With Roma and Juventus each looking ahead to the resumption of European play next week, and with nothing at stake in this Round 38 fixture, this match had a bit of an odd feel. For Juventus, it was merely a prelude to yet another Scudetto celebration, while for Roma it was sort of like the last day of high school; spending time with some friends you may have forgotten over the past four years while saying a tearful goodbye to your closest confidants.
Paulo Fonseca didn't change over his squad as drastically as we thought, but he did give club debuts to Daniel Fuzato in goal and Riccardo Calafiori at left wing back. In addition to those first-timers, Fonseca reinserted Federico Fazio, Diego Perotti, Gonzalo Villar, Diego Perotti and Nicolo Zaniolo back into the starting lineup, marking the first start for Zaniolo since his return from an ACL injury several weeks ago.
It was a bit of a hodgepodge lineup, but Roma's eternal nemesis (the set piece) gave this match a rather familiar feel despite all the fresh faces.
Gonzalo Higuain: 5th Minute (Juventus 1, Roma 0)
In only the fifth minute, Juve opened the scorer's ledger when Gonzalo Higuain found space at the back post, poking the ball past a helpless Fuzato. It wasn't as egregious as some of the back post goals Roma have conceded this season, and indeed Higuain wasn't the initial target, but he was practically unmarked at the far post.
In a match that didn't matter, Roma were quickly pinned down by the Old Lady and it felt like Groundhog Day was about to set in. No matter the circumstances, Roma just can never seem to get the better of Juventus for too long.
However, unlike so many times in the past, Roma didn't relent and eventually found an equalizer from one of the surprises of the second half of the season.
Nikola Kalinic: 23rd Minute (Juventus 1, Roma 1)
After conceding a goal from a corner kick earlier in the match, Roma gave Juventus a taste of their own medicine, striking back in the 23rd minute. Really just a standard corner, but Kalinic's technique was sublime here; to steer that ball from the left side of the box all the way into the top corner of the far post took quite a bit of skill. He'll never wow you, but after spending several months on the periphery, Kalinic has really settled into the reserve striker role over the past several weeks.
If you can remove the lack of consequences from this match, this was an incredibly impressive first half from Roma. Under normal circumstances, Roma look like a deer in headlights when they play at the Allianz Stadium, but thanks to several faces making their debut and/or possibly saying their goodbye, the Giallorossi played with an energy and confidence we seldom see against the Old Lady.
That new found energy nearly reached a crescendo when Serie A debutant and Roman-born Riccardo Calafiori, at least for a moment, struck a goal of the year candidate. In the 37th minute with Calafiori serving as the last man back on a set-piece, he charged towards a loose ball at the edge of the 18-yard-box and, in one motion and with his weaker foot, struck a Totti-esque side volley with his right foot, absolutely burying it in the back of the net.
il gol annullato di Calafiori pic.twitter.com/JbKEY1jJ3p— RomaPress Goals (@asrgoals1) August 1, 2020
But...in one of the strangest and more arcane rules of the sport, the goal was disallowed because Diego Perotti's corner actually swung out of bounds (while in the air) before swinging back out towards the scrum in the middle of the six-yard-box.
Did you know this was a rule? It's certainly a head scratcher since the ball was in the air, but that esoteric bit of football law disallowed what would have been a debut goal for the ages.
But Calafiori would place his stamp on this match just yet. Several minutes later, Calafiori found space on the left edge of the box, cut in back towards the center and essentially forced Danilo into fouling him in the area, drawing a penalty in the process. Given how deep he drove the ball and how quickly he cut-in, Danilo fouled him by default; he literally had no time or space to get out the way.
It was a great signal of intent and initiative from the 18-year-old, who started off the match with a couple of nervy touches but settled into a groove as the first half wore on. Juve would get a promising free-kick at the right edge of Roma's box just before the half-time whistle but weren't able to capitalize.
Neither side played their A-Team in the first half, but for the first time in ages, Roma looked like Juve's equal, and on the road no less. But would it last another 45 minutes?
In a word, yes.
Diego Perotti: 52nd Minute (Juventus 1, Roma 3)
After stripping the ball from Juventus deep in his own end, Zaniolo slalomed through the defense before finding Diego Perotti with a clever little through ball to push Roma's lead to 3-1 in the 52nd minute. I don't know what's gotten into Zaniolo lately, but he's driving coast to coast like Tim Hardaway running the fast break with the old school Golden State Warriors. You love to see it. Top marks to Perotti for the timing and angle on that run, too. It was the perfect complement to Zaniolo's brilliant individual effort, but he did receive a helping deflection from Demiral's shin.
After claiming a two-goal lead, Fonseca emptied the bench, making a triple change to bring on the seldom seen trio of Davide Santon, Cengiz Ünder and Juan Jesus. Moments later, Riccardo Calafiori pulled up with cramping and was replaced by Bruno Peres.
Fonseca would continue to mine the depths of his bench, using his final substitution to bring on Justin Kluviert in the 74th minute. At this point in the match, with both clubs emptying their benches (Juve even changed keepers) this match felt like senior day at a high school football game—lots of cheering and wistful goodbyes to players who will likely never wear the shirt again.
The match would solider on for another 20 minutes, including stoppage time, and even though Juve had a few nice forrays towards Fuzato, Roma held firm and walked away emphatic winners.
A year from now, we may not remember the circumstances in which the two clubs contested this fixture, but by dusting off the Old Lady 3-1, Roma not only won four-straight matches for the first time under Paulo Fonseca, they claimed three points on the road versus Juventus for the first time since a 2-0 Coppa Italia win on January 27, 2011.
Now we have no choice but to wait. Was this Chris Smalling's final match with Roma? Was this Calafiori's only match with Roma? What about Perotti? Fazio? Jesus? Will we see them in these same Roma shirts next season or will they move on to the next stage in their respective careers?
We'll soon find out, but for the first time ever they can hold their heads high while leaving the Allianz Stadium. It may not have counted for anything, but this is surely a building block for a surging Roma team.
Back to the Europa League against Sevilla on August 6th.
Just for the heck of it, here is arguably the best Roma photo you'll ever see.
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