With rumors of Max Allegri waiting in the wings, a supposed locker room rift, and multiple transfers hanging in the balance, the Serie A spirits did their best to distract Paulo Fonseca and Roma heading into this critical round two fixture against Juventus. Roma seldom enter any match free from controversy, but the week leading into this match was particularly fraught with distractions.
But you wouldn't have known it once the match started. The opening five or six minutes featured a lot of slow and stilted midfield play from both clubs, but Roma did well to orchestrate attacking moves through Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the middle and Pedro on the right, keeping Juventus’ defense honest, while Roma's new look backline was up to the Ronaldo/Morata task.
Unlike a typical Roma and Juve affair, the Giallorossi weren't timid or bullied by Juve, instead going toe to toe with Andrea Pirlo's men in the opening stages of the match. It was an encouraging start considering the circumstances in which Roma entered this match.
Play would loosen up as the clock creeped towards the 15 minute mark, with Roma creating the game's first real chance thanks to a lovely bit of skill from Mkhitaryan. With Pedro to his left, Mkhitaryan could have played a difficult but plausible diagonal to his new teammate, but he was in a shooting mood and dribbled right past Leonardo Bonucci to set up a one-v-one with Woj. It was a beautiful build-up, but his right footed attempt didn't fool Szczesny, who dropped to the ground to snuff out the shot with ease.
Despite that miss, Roma kept their wits about them, matching Juve's intensity, effort and creativity in all phases of the game. But, just as we saw last week against Hellas, the match seemed to slip into a coma every eight minutes or so, with all 22 men walking and waiting for someone...anyone...to take the initiative.
And, as luck would have it, Roma took charge, kicking off a chaotic close to the first half. In a blink and you'd miss it counter attack, Leonardo Spinazzola played a sensational long ball to Edin Dzeko, finding Roma's number nine in stride from nearly 75 yards out, playing the Bosnian into open space with one man left to beat.
With Dzeko surging past Giorgio Chiellini towards the Juve goal, it seemed like Roma had another one-v-one shot at Szczesny, but with Dzeko clutching at Chiellini’s shirt, what looked like a possible advantage for Roma soon became a free-kick to Juve.
But the chaos didn't end there. Moments later, with Roma working the ball at the edge of Juve’s 18-yard-box, Dzeko played a low right-to-left cross towards the center of the box, only to see it deflected by Adrien Rabiot—who had been fantastic to that point. Rabiot's deflection fell right to Jordan Veretout, who played a one-time shot right back at Woj's goal, striking Rabiot’s arm in the process.
With a quick referral to VAR, Roma were awarded a penalty. And while Szczesny guessed correctly on Veretout's low/left attempt, he wasn't able to prevent it from finding the back of the net, giving Roma a bit of a surprising first half lead.
But truth be told, this was about as even a half as we’ve ever seen from these two clubs. Despite the occasional dip in energy from both sides, Roma matched the Old Lady stride for stride, with the Giallorossi's young backline putting the clamps on Ronaldo, Morata and Kulusevski, while Fonseca's offense was quick to counter-attack any chance they got.
Juve would find their equalizer thanks to a pretty glaring gaffe from Lorenzo Pellegrini in Roma's penalty area. With Ronaldo driving into the box, Pellegrini dropped his left leg to the ground to deflect the shot, but seemed to...uh...forget that his hand was also down there, giving Juve one of the easier PK calls you'll ever see, which Ronaldo converted with ease.
Despite that let down, most of us would have been okay with a 1-1 draw at half-time, but Roma didn't relent and caught Juve on the counter once again.
Jordan Veretout: 45th Minute (Roma 2, Juventus 1)
With one minute of stoppage time, Roma pulled off one of the more stunning counter attacks we've seen under Fonseca. With Dzeko springing Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Roma’s own area, Micki immediately headed for goal, driving down the right flank before playing a simple square-ball to Veretout, who tucked it past Szczesny to put Roma back on top 2-1.
Roma did well to survive the lulls in the first half, did even better to keep Juve on their toes and did the unthinkable by breaking their backline on a last ditch counter to close out the first half.
Roma continued their aggressive, counter-attacking ways to open the second half and nearly pushed their lead to 3-1 when Edin Dzeko dragged the ball past multiple defenders in the box but couldn’t quite tuck his shot into the far post. As it stood, Roma's lead remained 2-1 as the match approached the hour mark.
The Giallorossi would catch a huge break when Rabiot was sent off with accumulated yellows in the 62nd minute, giving Roma a man advantage for the final half an hour of the match, and Dzeko nearly made the now ten-man Juve pay in the 64th minute, but couldn't capitalize on Roma's buildup play.
Fonseca would make his first change of the match in the 68th minute, swapping out Davide Santon for Bruno Peres, who recently returned to full fitness after a bout with COVID-19. And unfortunately for Bruno, he was almost immediately victimized by Ronaldo, who he let slip right behind him (practically unnoticed) to steer home a towering header in the 70th minute to level the match at two goals apiece. (Upon further review, that was more on Mancini than Peres. My mistake).
It was an uncharacteristically sloppy moment for Roma, who had covered nearly every blade of grass at the back through the first 69 minutes of the match, and made their earlier misses loom even larger.
At this point, you would have been forgiven if you asked which team actually had the one-man advantage, because Roma's organization and aggression had abandoned them by that point, and Juve was all to willing to take control of the match as it approached the closing phases.
Sadly, that didn't change in the final quarter hour of this match; Juve kept hunting for goals while Roma were scratching and clawing for their very life. It was a sad ending to what was, at least in the first half, a very encouraging performance from Roma.
If I'd told you 24 hours ago that Roma would snatch a point from Juventus, you probably would have been cool with it, right? When you consider the history between these two clubs, a draw is a pretty decent outcome, but Roma had this match in the palm of their hand: up one goal with a one-man advantage for the final 28 minutes of the match.
But the minute Rabiot was sent off, Roma seemed content to cash it in, seemingly hoping that Juventus would just go through the motions before heading back home. But they didn't. Because they're champions. Nine times over.
Prior to this match, we cautioned not to read too heavily into Roma's poor start to the season, insofar as it related to Fonseca's job security. But, once again, Roma struggled to play 90 minutes of organized and intense football. And, once again, Fonseca's substitution pattern was questionable at best. Davide Santon had a perfectly non-descript match through the first 60 minutes, and with a one-goal lead to defend bringing on Bruno Peres was perhaps the worst thing he could have done at that moment.
A draw against Juventus may be a moral victory, but Roma's collapse in the second half should make for some interesting reading and reaction in Rome this week.
Away to Udinese on October 3rd.