Take one look around Europe and it’s plain to see, few leagues on the continent are as competitive as Serie A this season. With only four points separating numbers one through four at the top of the table, Italy’s top flight is as jam packed as they come. And while Juventus aren’t in their customary position at the top of the table, the Old Lady is no less formidable, especially at their new home.
Opened in the fall of 2011, the Juventus Stadium has been a fortress for Juve, a safe shelter in which they seldom drop a point, especially not when Roma comes calling. In the six seasons since it’s opening, Roma have yet to even draw a single point at the Juventus Stadium, falling in six straight matches by a combined 16-3 scoreline.
Juventus v. Roma: December 23rd, 20:45 CET/2:45 EST. Juventus Stadium, Torino.
To say Juve has dominated Roma on their homeground is beyond an understatement. Not only have they kept the wolves at bay, they’ve neutered them in the process.
So how, then, can Roma hope to reverse this trend tomorrow evening?
Well, it all starts with...
Defense vs Defense
Roma and Juventus had allowed a combined 24 goals this season through 33 matches, with Roma holding the league’s staunchest mark with a paltry 10 goals conceded. While much was made of Eusebio Di Francesco’s attacking tactics upon his arrival in the Eternal City, it’s his defense that has kept Roma in the upper echelon this season. With a revitalized Federico Fazio and the newly secured Kostas Manolas, the Giallorossi defense has pitched nine clean sheets this season and conceded more than one goal only once, against Fiorentina oddly enough.
But tomorrow’s opponents are a tad more dangerous than the Viola. Led by the Argentine duo of Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, the Old Lady has amassed an impressive 44 goals and should present the toughest challenge Roma’s defense has in weeks, and certainly since the early season Napoli fixture.
What’s more they’re an incredibly balanced side, making fair use of either flank and scoring from the run of play, from set pieces and even on the counter. There is no sore thumb sticking out here; they can do it all. So the order of the day will be organization; if Manolas and Fazio drift too far apart, or if either of Aleksandar Kolarov or Alessandro Florenzi are derelict in their duties, Juve will be more than willing to exploit.
While a tenth clean sheet may be a tall order, the backline is more than capable of keeping Roma in this match. The problem, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, is simply that Roma can’t seem to score more than one goal per match, something which could spell doom tomorrow at the Juventus Stadium.
As Stephan El Shaarawy mentioned after their Coppa Italia loss, Roma has to be better than their bad luck. Rueing missed chances, blaming the refs, crying about hitting the woodwork and hoping and praying for a penalty won’t cut it tomorrow.
If Roma wants to be considered among Italy’s serious contenders, I can think of no better statement than running Juventus off their own pitch.