Continuing the theme of 2020, Roma entered their Coppa Italia quarterfinal match with Juventus facing another injury/suspension crisis. While Paulo Fonseca's starting full-back pairing returned to action, he was missing his bell cow up front, as Edin Dzeko was suspended for this match leaving Fonseca with no other option but to start Nikola Kalinic in the number nine role.
With his side still physically recovering from their trip to Genoa over the weekend, not to mention having an arguably more important match against Lazio looming on Sunday, Fonseca had his work cutout for him today. Defeating Juventus is tough enough as it is, but when you factor in the fatigue, the tight race for fourth place and Roma's horrific record at the Allianz Stadium, Roma were almost destined for defeat this evening.
However, unlike the last time these two sides met, a 2-1 Juventus victory 10 days ago, Roma didn't wilt immediately. As you may recall, Juve wasted little time putting Roma under their thumb in that match, running out to a two-nil lead before the ten minute mark. Granted, one of those goals was on a questionable penalty call, but the Old Lady effectively did the deed before breaking a sweat.
Roma managed to avert immediate danger today, but it didn't take too long for Juve to impose their will on this match. Starting with a 26th minute goal from Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus took full advantage of Roma's heavy legs, putting two more goals past Pau Lopez before half time as Rodrigo Betancur and Leonardo Bonucci each found the back of the net.
Whether it was collective fatigue, Sarri's tactical superiority or something else altogether, Roma looked a step behind through the first 45 minutes. There was no cohesion, let alone creativity, in the midfield, Cengiz Ünder and Justin Kluivert were offering nothing up top, taking heavy touches and ceding possession too often, while the defense was a step too slow and/or ill-positioned, leaving themselves no chance to stop Juve's attack.
A three-nil deficit is nearly impossible to erase, especially against a side as dominant as Juventus, but Roma looked liked a side reborn early in the second half. With Davide Santon coming on for Kluivert (pushing Florenzi into attack), Roma were quicker, more aggressive and more decisive in the run of play and found their first goal on one of the oddest own goals you'll ever see.
In the 50th minute, Ünder cut in from the right and dragged the ball across half of the 18-yard-box before unleashing a rocket towards the upper left hand corner of the post. Rather than blasting into the net, Ünder's attempt struck the cross bar and fell straight down. But here is where it got interesting. With Gianluigi Buffon leaping through the air to stop the shot, his descent towards the ground synced up perfectly with the ball's downward path, which caromed off his back and fell into the back of the net.
It was a tremendous move and powerful shot from Ünder but may have otherwise fallen harmlessly to the ground were it not for the hand...err back...of fate.
Roma would nearly claw another one back when Lorenzo Pellegrini's long effort struck the post leaving a juicy rebound for Kalinic, who was unfortunately turned away by the ageless Buffon.
And that was really all the wrote. Roma were markedly better in the second half but were still unable to close the two-goal deficit.
As we mentioned at the outset, this was an incredibly tough fixture for a number of reasons, but the degree to which you are upset with this defeat likely depends on the extent to which you care about the Coppa Italia. Defeating Juventus, particularly on the road, in any capacity would have been a huge sign of progress for this Roma side, but with a tooth and nail fight for fourth place and their looming Europa League fixtures, having one less competition to worry about isn't exactly a bad thing.
Still, Roma had a few chances in the second half that could have made this a tight match down the stretch, so we should be pleased with their turn around, but in the end their struggles against Juventus continue.
The Derby della Capitale on Sunday.