There was a time, not that long ago, when May 11th was circled on the calendars of every calcio mad household from Turin down to Rome, and all points in between. Roma versus Juventus; this was to be the match, one that, at long last, pitted first versus second; a matter of actual consequence standing in the way of Juventus' eventual three peat.
However, thanks to a variety of factors--ranging from Sassuolo's early goal against Juve going for naught, to Benfica not tiring the Old Lady as much as expected and, of course, Roma's putrid display against Catania--this once titanic matchup now merely stands on ceremony, with little more than trivial pursuits for which to play. Juventus needs only to manage a draw to match Inter Milan's league record 97 points, while a victory for Roma keeps their 90 point dream alive.
Both interesting bits of club and league history, but the books are essentially closed on this season, so the manner in which Antonio Conte and Rudi Garcia approach this match is anyone's guess.
However, we do know what happened last time, now don't we?
January 5, 2014: Juventus 3, Roma 0
Back in my adolescent days, when my friends and I found ourselves bored and/or dateless, we became quite fond of playing EA's line of NHL games--In an effort to not date myself, I won't tell you which platform. Inevitably, one person reigned supreme-they just knew which moves fooled the AI controlled goalie, which resulted in some lopsided affairs. So, in order to salvage our teenage sense of pride, we devised an ancillary scoring system, in which we were awarded "Man Points" for every fight won, every penalty minute and every one of our opponent's we sent to the infirmary.
Yes, it was juvenile and against the spirit of fair play, but it made you feel better about what was otherwise an abysmal performance. Well, thanks to their two red cards from this match, Roma at least won the trial of masculinity.
Really, there isn't much worth reliving from this match, but it has become somewhat emblematic of each of their defeats this season; despite superior possession and passing, Roma were done in by some clinical offensive work by Conte's men, as Juve scored on three of their five on-target attempts. Spurred on by an early goal from Arturo Vidal, Juventus looked the part of the victor for most of the match, tacking on goals from Leonardo Bonucci and (ugh) Mirko Vucinic, who gave Roma the ignominy of scoring from the penalty spot.
But Roma would have her vengeance a few weeks later, knocking Juve out of the Coppa Italia thanks to Gervinho's 79th minute goal at the Olimpico.
Angling for an Angle
With the wealth of talent these two clubs can throw at you, from a purely objective and aesthetic standpoint, Sunday's clash is still a hell of a matchup, so there are reasons plenty to tune in, or surreptitiously stream it, as it were. However, with literally nothing to play for beyond mere benchmarks, we simply have no idea who will take the field and how much of an effort they will actually put forth.
If the futility of the match wasn't enough to make you question the players focus, there were, of course, the requisite off the pitch melodramas. We already discussed the increasing connections between Miralem Pjanic and Barcelona, as well as touching briefly upon Rudi Garcia's sudden doubts over his own future, but with World Cup squad selections on the horizon, it's not hard to imagine that several of the players' minds have been elsewhere this week, particularly Alessandro Florenzi and Mattia Destro, each of whom is on the periphery of Cesare Prandelli's plans, though for drastically different reasons.
Distractions or not, there were some pretty decent verbal volleys lobbed between Italy's top teams. Giorgio Chiellini had perhaps the sweetest quote, when described tomorrow's trip to Roma as a "pleasure cruise", although he did thank the Giallorossi for pushing Juve to the extremes this season, so, I suppose we can consider that a backhanded compliment. Stephan Lichtsteiner, Leonardo Bonucci and Fernando Llorente, among others, also chimed in with their desire to destroy Roma tomorrow for the sake of furthering Juve's glory.
For their part, Roma's media saturation was relatively tame, amounting to little more than Gervinho stating his desire to score once more versus the Old Lady. Most of their focus seemed to be on what needs to change next year in order to present more of a real threat to Juventus while surviving in Europe; these sorts of things tend to happen when the boss man comes to town anyway.
As far as actual on the pitch news is concerned, both Mattia Destro and Radja Nainggolan will return from suspension, giving Garcia the bulk of his Post-Strootman squad once again. In terms of individual statistics, several Roma players are approaching somewhat unique benchmarks.
Gervinho needs one more goal to make it a double-double for the season (goals and assists), which would make him the first in the league to reach that mark, though Alessio Cerci is only one assist away from achieving the same feat. Francesco Totti needs two more goals to crack double digits, which, when paired with his 10 assists, would give him back-to-back double-doubles.
Alessandro Florenzi, meanwhile, is one goal away from a seven & seven; a feat achieved by only eight players through 36 weeks of play. Miralem Pjanic needs an additional goal and assist to reach this same plateau.
Much of Roma's success this season was predicated on the versatility of her attacking talent, and the stats back that up, as Gervinho, Totti, Florenzi, Pjanic, Adem Ljajic and Kevin Strootman each have at least, to borrow a hockey term, 11 points (goals + assists). Roma was never lacking in dynamism this season, that's for sure.
Revenge: Its Own Reward
While this match may be lacking in importance, it is still Roma vs Juventus, which is reason enough to get excited. Barring some seismic shift in the Serie A landscape over the summer, next season figures to come down to a duel between the same sides. So, if nothing else, Sunday's match may be a chance for Roma to send a message to their northern neighbors.