To say the opening weekend in Serie A was disappointing for Roma and Juventus would be an understatement, though slightly more so for The Old Lady, at least Roma managed to eek a point from their opening match against Verona. Yes, my friends, Roma faces Juventus in the strangest of circumstances, facing the prospect of starting the season 0-2. However, when you consider that Juve has won 81 of the previous 171 meetings between these two sides, including 9 of the last 15, this fixture is as daunting as ever, regardless of Juve's opening week loss.
Rudi Garcia has selected an interesting crew of participants this week, including Juan Iturbe and Leandro Paredes, each of whom was reportedly sent out on loan this week, so let's take a quick look at how Roma can extend Juve's misfortunes, and the key matchups therein.
As Sam touched upon in the match review, Roma treated us to the same tired and worn play we saw last season, only with a few casting changes. Shots were still ripped from distances, the wing play was punchless and the chances were few and far between. And although they were really just a poor Kostas Manolas header away from winning, Garcia's guys did what they always do; play just well enough--or conversely, less shittier—to scrounge out a draw.
While there were a few fleeting positive signs—Dzeko's presence alone looks like it can transform this offense, while Iago Falque looks like the perfect fit for the left flank—if Roma plays like this throughout the season, second place will be a distant dream, let alone the Scudetto.
But, it was only one week and Garcia was incorporating pretty much an entirely new frontline, so hiccups were bound to be expected, so let's take a quick look at some of tomorrow's key matchups.
I suppose we can thank the delayed transfer workings of PSG and Monaco for stalling Digne's arrival in Roma, but that doesn't appear like it will prevent him from debuting tomorrow. Take a gander around the internet and you'll see that Digne is forecasted to start straight off the bat at leftback, and against the four-time reigning champions no less.
Suffice it to say, Digne's transition to the Italian game will play a large role in Roma's success early in the season, so, to borrow a phrase from his native tongue, it's apropos that he's being thrown right in the fire. Digne's Serie A debut should see him tussling with Stephan Lichtsteiner, Alvaro Morata, Paulo Dybala and Paul Pogba, each of whom will look to exploit Roma's left flank.
Offensively speaking, Digne absolutely needs to hit the ground running. If last week's match was any indication, Roma's left flank needs an injection of creativity, as they created half as many chances on the left than the right last week. So whatever chemistry he can develop with Salah and Dzeko straight away will make Garcia's attack far more balanced.
Mohamed Salah v. Stephan Liechsteiner & Stefano Sturaro
Following that last point, Roma's chief creator on the left flank, Salah, must take better care of the ball. While the Messi of The Nile created two scoring chances last week against Verona, he was dispossessed seven times. With Juve's compacted midfield, and with Liechsteiner and Sturaro on his ass, Salah's afternoon should be much more hectic than it was last week. With Iturbe out the door (sort of, maybe, who knows?) and with Gervinho...well, being Gervinho...Salah needs to be on the top of his game each and every week, but especially against the larger clubs.
Kostas Manolas vs Mario Mandzukic
While Manolas and Castan effectively removed Luca Toni from the equation last week, it came at a cost. Manolas committed three fouls last week, each of which was against Toni; with the sheer amount of free kick specialists on Juve, those same errors could be match deciders. So, while Manolas needs to maintain his aggression, picking up Mandzukic well before he settles in the penalty area, he simply needs to be more judicious, or I suppose we could say more surreptitious, in his attempts to bully Juve's strikers. He's starting to pick up a reputation, one which will draw more scrutiny from officials, so whatever guile he develops should help him avoid bookings without sacrificing his token aggression.
Although it's remarkably early in his career, Manolas seems like the sort of player who needs to be unbridled; you'll just have to accept the cards/fouls that come along with it. However, his speed and athleticism are exceptional for a centerback, so if Dybala works his way into this match, Manolas is perhaps the only defender in the league who can keep up with him step for step.
If Roma has any chance of taking three points from Juventus, pushing them further down the table in the process, the key rests at the back. Salah, Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic and Francesco Totti (remember him?) should be able to squeeze through the Juve defense at some point in the match, but with the Old Lady sure to dominate possession, and with so much firepower at their disposal, Roma's defensive organization, communication and execution will be paramount, especially with Digne being thrust right into action.
If they can remove Mandzukic from the six-yard box and handcuff Pogba or Dybala, they might have a chance at reversing this historical trend.