Now that we’ve gotten over the initial shock of Roma’s narrow loss to Juventus, both by looking at the immediate blow-by-blow as well as a more focused look at the mini-battles Roma lost, let’s take a look at the real culprits in this one-nil loss; Juventus’ complete removal of Radja Nainggolan, Diego Perotti and Edin Dzeko from any meaningful action.
During the build up to the match, Danny from BWRAO and I exchanged a series of questions—some probing, some facetious—meant to shed light on the oppositions mindset heading into this six pointer. Perhaps it was lost in the shuffle, but Danny offered up a rather prescient insight when he asked:
BWRAO: The Dzeko, Salah, Perotti trio has scored all but seven of Roma's goals in Serie A this season. Are they almost too dependent on those three for offense or is it something that can continue to breed success?
CDT: Too dependent...yes and no. If you run up and down Roma's roster, there is no nominal attacking midfielder, so the heavy lifting has been done by Dzeko getting service up top or spreading the play out to Salah and letting him run; it's not a recipe for long-term success, but it's working. There are other options, Totti and El Shaarawy for instance, but Salah, Dzeko and Senor Neck Tattoo have done such a bang up job, why mess with success?
It’s not a recipe for long-term success, but it’s working. I still stand by that statement, but based on Saturday’s match, it appears as though the clock has struck midnight on Roma’s frontline, at least against opponents of any quality. Part and parcel of Juventus’ victory this weekend was their ability to nullify Roma’s most dangerous pieces, in particular Dzeko and Perotti.
So, in an effort to hopefully avoid this in the future, let’s take a quick look at how Juventus managed to dull Roma’s sharpest threats. For the sake of eliciting the differences, we’ll use stark comparisons between Roma’s performance against Juve and Pescara.
First up, Diego Perotti, Roma’s de facto playmaker.
For the sake of argument, we’ll call this peak Perotti. In this match DP not only scored a goal, but attempted 10 crosses (five from each flank), pulled off five of six dribbles and created four scoring chances. And as you can see, he had veritable carte blanche on the pitch, primarily sticking to the left, but occasionally swapping flanks on the way to a 75 touch performance.
Now, and again this is an extreme juxtaposition—his performance against Milan was somewhere in the middle ground—but let’s look at how Juventus completely and utterly rendered him impotent.
Yup, pretty bleak, huh? Although Perotti managed 77 touches—and again, Roma dominated possession—the nature of those touches was indicative of Roma’s problem on Saturday; they did nothing with that possession. Perotti was particularly ineffective, as he was pinned to the sidelines by both Sami Khedira and Stephan Lichtsteiner, where his only recourse was to fling in desperate crosses towards Dzeko, 15 in total, only two of which (barely) registered as chances created. Furthermore, Perotti only attempted two takes ons, one of which was in Roma’s defensive third.
So while the gross haul was there (77 touches, 15 crosses and three shots), they weren’t in high percentage areas. Due to the pressure provided by Khedira, Lichtsteiner and the rest of the Juve backline, Perotti was kept on the periphery, unable to cut in and penetrate past Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele Rugani.
Let me reiterate, the Pescara and Juventus examples are on either end of the spectrum, but the Old Lady pretty much wrote the playbook on how to render Perotti, Roma’s nominal playmaker, useless.
Now, let’s take a look at the disparity between Dzeko’s performances against these same clubs.
Well, this one is pretty obvious, right? Not only was Dzeko getting service in the box, and deep in the box I might add, but he was holding up play in the neutral zone and spreading it out wide in both directions, crossing the ball and even creating a scoring chance in the process. Dzeko managed four shots deep in the area, scoring twice, and even got on the end of a set piece.
It was a masterful performance from Dzeko, as he was both receiving excellent service and creating scoring chances and manipulating space for his teammates. This match is emblematic of the Dzeko we’ve grown to love this season; involved in all facets of the attack, taking on opponents and dominating the 18-yard-box.
But, thanks to Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele Rugani, Dzeko didn’t enjoy the same sort of performance Saturday.
Nada, nothing, zilch. Juventus, Rugani in particular, limited Dzeko to 27 touches and no shots whatsoever. Dzeko had no crosses, no take ons, only one chance created and completed a pitiful 52% of his passes. Furthermore, with Rugani pressing him high up the pitch, Dzeko was barely able to hold up play, as he completed only six passes in the middle third, or what we might call “the holdup spot.”
Without Dzeko holding up play, Juventus’ defense was able to settle in, making it harder for Roma’s wingers to create scoring chances, or quite simply, even get past the defense, and without Dzeko even managing a shot, there was no threat whatsoever in the middle of the area, pushing Roma’s attack to the fringes; it was a vintage Garcia performance.
I mean, what can we really say? Juventus is always the league’s stingiest defense, and by no means should we have expected Roma to dominate the attacking play like they did against Pescara, but surely there’s a happy medium. Surely Dzeko should have at least had a shot on goal, surely Perotti should have at least been able to beat his marker three to four times this match.
But they didn’t. Juve knew who they had to stop and how to stop them. The Old Lady just wrote the book on taming the wolves, but as we mentioned in the days preceding this matchup, execution was the order of the day. Roma had roughly 60% of the ball and was fairly precise in the passing game overall, but did fuck all with it.
As we’ve seen throughout the year, Roma can walk over the Pescaras and Bolognas of the world, while grinding out wins over clubs like Lazio and Milan, but doing the same against Juventus is another ball of wax. Somehow, someway they must find that middle ground against Juventus; their inability to blur the lines of dominance has prevented them from taking points against Juventus.
The gulf in talented between these two clubs has never been smaller than it is now. On paper, Roma can and should be able to go face-to-face with Juventus without batting an eye, but they don’t. Whether it’s a mental block or a tactical issue, time and time again, they abandon their football and become to reactive.
Seizing the initiative is the only way to beat the Old Lady—they’re simply too talented to be trifled with—and to date Roma has been too reluctant, too hesitant and too passive in these fixtures.