It's become a bi-annual tradition that whenever Roma and Juventus square off we swap questions with our Juve colleagues, and with Roma set to host the Old Lady on Sunday, we once again linked up with Danny at Black & White & Read All Over to discuss the ins and outs of this weekend's crucial fixture.
It was only a six-question swap, but we touched on a variety of topics, past, present and future. Enjoy!
Juve’s roster is trending a bit older these days, are you worried that their decade of dominance is coming to an end? Who do Juve fans see as their leaders of the future?
BWRAO: Like a lot of Juventus squad, those leaders are likely in defense ... and probably not at the club yet. But you are definitely correct when you say that Juve’s roster is on the older side — because it is. For a good portion of this season, Maurizio Sarri has trotted out two guys in their 30s in attack, two midfielders in their 30s and another one who is close to 30, a winger-turned-fullback who is 31, a central defender (who just got a contract extension through 2024) who is 32 and a left back who is going to be 29 in a couple of weeks. Oh, and your old buddy Wojciech Szczesny is turning 30 in April. So, basically,
And I haven’t even mentioned that Giorgio Chiellini is 35 and coming off major knee surgery until just now.
Just about everybody I talk to can’t wait to see Matthijs de Ligt and Merih Demiral play alongside one another, and they’re like the most logical in-house leaders of the future outside of somebody like Paulo Dybala, who wore the captain’s armband a handful of times last season. But, the fact is, Juve’s going to need to do some serious work on the transfer market to make this squad younger over the next couple of years no matter how long Cristiano Ronaldo is around.
Juventus aren’t quite as dominant as in recent seasons, so what gives, what’s different about this particular Juve team? Why haven’t they been able to separate themselves from the pack?
BWRAO: What’s different is the guy filling out the starting lineup every game. A lot of the time as Juve grinded out results in November and December I felt like I was pretty much writing the same kind of thing in previews and recaps — this team needs time, Sarri’s system takes a good amount of time to totally take effect and the way they’re playing now might not be what we see come the new year or February or March. What we don’t know is when that switch will be totally flipped and Sarrismo becomes the norm amongst Juventus players.
They have mentioned in interviews just how much more comfortable they feel now as compared to a couple of months ago, so that’s good. But as has been the norm ever since the first game of December, we see spurts of Sarriball taking place, but not the entire product. Just when that will actually happen is certainly the biggest thing going forward when it comes to how Juventus’ season will end up going.
Going along with that, did their two losses to Lazio expose any sort of critical flaw in Sarri’s tactics?
BWRAO: I’m not sure if it exposed anything specifically to do with Sarri’s system. But it definitely exposed what we’ve known about Juventus the last couple of years — the midfield is the weakest area of this team. I don’t think it’s much of a hot take to say that Lazio’s midfield is one of the best in the league, and it’s certainly much more of a well-oiled machine than what Juventus has to offer right now. I love Rodrigo Bentancur as much as anybody, but when he’s your best midfielder of the season, it shows that there’s still PLENTY of room to improve. The two additions from this past summer, Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey, haven’t really made an impact, the latter continuing his trend of one injury after another from his Arsenal days.
Juventus may have the players they do in attack, but when they’re going up against a team that plays like Lazio does and has a really, really good midfield like Simone Inzaghi can trot out, it’s going to be an interesting day at the office.
Which Juve player has benefited the most from the shift to Maurizio Sarri? Which one has struggled the most under his guidance?
BWRAO: Who has improved the most under Sarri’s watch is easy — it’s Paulo Dybala, who is looking like a completely different player than the one who struggled for much of the 2018-19 season. So much of Dybala’s season under Max Allegri a year ago was a capitulation of him being played out of position and a loss of confidence that this past summer seemed like the time for the two parties to go their separate ways. And it definitely looked like that was going to happen, be it rumored moves to Manchester United or Tottenham. No deal happened, and thank goodness it didn’t.
Dybala has been the player of a couple seasons ago, playing with the kind of edge to his game that made him so good during his early seasons with Juventus. There is more of a cohesion with Ronaldo and just a whole bunch of natural chemistry with Higuain from their first spell together at Juventus, and to see the three of them play together all at once is something Sarri is toying with more and more. Dybala’s goal numbers might not be outstanding, but he’s had plenty of those games where he’s done just about everything else outside of finding the back of the net. This is the Dybala we hoped for — and he’s delivered in just about every way possible.
Roma were connected to both Gonzalo Higuain and Daniele Rugani a ton this summer, how are our would-be Romans doing this season?
BWRAO: t’s actually pretty simple when it comes to Higuain and Rugani. One player has actually become a key figure for Sarri this season ... and the other has basically played as little as anybody not named Carlo Pinsoglio. I think it’s pretty easy to figure out who is who in this little scenario.
Higuain, to the surprise of just about everybody who knows Juventus, has not just become a fairly regular starter, but has actually played quite well for a big chunk of the season. While he’s maybe cooled off the past couple of games, he’s been able to contribute both in Serie A and, more impressively, in the Champions League with a handful of huge assists that helped Juventus top their group. I didn’t expect him to be a Juventus player based on the season he had a year ago, but here we are in early January and he’s basically played the same amount of minutes as Dybala in Serie A. As much as Dybala has benefited from the more attack-minded system Sarri has, simply getting back to where he’s thrived in the past has been a major boost for Higuain looking more like the Higuain of old.
Predictions for Sunday?
BWRAO: Juventus’ showing on Monday will have me completely overconfident. 2-1 in favor of my favorite team.
Stay tuned for our regular match preview this weekend, but needless to say, a Roma win would be massive.