums up Juventus v Roma Part 1, 2014.

The original gameplan probably could have worked, but the defence was too loose and the attack in the final third utterly lacking. Totti was contained and for the most part our play was forced to the flanks where we were unable to send any dangerous crosses because we didn’t have a legitimate target in the area.

Take off your Roma hat for a bit and it’s easier to sift through the rubble. Juventus are a champion team in championship winning form. Their combination play is exceptional and they have enough depth to maintain their momentum. Yes, they can be undone. But give them a two goal lead straight after half time, fah-getahboudit.

Pogba and Vidal are classic shit haircuted wankers, but they are also very good on a winning side with a sail full of momentum. Their three centre-backs are equally solid.

I’ll leave the post-mortem on the state of Roma to a more analytical and less emotionally unstable time.

But before I open the Chiesa floor to parishoners, remember its only one game in a long season. Deep breaths.

And then I got a text message from my old housemate in Rome.

"porca troia!! risultato bugiardo!!"

Screw it.

Fucking fuck balls! I hate Juve! You hate Juve!

Let’s go kick in Chiellini’s knee!

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