Roma fans never know what to really expect when the Giallorossi square off against Juventus, but our premonitions seldom leave us feeling good. With an all-time winning percentage of 25, Roma seldom come out on top when facing the Old Lady, barring the occasional fluke upset or end of the season fixture when Juve already has the league wrapped up—and even then, it's never a cut and dry affair. Juventus have better depth, more money, better training staff and their own stadium; they live on a different plane of existence than the rest of the league.
Despite all that, I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking this time could be different. Sure, Roma were incredibly wasteful against Torino last weekend, but managing 31 attempts, no matter how imprecise, is impressive in and of itself. Even outside of that, this Roma team just feels different under Paulo Fonseca's guidance than squads of the recent past.
I'm not saying we were expecting a victory, but one got the feeling Fonseca Football wouldn't roll over at the sight of the Old Lady.
But today's match was a masterclass in disaster. With the bottle barely opened, Juventus pegged Roma on the back heel, spoiling the party for tens of thousands of Romans in attendance.
In only the third minute, Juve exposed Roma's Achilles heel: their inability to cover the back post on set pieces, as Merih Demiral got behind Aleksandar Kolarov on a free kick, shocking the Olimpico into a dead silence.
While that was certainly a poor turn of events, what came next was even worse. In the tenth minute, Roma's lackadaisical play bit them in the ass. With Jordan Veretout receiving a pass from Pau Lopez at the edge of the area, Paulo Dybala snuck behind the Frenchman to dislodge the ball, prompting Veretout to grab at Dybala's shirt and then deliver an ill-timed kick at his legs, resulting in the penalty call—one Cristiano Ronaldo converted with ease.
Ten minutes and the match was effectively over. From that point on, Roma looked absolutely deflated, but things would get worse...much, much worse.
With his side lacking energy, ideas and simple confidence, Nicolo Zaniolo took it upon himself to get things going. Weaving around, in between and past several defenders, Zaniolo went on a slaloming run through two-thirds of the pitch, seemingly hell bent on taking matters into his own hand.
It was a site to behold—Roma's youngest player is also her boldest. This was a highlight in the making, until this happened...
With Zaniolo trying to evade Leonardo Bonucci and Adrien Rabiot while simultaneously skirting around de Ligt, he couldn't quite squeeze through that final gap and fell to the pitch. At first glance, it didn't seem like much more than perhaps a knock to the shin or calf, but once the medical staff came out, the gravity of the situation became apparent.
Zaniolo remained flat on his back as the trainers tested his leg, but as time dragged on and the cameras zoomed in, you could see Zaniolo's chest heaving with anxiety and his hands covering his tears—he was in serious pain, so much so that he was stretchered off and taken off the pitch in the medical cart. As of this moment, he was taken to Villa Stuart for tests on his ligaments, which, per early reports, has been ruptured.
Needless to say, the remaining 10 minutes of the first half were quite a dour affair; the life was sucked out of the Olimpico the minute Zaniolo was stretchered off.
That helplessness carried over to the second frame, as Roma looked fresh out of ideas, seemingly content to lick their wounds and limp to the finish line.
Roma would catch a break shortly after the hour mark when Alex Sandro was indicted by VAR for committing a handball in the box. Perotti, as he seemingly always does, converted the ensuing penalty with his trademark panache, living up to his reputation as the league's most feared penalty taker, according to Inter Milan's Samir Handanovic.
Perotti's PK heroics injected fresh life into Roma, as Edin Dzeko and the newly returned Bryan Cristante and even Kolarov threatened Wojciech Szczesny's goal late in the match.
With five minutes of stoppage time, Roma were denied twice more, once by a world-class tackle from de Ligt on Dzeko in the box and again when Amadou Diawara's deft chip sort of just died at the end, falling harmlessly into Woj's hands.
And that was pretty much that. Roma put up a decent effort in the second half, but the hole was simply too deep from which to escape.
Roma have now lost two matches in a row for only the second time this season, following their defeats to Borussia MGB and Parma in early November. Fonseca's men were able to rebound from that stretch with three-straight victories in which they scored nine goals in late November/early December, but coming back from these defeats, in which Roma looked sapped of both energy and confidence, will be an entirely different task for Fonseca.
Making matters worse, it seems as though Roma will have to press on without Zaniolo, who is believed to have suffered a ruptured ACL in his right knee—devastating news for one and all. Zaniolo is young enough to overcome this, but considering how important he is to Roma right now, it's going to take all of Fonseca's cunning to overcome that loss.
It's tough to parse both issues here, particularly since we don't officially know what happened to Zaniolo yet, but the dings in Roma's confidence right now are perhaps the bigger issue, since they traverse (and really supersede) any single moment, player, match or manager.
Roma Happens knows no race, ethnicity, national border and has no respect or regard for the rules of man nor the immutable laws of physics.
Can Paulo Fonseca possibly stem this tide?
With a dead heat for fourth place, and perhaps the financial future of the club at stake, we're about to find out.
God's speed, Paulo.