The minute Gonzalo Higuain signed the dotted line on his Juventus contract last summer, the Old Lady’s sixth straight Scudetto was virtually assured. And yes, there were some intermittent stumbles along the way, losses to both Milan sides, Fiorentina and even Genoa, but by and large the Juve machine just kept humming this season, and thanks to their own insecurities, Roma was not able to take advantage of the few chinks in Juve’s armor, all of which brings us to Sunday’s title showdown.
While the Scudetto hasn’t been officially secured yet, with a seven point lead over Roma, the best the Giallorossi can do tomorrow, by defeating Juventus at the Olimpico, is forestall the Old Lady’s celebration by another week. The title is won in all practicality, but Roma can at least spare themselves and their fans the vomit inducing site of Miralem Pjanic celebrating a Scudetto on their pitch.
Roma v. Juventus: May 14, 20:45 CET/2:45 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Of course, since this is Roma, they’re coming into the match short on players and long on controversy. In addition to all the usual Francesco Totti retirement non-sense, the fresh doubt over Daniele De Rossi’s new deal and Luciano Spalletti’s admission that he’d like to work with new Inter director Walter Sabatini again (Spalletti has done himself no favors in all this non-sense btw), Roma will be without the services of Edin Dzeko and Kevin Strootman, while Diego Perotti and Radja Nainggolan will likely be game-time decisions.
Point being, with every reason under the sun to motivate them to win this match, Roma are hamstrung with practical and pathetic excuses, so it’s pretty much your standard Roma affair. However, before we delve into tomorrow’s match, let’s take a look back at the time Spalletti inexplicably started Gerson against Juventus.
December 17, 2016: Juventus 1, Roma 0
This match is five months in the rearview mirror, and I still have no idea why Spalletti would throw Gerson to the wolves like that, which was, coincidentally, the last time Gerson saw the pitch for Roma. Prior to that Spalletti was gradually increasing Gerson’s minutes throughout the late fall, but full or near-to-full turns against Pescara and Astra Giurgiu are hardly precursors to starting at the Juventus Stadium. Despite that disparity on paper, Roma held their own in this match, as the only difference (in terms of the actual scoreline) was a bit of over aggressiveness/poor balance from De Rossi, who fell to the ground in the 14th after attempting to tackle Higuain, giving him ample room to make his move on Roma’s net, and that was all she wrote.
In truth, the margins between these two clubs (at least the past two seasons) haven’t been insurmountable, but Roma’s penchant for collapsing at the worst moments has done them in.
I don’t want to talk about Juventus anymore than you do, but suffice it to say, the formula has remained the same: a stifling defense (23 goals allowed, best mark in the league) accentuated by a potent attack (71 goals forced, third best mark in the league). Football is a pretty simple sport, you just have to score more goals than you allow, and Juventus has mastered that formula to the point where they’re moments away from a treble.
Roma: Where is My Mind?
I thought I’d change it up and go with Maxence Cyrin’s haunting piano melody cover of The Pixies classic, Where is My Mind? Now, admittedly I have a tendency to include some of my favorite music into my CdT pieces, but in this case, it’s pretty relevant, if not downright par for the course with Roma, where is their mind?
Besides all the ongoing Totti uncertainty, in the span of 72 hours or so, Daniele De Rossi has cast doubt upon his once rock solid return to Roma, Luciano Spalletti has dropped some Inter bread crumbs while Wojciech Szczęsny seems to be prepping for a career as a late night talk show host. Point being, and point repeated for the umpteenth time, this club is splintered in so many directions it’s enough to make your headspin.
Rather than focusing on defeating Juventus, and sparing us all the ignominy of watching Juve celebrate at the Olimpico, the club’s attention is, once again anywhere but where it should be. And, to top it all off, there are now (as we mentioned) some lingering fitness issues as we head into Sunday.
While Kevin Strootman is assuredly out tomorrow (suspension), he may be joined in the stands by Edin Dzeko, Diego Perotti and Radja Nainggolan, though the latter has seemingly been cleared for action. All of this will force Spalletti to shift from his preferred tactics, but might a return to the recent past be in order?
Spalletti’s triumphant return to Roma last spring was fueled in large part by the chemistry he forged between Stephan El Shaarawy, Mohamed Salah and Perotti. This return to the halcyon days of his original Totti-led false nine formation reinvigorated Roma through the spring of 2016. El Shaarawy’s agility and Salah’s blazing speed were the perfect foils for Perotti’s deceptively effective playmaking. This trio’s ability to overlap, drop back and even change positions made them virtually indefensible a year ago, and without Dzeko tomorrow, and with literally no backup center forward on the roster, Spalletti may have no choice other than to dip back into last year’s playbook.
However, that would necessitate a 4-3-3 formation, something which Spalletti has virtually abandoned in recent weeks, preferring instead the 4-2-3-1. If indeed he remains loyal to this formation, look for SES, Nainggolan and Perotti to support Salah uptop. In either case, the brute force approach of feed-it-to-Dzeko will be replaced by a bit of sleight of hand, as that quartet will be tasked with keeping Juve’s defense off kilter.
Will this patchwork approach be enough to stop the Scudetto if for only one week? Probably not, but for a club that runs on extremes of emotion, I can think of no greater moral victory than temporarily denying Juventus further glory.