Roma never fare well when traveling to Turin to face Juventus, but ever since they opened Juventus Stadium/Allianz Arena/The House of Cheaters, the Giallorossi have been absolutely dreadful when visiting their northern neighbors. Typically when Roma face Juve on the road, tactics go by the wayside, and not in a "this is going to be a knock down, drag out brawl” way, more like a "for the love of god, we're just trying to survive” sort of way. Tonight was no different.
Eusebio Di Francesco opened the match with yet another look for his Roma side, reverting back to a 4-2-3-1 head-manned by Patrik Schick, who was supported by Cengiz Ünder, Nicolo Zaniolo and Alessandro Florenzi, with Steven Nzonzi and Bryan Cristante sitting in front of the back four of Davide Santon, Federico Fazio, Kostas Manolas and Aleksandar Kolarov.
Really, with injuries still plaguing Edin Dzeko, Stephan El Shaarawy and Lorenzo Pellegrini, this is probably Roma's A-lineup. However, as we just mentioned, tactics are meaningless in a matchup like this; almost from the word go, Roma were on the back heel, desperately trying to bend but not break as Juventus toyed with them on nearly every corner of the pitch.
The Old Lady would have broken the scoreless deadlock twice in the first half hour were it not for Robin Olsen, who came up with two huge saves on Alex Sandro, denying him at either post, using his massive frame to his advantage once more. It was an encouraging sign given how poor he was last week; a keeper is much like a relief pitcher in baseball—they both need a short memory.
Olsen would come up large once more, denying Ronaldo with a parrying save, but the Swedes heroics could only keep Roma aloft for so long.
Mario Mandzukic: 35th Minute (Juventus 1, Roma 0)
In the 35th minute, Juventus finally found the back of the net, with an out-swinging cross finding Mario Mandzukic on the far post. I hesitate to say it was unstoppable for Olsen, but he just didn't get there in time, but the real culprit was Davide Santon's complete unwillingness to, you know, jump for the ball, instead serving as a platform off which Mandzukic could meet the ball; he was simply too reactionary on that one, he had every chance to pick the ball out himself yet remained firmly planted to the ground.
The final ten minutes of the first half were really no different: Juve did whatever they wanted and Roma's only response was a tepid attempt from Steven Nzonzi right at the feet of Wojciech Szczesny. Roma were three Olsen saves away from a 4-0 thrashing at half time.
The back half of this match was only slightly different than the first. Juventus still dominated in every facet of the game, but Roma showed a bit more life, throwing more men forward on the few occasions in which they managed to maintain possession. But you'd be hard pressed to call anything they created in the second half a clear cut chance.
Robin Olsen continued his stellar play, stopping Cristiano Ronaldo from near point blank range, causing the Juve star to kick the post in a mini-tantrum befitting a player of his ilk.
After swapping out Florenzi for Justin Kluivert to begin the half, EDF opted to pull Ünder off for Diego Perotti. Ünder had a few key moments in the first half, nutmegging Miralem Pjanic and finding himself in scoring position a couple of times, but simply wasn't able to rise to the moment this evening.
Something strange happened as the match crossed the 70 minute threshold, Roma actually held possession. Weaving the ball between Zaniolo, Kluivert and Nzonzi, Roma had a couple spells were they maintained the ball long enough to work a few plays, but just couldn't manage to find that final seam behind the Juve defense and came up frustrated; it was, if nothing else, their first concerted effort of the match...70 minutes after the opening whistle.
EDF played his final card of the match just shy of the 80th minute, bringing on Edin Dzeko for Nzonzi, shifting to a 4-2-4 for the final ten minutes of the match. While Dzeko didn't ultimately factor in the match, Roma showed signs of life as the clocked ticked towards 90 minutes, with Zaniolo unleashing a thunderous attempt in the 87th minute, only to see it blocked by a recumbent Juve defender. Cristante would also force Woj into a late save, stretching the Polish keeper with a headed attempt in the 90th minute, but it just didn't have enough power behind it to really threaten him.
All that positive momentum would go for naught, as Douglas Costa sealed the deal in the 92nd minute, working in tandem with Ronaldo to find beat Roma near post.
Uh, nevermind. The goal was called off for a foul committed on Nicolo Zaniolo by Blaise Matuidi, who clipped Zaniolo's heel moments prior to Juve reclaiming the ball from Roma. This was one of the stranger VAR appeals we've seen this season, as the ref did recognize the foul but chose to play the advantage, allowing Zaniolo to still play the ball out to his left, but apparently, upon review, he deemed the foul serious enough that it led to the errant pass, which eventually led to the goal.
In the end, however, it was all academic, Juve dominated this match, and that was all she wrote.
Well, in my discussion with BWRAO prior to the match, I predicted a 4-2 scoreline in favor of Juventus, so I suppose Roma exceeded my expectations in that regard. Ultimately, this was about what we've come to expect when these two sides meet, particularly in Torino; Juve just toys with Roma, like a taller boxer keeping a shorter contender at bay with light jabs before knocking their lights out with a right cross.
Roma were out shot by more than 10, and you'd be hard pressed to recall a single Roma attempt outside of Cristante's late header that actually fell within range of the goalposts. The few attempts Roma mustered were from well outside the box and were easily snuffed out by Juve's backline; I don't think Woj broke a sweat on his seventh grade haircut this evening.
As far as the broader implications are concerned, there are none. It's clear at this point that the club won't move on from Eusebio Di Francesco, least of all after a slim defeat (on the scoreboard at least) on the road to Juventus. The best case scenario in these fixtures isn't a victory, it's avoiding total embarrassment.
And Roma were only able to manage that thanks to the sensational turn put in by Robin Olsen this evening. By my count, he had five saves on clear cut chances, not only using his massive frame to his advantage, but showing some remarkable reflexes and impressive agility for a keeper his size. Olsen's nadir last week was an outlier, he's been impressive this season.
Outside of Olsen, Kostas Manolas and Nicolo Zaniolo were really the only two Roma players worth of praise. All evening long, if you saw a Roma player busting his ass, chasing loose balls, getting stuck into tackles and knocking Old Lady's down, chances are the numbers 44 or 22 were draped across their backs. It's not as if they compiled impressive statistics, they were among the minority of men in red shirts looking like they cared about the outcome of tonight's match.
Despite all that, oddly enough this match didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things; Roma were always going to lose this one. However, despite their poor performance tonight, they're really not that much worse off. Sitting in 10th place with 24 points, Roma remain just four points out of fourth place—it's almost as if the fates are conspiring to reward their mediocrity.
Roma jump back into action on Boxing Day when they welcome Sassuolo to the Olimpico.
10th place, folks. Roma are in 10th place.