It may seem like a lifetime ago, but Roma actually defeated Juventus back in the fall, pretty convincingly actually, conceding only a late Paulo Dybala goal in their 2-1 victory. Roma was riding and and The Old Lady was wallowing, slipping down the table like, well, like and old lady falling on icy pavement. But, my oh my, how things have changed since them. Juventus has stormed back up the table, denied first place only by Gonzalo Higuain's incredible form keeping Napoli two points ahead of Juve.
Given that Roma and Juve are just two trains passing in the night at this point in the season, Danny from BWRAO and I sent each other a series of messages via MySpace (He's in my top 8, guys. Get over it) about this weekend's matchup at the Juventus Stadium.
1. First things first, we thought Juve was dead and buried. How in the world did they turn it around so quickly?
Danny: For one, they got healthy. Injuries have been a constant this season, but you look at the players who were out the first time Juventus played Roma â Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira, Andrea Barzagli â they're back. (Although Barzagli has missed the first few games out of the holiday break.) Secondly, their best players are now playing like it. Paulo Dybala has been insanely good the last couple of months, Paul Pogba has looked like the player we're all use to, and so on and on. Finally, that patience Max Allegri preached the first four or six weeks is now paying off. He's found the right 11, and having Khedira, Marchisio and Pogba start in the center of the midfield together consistent bas proven to be huge.
Basically, what could go wrong did go wrong the first month of the season. Now, Juve's luck â and fortunes â have definitely changed for the better. (Unless you're in the top four of the Serie A table, I guess.)
2. Ten league wins in a row, seven of which have been multi-goal victories, but are there any areas left for improvement?
Danny: I'd say defensively â and that was clear against Udinese. It's hard to think that's the case coming off a 4-0 win, but there were a couple of moments where Udinese could have scored and made it a different game. And, don't forget, this was against an opponent that truly struggles to put the ball in the back of the net. If those kinds of things happen against the Napoli or even Bayern Munich, it would probably be a different story. As much as the defense has improved from the first month of the season, there still needs to be more--which, based on how Juve's backline has been so important during the four-year title run, isn't that much of a surprise to those of us who watch this team every weekend.
3. Paulo Dybala Has 11 goals and 7 assists already. Project his final numbers then project him five years down the road, how great can he be?
Danny: It's funny, I was talking with a buddy of mine about this very thing after the Udinese game. Dybala is on pace for over 20 goals, nearly 20 assists and with the way he's playing right now, both seem absolutely possible. The thing that gets me every time is that he only seems to be getting better, which is just crazy to think about. Last season, Andrea Pirlo reached a level with his free kicks where it seemed like a guarantee he would score a free kick every time he got the chance. While maybe not at that level just yet, Dybala's game is becoming more and more diverse--yes, including free kicks--and the impact is obviously being shown right before our eyes.
You will hear about comparisons to Leo Messi simply because they're both from Argentina. But with how young he is and how he already seems to love being a Juventus player, I can see him being at the club for a very long time. And with the kind of talent he has, I truly think the sky is the limit for Dybala. That monster transfer fee from over the summer seems like a bargain right now.
4. Okay, Juve is pretty unstoppable in Serie A, but can they handle Bayern Munich in the Champions League?
Danny: That's the big question â especially now that Juventus have found form in Serie A. Earlier in the season it was the Champions League where we felt more comfortable about which Juve team would show up. Now, I feel safe in saying that we're just hoping that the Serie A form carries over to Europe. Juventus are going to have to be really, really good to beat Bayern. And not just that, but really, really good wherever you look on the field. Bayern are the favorites, there's no denying that. But as Juve showed us last year in Europe, they don't mind being the underdog ... and then being the team that advanced come the final whistle of the second leg.
5. Lastly, we both hate Napoli, but they've been unstoppable this year--what needs to be done to overtake them?
Danny: I guess the simple thing for Juventus to do is just continue to pick up results. Napoli, while a very good team, are by no means perfect. And that means, at some point, they will slip up. Can Juventus jump on that opportunity and not just pull even with Napoli, but also jump ahead of them in the standings? A two-point margin isn't exactly a death sentence for Juve. And with a game at Juventus Stadium between the two teams still to be played next month â a week and a half before the first leg against Bayern, no less â Juve could become league leaders in just a couple of weeks. They just need to do what they have been doing ever since the end of October. Win, win and, uh, win some more.
Roma and Juve kick off Sunday at 2:45 EST/14:45 CET, we'll have a standard preview up prior to that. If you want the Juve angle or are simply curious how the other half lives, check out the rest of Danny's work at Black & White & Read All Over.