As we so often do when Roma and Juventus meet, Danny from Black & White & Read All Over and I exchanged questions ahead of Saturday's match. While Roma has been Juve's bridesmaid a couple times during their historic run, that's...uh...not the case this year. Thanks to their (and I'm being kind here) inconsistent play, Roma enter week 17 far, far behind Juventus, a 22 point gap to be exact, the largest since the 2002-2003 season.
Even with that span between them, this is still Roma-Juventus we're talking about, so there is no love lost between these two sides. So, for a closer look into the mind of the Old Lady, let's here peer inside the mind of a Juventus expert.
1) We’ll start with the Old Lady's biggest move this summer, Cristiano Ronaldo. How has the transition on the pitch been? Did you notice any players in particular struggling to adapt to him, or perhaps being too deferential?
BWRAO: It’s funny because Ronaldo’s main partner in crime seems to come and go in waves. It was Federico Bernardeschi for the first moth or so of the season. Then Paulo Dybala looked like he was really starting to click with Ronaldo. These days, it’s Mario Mandzukic who has formed a pretty good 1-2 punch with Ronaldo.
There’s obviously a huge transition to how Juve play just because of what Ronaldo demands. He wants the ball, he wants a lot of it and he’s going to demand so much attention whenever he’s got the ball at his feet. He’s taken over being Juve’s main free kick taker ... and the results have, overall, been pretty underwhelming. And while Juve aren’t scoring the gobs of goals that many probably expected when you add Ronaldo to the likes of Dybala, Douglas Costa, Mandzukic and the like, I think it’s a style of play that still is kinda searching for its true identity. There are times when this team plays fantastic free-flowing ball and there are other times where, like what happened in the Turin derby this past weekend, where things just don’t have any kind of rhythm to it.
2) One more on Ronaldo: if he doesn’t deliver a Champions League title, will the signing be deemed a failure?
BWRAO: It will absolutely be deemed a failure ... on the field.
Juventus have dominated Serie A for nearly a decade now. That’s been well established at this point. So signing Ronaldo was to get to the next level at Europe. They’ve brought in the player, they’ve brought in the brand, and they’ve reaped the reward of it in the pockets and the eyeballs now on the club. What’s left is to get it done on the field because so much of Juventus’ recent history in Europe has been defined by Ronaldo when he was wearing a Real Madrid jersey.
Juventus don’t make this kind of move to just continue the good times rolling in Italy. They would still have the best team in Serie A if they were lining up with Gonzalo Higuain as their No. 9 and Dybala alongside him. Ronaldo’s arrival means one thing and one thing only — win the Champions League.
3) Juve are obviously rolling, but they’ve been a bit dependent on Ronaldo and Mandzukic for goals, who would step up if either of them are hurt or struggle?
BWRAO: The first name is obviously Dybala because of how crucial he’s been to the attack in the past. His role is different with Ronaldo now around and obviously that means fewer goals. The interesting parts to the equation would be Costa and Bernardeschi, the former so good in the second half last season and the latter so effective at the beginning of this season. Now that Max Allegri is pretty much set on Ronaldo-Mandzukic-Dybala more often than not, both have seen their playing time dip considerably. But they’re still so good, and I have to wonder when Allegri will start pulling the squad rotation cards out of his pocket because, at some point, Ronaldo and Mandzukic are going to have to get some damn rest.
4) Have you checked on Paulo Dybala, is he okay?
BWRAO: Dybala isn’t having as bad as a season as the two goals in Serie A suggest. Like I said, the role he has in this Juventus squad is different than in previous seasons when he was basically the No. 1 or 1-A goal-scoring option. Mandzukic is more of a threat this year now that he’s not predominantly a makeshift left winger, and obviously you’ve got to make room in your attacking plan for all of the Ronaldo factors.
5) Talk to us about Daniele Rugani. Set your biases aside, is there any chance he’s swapping shirts with us next season?
BWRAO: Honestly, I really have no idea what Juve’s plans with Rugani are other than what he is right now — a backup center back and the only central defender under the age of 30 the senior team currently has. Even before Leonardo Bonucci came back to Turin after his year away in Milan, I had no idea what the club is planning for Rugani. We hear about the interest of Chelsea, the interest of other clubs, and then Rugani’s agent comes out and says his client is a big part of Juve’s future and blah, blah, blah.
Is that the truth? I have no clue. Rugani’s only played in a couple of games this season, easily the least amount of playing time he’s gotten through this much of the season in the last couple of years. There was a time where it felt like it was only inevitable that he’d step in aside Giorgio Chiellini and become the classy, smooth defensive partner in the mold of Andrea Barzagli when he was in his prime. Now, however, it’s a total guessing game as to what Rugani’s future holds in Turin ... and when the next time he will actually get a start, too.
6) With Juve winning so much, do you ever struggle to find topics to cover? Can a site function if the team isn’t always moments away from imploding? What’s that like?
BWRAO: The problem I find isn’t necessarily talking about the winning, but it’s more to do with the fact that lately a lot of Juve’s winning hasn’t been all that pretty. There’s only so many ways you can say “Juve played pretty average and got all three points.” There’s always going to be a clunker like what happened against Young Boys that can kind of reset things and give you plenty of material going forward, so I guess that’s a net positive in a way.
The thing that’s different about this season compared to the last couple is what we talked about earlier — it’s clearly Champions League or bust for Juventus these days. And the squad have openly talked about it, too, so that’s made things a little more interesting — and testy — in Juventusville.
7) Juve is going to win on a Saturday and already have the league in the bag, but do you see any down turn on the horizon? Perhaps as the core ages?
BWRAO: Well, the squad isn’t young, that’s for sure. Dybala and Joao Cancelo are really the only regular starters who are in their mid-20s, with pretty much everybody else either close to 30 years old or already passing the Big 3-0 by. So, yeah, the core is already aging because of where they’re at age-wise. That’s probably the biggest thing I’m going to be interested in during this Ronaldo era in Turin is just how the squad will be constructed to overcome the fact that so many of Allegri’s key players are around or older than 30.
The downturn won’t be happening this season, though. The early-season lead is just too big and, while the overall product hasn’t been all that great, this team just continues to pick up points.