What if Fazio wasn’t pulled and was able to lay it off to Manolas? What if Nainggolan was able to get his hip around the ball? What if Perotti had power behind his shot? What if Manolas didn’t slide so early, or read the ball so late? What if De Rossi hadn’t slid like a twelve-year old boy? What if Gerson hadn’t started? What if Orsato had booked Sandro earlier?
The “what if” game is a rabbit hole, bottomless and fruitless, but in a game of moments we must observe what went wrong.
It took two uncharacteristic tackles from the unlikeliest of culprits for Higuain to finish off a masterclass shot. Clearly, El Gordo should never have been able to get in that position to shoot. A schoolboy lunge by De Rossi, a premature slide tackle by Manolas, and a ball-watching Rudiger, allowed the Argentine to get to the top of the box. Now, credit is deserved where it is due and Higuain’s left-footed curler proved his worth. I mean, damn. However, are we meant to believe that Dzeko couldn’t have pulled off the same? While the Bosnian has been in form this year, his confidence against Juventus seemed rather low. Rarely did he run at defenders, bait them, or really do anything at all despite hold the ball off for the midfield. We needed him this game, but he didn’t show up. What if.
Allegri knows how to win, and it was evident that the game plan called for sitting back and defending. After one goal, Juventus was content to soak up
Garcia’s Spalletti’s possession game. Take a look:
My word, am I looking at Jupiter? Those big red spots are glaring, aren’t they? Also note that void around the top of the box on Roma’s attacking side, and that gelatinous green on Juventus’s defensive side. That is the bus, my friends, parked, ticketed, but never towed. Juventus pushed Roma to the wings where they were as lost as kids on milk cartons. Every time Perotti managed to get the ball he dribbled back and forth with nowhere to go, eventually either just crossing it or passing it back. Same thing on the other side. And Mandžukić, what a game, tracking back, playing D. Personally, I loathe the player, but his work rate was unbelievable.
Numbers often lie, but in this case they tell the narrative right. Possession doesn’t mean anything if you do nothing with it (somewhere Rudi sheds a tear). Roma relied on corner kicks and crosses, never really troubling Buffon with direct shots. According to the stats, Roma won in nearly every category, but this isn’t boxing. Unless the ball hits the back of the net, who cares if we looked better. Spalletti had this to say about the matter:
Unfortunately we weren’t clinical enough in our finishing. At times you go through a period where you don’t finish your chances, but I am not concerned because we’ve been among the most prolific sides in Serie A this season.
Yes, but what are these chances you speak of? Half-chances, true, but Roma never really proved prolific. We looked better the second half because Juve allowed us to. They were like a big brother letting us get some kicks and punches in, knowing fully well that the hits would amount to nothing.
Ultimately, this game proved that we need a creative spark in the midfield. Ninja is a workhorse, Kevin a magnet, and De Rossi a brick wall, but what we need is a Totti. We need someone with the vision and bravery to play one touch balls through the middle. Long balls to Dzeko just ain’t working. We need a playmaker. Or we need someone to step up their game in these marquee matchups.
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
My father always said, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” Roma were close in this match but it doesn’t matter now does it? In fact, Roma is close a lot. Eight second place finishes in fifteen years, to be exact. This loss makes it a little more evident that Roma may be earning the silver yet again (if that).
However, Roma’s mentality looked composed in this match. After the goal, they did not collapse, their knees didn’t shake. They fought. They fought hard. But a Juve side happy to sit back and defend is nearly impenetrable, especially at home. We are close, even if it doesn’t count, and something tells me if we make the right moves come Winter, and our heads stay attached, we will fight to the end. It's not over yet. One of these days (years?) our grenades are going to hit the bullseye. And when that moment happens, man is it going to be sweet.