An way fixture to Juventus is always a daunting task, doubly so with the moves Luciano Spalletti made ahead of this fixture. As we always do, we waited with bated breath to see which eleven men he’d send to slaughter, only to find that, rather than fielding Stephan El Shaarawy or even rolling the dice with Mohamed Salah’s lame ankle, he opted for Gerson. Yes, that’s right, in the most important match of the year, Spalletti opted to start the virtually untested 19-year-old against the five-time defending champion Juventus.
But, since this is Juve we’re talking about, that wouldn’t really matter anyway. Despite some suspect calls and non-calls—Daniele De Rossi’s patented ferociousness was blunted by the bullshit call on Miralem Pjanic, while Gerson’s already tentative performance was enervated even further after the phantom call on Alex Sandro—the Old Lady didn’t need the officials help to dominate the first half of this match. No matter where Roma moved the ball, Juve was there, closing out space at the ready.
While De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan did their damndest to slow down Juve’s progression through the midfield, they’re only two men. The rest of Roma’s attack, particularly the middle third, was completely clueless, particularly in the first half. Queue up a video of the vintage Spalletti teams and watch Simone Perrotta’s runs off the ball—that is completely missing from this side.
The inability to operate in and manipulate space has vanished from this side, leaving them with no other option than to play desperate 40-yard-passes to Dzeko or force it out wide to the wings and fire in speculative crosses or hope that Salah can sidestep his man and create a chance on the edge of the 18, but with Salah less than 100% and Perotti having one of his patented off games, this option was rendered moot.
That lack of options came home to roost when Juventus capitalized on Roma futility thanks to a moment of brilliance from Gonzalo Higuain.
Not much you can say about that one, I’m not quite sure what happened with De Rossi there—it’s not often that you see him flub a tackle like that—and Kostas Manolas’ slide tackle was probably a nano second too soon to dispossess Higuain, but give credit where it’s due, that was a hell of a play by El Gordo.
To their credit, Roma played much better in the second half, and were one to solely judge this match from the stat sheet, you’d say Roma had the better go of it—60% possession, 80% passing, ten total shots, eight corners. But as we so often saw during the Rudi Garcia era, possession and passing only matters to the extent you, you know, actually do something with it, which was not the case tonight.
Of those ten shots, three were from beyond 18 yards, while three more were hapless headers that disappeared like a fart in the wind. Further still, Roma’s best attempt at goal—Federico Fazio quite literally on the goal line—was negated by Orsato’s paymaster.
Take a look.
I suppose it’s somewhat ironic that this is a seemingly pro-Juve tweet—though Rugani is a hell of a player, and I will most definitely cheer him on when he’s wearing blue—but if that’s not a hold, I don’t know what is; he’s got his left arm wrapped around Fazio’s beautifully bearded face, while his right arm is clamping onto Fazio’s torso, thereby slowing him down and preventing him from turning on that ball.
It was just one of many questionable calls in this match. And listen, I’m not really one to genuinely question the officials—sure I joke about it on Twitter—but the questionable fouls, the ticky tack yellows given to De Rossi and Gerson, the fact that Sturaro had diplomatic immunity in this match, does call Orsato’s performance into question, one that, given Juventus’ history, makes it fair game to question, if not the matches legitimacy, then certainly the decision to give Orsato this match.
Griping aside, Roma simply has not been able to exorcise their demons at the Juventus Stadium. In six matches at the Old Lady’s new house, Roma are winless and have only found the back of the net three times, earning zero points in the process. As Bush once sang, it’s the little things that kill, and Roma’s inability to execute against Juventus—whether it's a mental block or a genuine talent deficiency—has killed their chances of winning the league.
Despite all that, Roma actually played better than they did last week against Milan, a match they won, and were perhaps the better—certainly the more convincing—side in the second half. They were just done in by a De Rossi error and a fantastic strike from Gonzalo Higuain.
So, you know, it’s the little things like not having €90 million to spend on one player that holds Roma back.