Well, it took me ages to write this one after watching the match over again this morning. Between then and now came six hours on-and-off of managing friends and family concerns during the holiday season. And I have to jump in the car for a 40 minute ride to get a last-minute present.
On that note: Merry Christmas to everyone on CdT. If you found time to read the site between family time, it’s appreciated.
Every young player in yesterday’s Roma side looked like they are fighting for exactly what the coach said they had to fight for in the build-up. Now the players will just have to see the proof that EDF’s philosophy pays off for them, and quickly too. Otherwise it’ll be EDF who’s done.
Key one-on-one bouts told the story of this game.
Mario Mandzukic vs Davide Santon
Santon may not be a “young gun” in 2018, but he was signed for games like this one. His physique and stature were there to make sure Juventus didn’t just hash out a repeat of last season’s game, where Mandzukic gave Juventus an easy out-ball from the (at the time) ultra-organised pressing of last season’s Roma.
Roma started this game in a 5-3-2 formation and the move was sound on paper.
Kolarov shifting to the centre was meant to give Roma more continuity in playing it out from the back, Schick had yet another chance to play in a front two, and Florenzi was moved away from Mandzukic to cover the left flank. But, as is often the case with this Roma side, the weight of the game itself initially proved too much for the Giallorossi.
The first half was low-budget football from both sides. You might see criticism of Roma’s wing-play around CdT, but consider that Roma are the third-highest ranked side in Serie A for attacks through the middle and this is the wider state of Italian football right now. The league’s leaders are not that much better.
Juventus would just double up men on both wings. If the Italian champions couldn’t find joy down their right flank through Dybala doubling up with either Bentancur or De Sciglio, they’d just float it across to Ronaldo and Mandzukic doubling up on the left instead.
Mandzukic eventually stole the game-winning march on Santon inside the box, 1-0. Manduzkic’s December makes it impossible for the Bianconeri to not give him a contract extension.
Juventus have played out four December league games with bitter history - Fiorentina, Inter Milan, Torino and Roma - and Mandzukic has either directly contributed to goals or scored them himself in all four games. That’s to say nothing of the defensive side of his game, where he turned up in both the Torino and Roma matches as an auxiliary centre-back and full-back to help Juventus close out games.
If there were justice in the Juventus locker room, Ronaldo would buy Mandzukic dinner.
Robin Olsen vs Cristiano Ronaldo
Olsen’s saves yesterday look like this, in terms of expected goals saved on the night:
- 7th minute - Save from Alex Sandro (xG 0.35 clear-cut chance)
- 18th minute - Save from Alex Sandro (xG 0.05)
- 33rd minute - Save from Cristiano Ronaldo (xG 0.05)
- 58th minute - Save from Cristiano Ronaldo (xG 0.11)
- 59th minute - Save from Cristiano Ronaldo (xG 0.50 - clear-cut chance)
At the very least, Robin Olsen saved 2 more Juventus goals on the night.
It has to be said the Swede was given a massive favour by the referee ruling out a second Juventus goal with a “foul” on Olsen. In reality, it was really just Olsen’s timing was badly off - the keeper managed to punch the ball back into his own net.
But overall Olsen’s performance simply broke Ronaldo’s spirit by the hour, and helped to raise the belief and aggression of his own Roma team. That left Juventus needing intervention from a reliable figure in their backline.
Giorgio Chiellini vs Nicolo Zaniolo
It’s easy to look at the second half as one where Juventus handed it to Roma, but two blocked shots by Chiellini on Zaniolo told a different subtext. By then, EDF abandoned his 532 plan at halftime for a return to 4231 and eventually a 4-2-4 outright attack.
In the very first minute of the second half, Zaniolo found himself free on the edge of the box and didn’t hesitate to try and find a corner of Szczesny’s net, but the Juventus captain got himself in the way instead. Chiellini would repeat the feat in the 86th minute of the game, again from a Zaniolo shot free on the edge of the box.
Without Chiellini’s blocks, the game could have taken a very different context.
For his part, Zaniolo made 3 tackles, 3 interceptions and 3 fouls for as good a defensive input as anyone else in the side besides Kolarov and Manolas. If you want a guy who can defend from the front, Zaniolo is your man. And on a sidenote, the captain’s armband seems to have nothing but a positive affect on Manolas.
EDF’s Psychology vs Roma’s Front Line
On first glance, I felt like I’d forgotten Patrik Shick was playing in the second half of yesterday’s game. But looking at it over again, the Czech forward got himself a respectable 2 tackles, 1 interception and 3 clearances during the whole 90 minutes. He wasn’t dominated in the air either, as he won 2 aerial duels and even threw in a yellow card and a couple of fouls to fit in.
EDF stated his own belief, in the build up to this match, that the way for forward players to build up their confidence in difficult times is to make sure they’re doing the defensive side of the game well. In EDF’s mind, as long as you’re showing yourself that you can put a shift in and beat your man on the physical side of the game then your confidence to show your talents on the ball will eventually come back again. Yesterday, Schick did his best to be a mirror of that creed.
Schick’s first half on the ball was littered with errors as ever. Despite this, the Cezch forward was still going in the 42nd minute of the game when he closed down a Juventus defender on the ball, won back possession to run down the wing, check the ball back to Santon who lofted it into the box for Nzonzi and Roma’s second chance of the night inside the box.
This was exactly the show of character you want to see from a young player: finding the will to keep going and make a difference to games even through individual errors. But will this pay off in time for Shick and Roma?
The burden of evidence lies on EDF and, if he drops Schick for Dzeko after a performance like this, it would only make the Roma coach guilty of double-talk. The next few matches will be critical for EDF to show and prove.
Justin “Here For The Stache Not For The Cash” Kluivert also came off from the bench to put in as ruthless a defensive performance as ever. The helpless look on both De Sciglio and Sandro’s faces was almost worth the match alone, after both men brushed the wrong side of Kluivert and looked to the referee to step in.
Kluivert did one better than Schick, applying his natural intellect to smooth over Roma’s attack as best the Dutchman could. With Kluivert on the pitch, Cristante found the confidence to make more passes through the middle where the Dutchman was constantly making himself available or dragging markers with him to open up the space for others.
We’ve said before that EDF’s ideal style of play calls for an expensive taste in players, and I feel Monchi has fully delivered when he brought Kluivert to the capital. The Dutchman’s intellect is a league above what any other Roma wide forward has to offer, and Kluivert shows the grit and cynicism underneath to make him a serious prospect this season.
Kluivert was another who backed EDF this week, once again saying Di Francesco has “taught him a lot” in terms of better decision making.
But the best reward for all involved would be goals and chances made, both of which were scarce-to-absent in yesterday’s game. The sterility of Roma’s frontline makes it hard to defend EDF’s time in charge. It must deliver results next game.
Next up for Roma is a must-win game at home to Sassuolo on Boxing Day, as 10th place in the league isn’t can’t be excused at this stage of the season for long.