WIth so much quality and depth at nearly every position, there's no real secret to Juventus half-decade dominance in Italy. Even after Antonio Conte's abrupt resignation two summers ago, and even after the somewhat controversial sale of Arturo Vidal, Juventus has persevered, keeping Roma, Napoli and the rest of the league at arms length. So, when the Old Lady stumbled out the gates this season, we quite rightly revelled in their misery; this was it, this was our year.
If you slipped into a coma sometime around early December, back when Juventus was mired in fifth place, and have just regained consciousness, allow me to be the bearer of bad news: The Oldy Lady has a six point lead over second place Napoli with only seven matches remaining. In other words, their strive for five straight titles is all but assured. Somehow, someway, they did what they always do: dominate.
However, if you were a member of some sort of isolationist doomsday cult, completely shut-off from the outside world, and only managed to escape to freedom sometime in mid-January, to you, Roma and Juventus are on level pegging, as each side has taken 28 points from their past ten matches.
And when you dig a bit deeper, Roma actually looks like the more dangerous side. In those ten matches, Roma has scored an astounding 29 goals on their way to a +21 goal differential. And while Juve's +17 goal differential seems relatively pathetic by comparison, their defense has been impenetrable, allowing only one goal over those ten matches. Different tactics, but identical results, which makes the differences between these squads all the harder to discern.
All of this begs the question, how close is Roma to overtaking Juventus? Given all the transfer speculation we've undertaken recently, it may seem as though Spalletti is just one or two players away from removing Max Allegri from the Iron Throne, but is Roma really that close? Can it all be so simple?
In order to answer that question, let's turn to the tale of the tape, a position by position comparison of Roma and Juventus to see just how close these two sides may or may not be. For the sake of this exercise, we'll just include the guys who actually play.
So, let's start off at the back where there really is no competition--hey, we're nothing if not honest.
Roma: Wojciech Szczesny, Morgan De Sanctis
Juventus: Gianluigi Buffon, Neto
Analysis: Umm, yeah. Juve wins this one walking away. Even at his advanced age, Gigi remains the best portieri on the peninsula, while Neto is, I don't know, probably a nice guy at least. Making matters worse for Roma going forward, Szczesny isn't even assured to be back next season, while MDS is receiving the Totti treatment from management, who are presumably ordering his office furniture for next season (though I think they'd be fools to let him start his administrative career elsewhere, he seems like they type who'd excel in that role)
Advantage: Juventus by a country mile.
Roma: Antonio Rüdiger, Kostas Manolas, Alessandro Florenzi*, Lucas Digne, Ervin Zukanovic, Leandro Castan
Juventus: Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Patrice Evra, Stephan Lichtsteiner
Analysis: This one isn't quite as clear cut as the men between the posts. While no one can really argue with the collective CV compiled by Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini, they don't exactly have time on their side, as Bonucci, 28, is the youngest of the bunch. So while we can give them another year or two of peak production, the youth and sheer athleticism of Manolas, Florenzi, Zukanovic, Rüdiger, and Digne would seem to tilt the future scales in Roma's favor, assuming Digne and Rüdiger become complete Roma properties. While Rugani is one of Italy's best defensive prospects, if Roma can manage to make the loans of Rüdger and Digne permanent, their backline may be one of the best as soon as next year.
Advantage: Push--Juve holds sway this season, while Roma's future looks just a bit brighter.
Roma: Daniele De Rossi, Miralem Pjanic, Radja Nainggolan, Seydou Keita, Iago Falque, William Vainqueur
Juventus: Paul Pogba, Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Hernanes, Juan Cuadrado, Stefano Sturaro, Hernanes
Analysis: Given all that he's accomplished already and all that the future holds for him, Pogba could very well swing this argument on his own, while Marchisio has entered his 30s with grace and seems primed for several strong seasons in the future. However, since this is a holistic assessment, the combination of Nainggolan and Pjanic makes this debate anything but clear cut. By any measure, they're among the game's top 20 midfielders, providing Roma with balance, intensity and intelligence.
This is really an argument about depth. Beyond each sides two stars, you're left with the either aging legs of DDR and Keita, Hernanes and Khedira, or the promise of Sturaro and a healthy Kevin Strootman. It's an exceedingly close call.
Advantage: Push. With the futures of Pogba, Nainggolan and Pjanic all up in the air, it's hard to say whose midfield will reign supreme next season. Check back in August.
Roma: Edin Dzeko, Mohamed Salah, Stephan El Shaarawy, Diego Perotti, Francesco Totti
Juventus: Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic, Alvaro Morata, Simone Zaza
Analysis: Similar to the midfield, Dybala could ostensibly win this debate on his own. There aren't many players under the age of 23 more skilled than him. What's worse, Juve has paired him with a player just as young and almost as deadly in Morata, with a talented veteran like Mandzukic thrown in for good measure. As far as Roma is concerned, what more needs to be said? The emergence of Salah coupled with the additions of El Shaarawy and Perotti has transformed Roma's once dormant offense into a juggernaut.
Looking ahead to next season, once again it comes down to depth. Can Roma light a fire under Dzeko's ass? What happens with Francesco Totti? Can or will Juve hold onto Morata? Will Mandzukic's game translate into his 30s? Lots of variables at play here.
Advantage: A narrow nod to Roma. While Dybala is the best among the lot, the numbers speak for themselves. El Shaarawy and Salah have been sensational for Roma since mid-January, and given their age, the future is bound to fruitful for both players, and Spalletti seems just the man to cultivate their enormous talents.
Summing it Up
Obviously this is a Roma blog, so we're naturally biased, but the gap between these two sides is shrinking by the day. Really, beyond Buffon, the margin between these teams is razor thin, as Roma's depth in midfield (at least among the quality of their starters) and attack counters the individual brilliance of Dybala and Pogba. And while both of those kids will take gigantic leaps forward in the future, if Roma manages to retain El Shaarawy, Salah, Pjanic, Nainggolan and Manolas long term, that collective quality should give Roma the edge going forward over the next several seasons.
But, and this is a big one, Juventus has won (or will soon win) five straight titles for a very simple reason. They're well organized, incredibly talented and have the wherewithal to dip into the transfer market to augment their squad. However, with so many key members of that half decade of dominance aging, particularly in defense, Roma seems primed to upset the Old Lady next season.
So what will it truly take to erase the gray areas in this debate? Who or what will truly put Roma over the top?