Despite their struggles this season, Roma managed a rather unique feat for much of the campaign: remaining above Juventus on the table. Despite the return of Max Allegri and all the good feelings that came with it, the Old Lady of Italian football struggled to compensate for the absence of one Cristiano Ronaldo, who departed Torino after three seasons and more goals than we care to remember.
However, as 2021 gave way to the New Year, the fortunes of these two clubs reversed, with Juve winning eight of their past twelve matches while Roma has won six in that same span, though they have dropped points in their last two matches.
Thanks to their respective forms, Juve enters this round 21 fixture in fifth place on 35 points, three adrift of fourth-place Atalanta, while Roma are stuck in seventh place, with their 2022-2023 Champions League hopes on ice.
To get a look at the black and white side of this rivalry, we turned to our old friend Danny from Black, White & Read All Over. Enjoy and be on the lookout for the reverse set of questions on BWRAO.
With four wins in their past six, Juve seems to be righting the ship. which begs the question: What’s changed since the fall? Has Allegri changed his approach or was it simply just a matter of time before he got reacclimated?
BWRAO: It really depends on who you ask. Yes, Juve hasn’t continued being the complete mess they were when we face y’all back early in the season, but the simple face is that their schedule the last couple of weeks before Christmas was so soft and so friendly that seeing them put together a decent stretch of results was pretty much the only thing you hoped for. There have been some good things, but it hasn’t exactly been Juventus lighting the world on fire and the opposition pretty much having no answer in response.
The one good thing to come out of the last stretch of games before the holiday break is that Max Allegri has shown some willingness to change things up tactically instead of just sticking with the bland 4-4-2 that he used the first couple of months of the season. Before Paulo Dybala got hurt, it was a 4-2-3-1. The last couple of games of 2021 it was a 4-3-3 with Moise Kean playing out wide. Now with Federico Chiesa and Dybala back, the big question many Juventini want answered is where Max will go from here. Is he going to slow play Dybala back into the starting lineup considering he has been so fragile? Or will he let loose a 4-2-3-1 with La Joya in the No. 10 spot and Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi (or Juan Cuadrado) on either wing? That all is still TBD, but Allegri showing the willingness to change things up is a big step forward.
Going along with that, which players have been most responsible for this reversal in fortunes?
BWRAO: It really has to do with the guys who have played consistently over the last month or so and played well on top of that. Matthijs de Ligt has been an absolute rock at the center of defense even as Mino Raiola continues to talk his usual talk about a client of his going to another club the next season. Your old friend Luca Pellegrini, when healthy, has shown he’s the best left-back on Juve’s roster as the decline of Alex Sandro continues. And, maybe the biggest surprise of them all, the aforementioned Bernardeschi is turning this season into his best one in years. Throw out all the contract year conspiracies that you want—and you will hear plenty from some of the folks who read BWRAO regularly—but Berna has really found his footing under Allegri and he’s been an important piece during the month that Chiesa was out. The problems that Juve have are still very much apparent, but it’s not like the entire squad is falling flat on their face these days.
Life is probably less controversial without Ronaldo, but the Juve attack seems to be suffering without him, so what has Allegri done to compensate for that? In other words, where are the goals coming from? Who needs to assume the mantle as Juve’s go-to scorer?
BWRAO: These might be the million-dollar questions when it comes to just how far Juve can climb up the table in the second half of the season. Juve’s attack is, at the moment, completely average at best. You look at some of the clubs that have scored more goals than them this season and it’s pretty remarkable just how far their attack has fallen and has been unable to score on a consistent basis.
The hope, obviously, is that Chiesa and Dybala can stay healthy for an extended period of time that allows Allegri to get the 4-2-3-1 in a nice little run of form and the goal-scoring numbers will start to go up. But, I’m guessing my fear is a lot like many other Juve fans is that the inability to score consistently will make Max want to go back to how things were earlier in the season when they were trying to grind out 1-0 results like the good old days. This team isn’t really built for that. But it also isn’t built as a high-scoring juggernaut or anything close to it. So to answer your question(s) in general terms, I really have no idea.
Is it too soon to give up on Dejan Kulusevski? Why or why not?
BWRAO: I haven’t, but I know a lot of Juventus supporters have. He is a talented player who is very much a system kind of player and he needs said system to truly take advantage of his best attributes. At Juventus, I don’t know if that’s possible right now—both because of the wingers that are in front of him and the style in which Allegri might be moving away from. Kulu is at his best on the counterattack, winning the ball back, running at the defenders, trying to take advantage of them being on the heels rather than being directly entrenched in front of him.
His season at Parma was built on those kinds of attributes being utilized for an entire season, not a few times a month or just for a small amount of minutes off the bench. Look, I love Kulusevski and I think he’s the kind of player that can help Juventus in the future. I love the kind of player he is and even bought a jersey with his name on it. But as much as somebody like Chiesa has taken that next step and is truly showing he can become a star, Kulusevski hasn’t. And with Juve’s finances being what they are, if somebody comes calling with an offer of just how much money Juve paid Atalanta a couple of years ago, I won’t blame them for pulling the trigger.
In a similar vein, how would you judge the Matthijs de Ligt experiment? Has he lived up to the hype so far? What kind of player can he become when he finally pulls it all together?
BWRAO: We set the bar so high for Matthijs even before he played a game for Juventus that it was going to be pretty high for him to consistently be at that level. Why? Because we forget that he is still so damn young. He’s really good regardless, and like I said earlier his form has been maybe the best its been since he arrived at Juve over the last four or six weeks. But, when evaluating de Ligt, people sometimes forget that he played much of his first season at Juve with a separated shoulder. He then missed the first two months of the last season because he chose to put off surgery until after the season.
And now, he’s playing under his third manager in three years and is really looking like a potential leader for this time. I get that Mino will be Mino and that he’s always going to pop off because that’s just what he does, but de Ligt really can be a foundation piece for this club if he wants to be. Maybe it hasn’t been as dominant as we all though a couple of years ago, but the guy still has so much more room to grow as a player, and that’s a scary thought with how good he is already.
Roma is a wounded duck right now, but are there any particular matchups you’re worried about?
BWRAO: Nothing in particular in terms of player-for-player matchups, but just kinda falling into the same trap as Juve did on Thursday against Napoli. It’s easy to think you’ve got one in the bag when Napoli is missing so many players as they were due to the virus, injury and AFCON, but as we saw, it wasn’t anything close to the easy three points we thought it should be. Yes, Juventus should have won, and if they had finished any number of chances they would have won it. But, as they say, that’s why you actually play the game, right?
This is a flawed squad and there is no magic fix to make things markedly better unless they suddenly bring in Dusan Vlahovic or something. (And even then I think Viola Nation will ban us for life.) So, I dunno. It’s tough to say if anything scares me about Roma when probably the thing that scares me the most is Juventus getting in its own way like they have done so many times over the last couple of years.
Finally, give us a prediction for Sunday: Who wins? Who Scores? How many red cards?
BWRAO: 2-2 draw. Freddie Church with a goal, Dybala with the other. I will say somebody gets a red card.
Big thanks to Danny for his time. You can catch his work at BWRAO. We'll see you back here tomorrow. It'll be tough but maybe Roma can catch the Old Lady slipping.