Taking points off Juventus at the Allianz Stadium is never easy, doubly so when you're missing two key players, but that was the challenge laid at José Mourinho's feet today as Roma traveled north to face their bitter rivals, Juventus. Without Georginio Wijnaldum and Nicolo Zaniolo, Mourinho had to pivot quickly, replacing Wijnaldum with fellow summer signing Nemanja Matic in midfield while pushing Lorenzo Pellegrini further up the pitch to accommodate for Zaniolo's absence.
Roma has certainly faced longer odds against Juventus, but Mourinho wasn't making any excuses for the Giallorossi today, boldly claiming the capital club was coming for three points and nothing less. And with the Allianz rocking from the word go, the stage was set for an epic match.
After taking the opening kickoff and swinging the ball backward to orchestrate the game's first move, Juventus went heavy on the press, forcing Leonardo Spinazzola into a turnover on Roma's second or third touch of the game. With Spinazzola's pass gently looping across midfield, Juan Cuadrado seized upon the ball, baiting Nemanja Matic into a foul, giving Juve an early free kick.
While it was a seemingly innocuous attempt, Juve took full advantage of Roma's error.
Dusan Vlahovic: 2nd Minute (Juventus 1, Roma 0)
DUSAN VLAHOVIC STOP IT— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 27, 2022
What a start for Juventus pic.twitter.com/njVtcjVV9t
With Dusan Vlahovic teeing up a free kick from 25 yards out and the match barely underway, this didn't feel like a genuine scoring chance. Still, Vlahovic did his best Paulo Dybala impression, swerving the ball over the wall and dinking it off the crossbar and into the top corner.
While I wish I could tell you Roma responded swiftly and decisively, as you'd expect, that goal completely deflated the Giallorossi, who struggled to regain their composure, to say nothing of mounting a counter-attack. Through the opening 15 minutes, Juve fired six shots at Patricio while forcing multiple turnovers in midfield, removing any shred of rhythm Roma hoped to establish.
And when it seemed like things couldn't get worse for Roma, Manuel Locatelli doubled Juve's lead in the 27th minute with a lovely one-timed effort, a goal that appeared to damn the Giallorossi to another embarrassing defeat against Juventus. However, Roma finally caught a break as the goal was disallowed due to a Vlahovic handball during the buildup, sparing Roma for the moment.
Unfortunately, that call wasn't Roma's saving grace, as Juventus continued to control the match, pestering Roma anytime they tried to build from the back, creating turnovers, and forcing the Giallorossi into hasty challenges, one of which gave the Old Lady another promising free kick at the edge of the box. This time, however, Patricio read it perfectly, smothering Cuadrado's low effort with a quick drop save.
Juve's game plan worked to perfection as they lured Roma into another rash challenge, winning yet another free kick. And with Vlahovic weighing his chances on the right edge of the box, the stage was set for a repeat of his second-minute masterstroke. This time, though, the ball failed to dip quickly enough, sailing harmlessly into the stands.
Roma managed to stem the tide down the stretch, heading into the lockerroom down one-nil; not an insurmountable lead, but Mourinho's men were running scared for the first 45 minutes, so it would take a miracle to scratch and claw their way back into this match.
With his side looking dispirited and out of ideas, Mourinho went to the bench to start the new half, bringing Nicola Zalewski and Stephan El Shaarawy into the fray in place of Spinazzola and Gianluca Mancini, respectively. The Mancini change was a surprise, but Zalewski and El Shaarawy provided the pace and aggression the club lacked in the first half.
While they certainly tried to influence the match in the opening minutes of the new half, neither Zalewski nor El Shaarawy could overcome Juve's incessant pressing. Making matters worse, Roma's midfield struggled to maintain possession and failed to string more than two or three passes together at any given moment.
Things were so bleak for Roma that their first genuine look at goal in the second half came from Matic, who cut his way in from the right and unfurled a 40-yarder at Wojciech Szczesny. All things considered, it was a decent look but was quickly blocked by the Juve defense, who continued to swarm Roma at every turn.
Mourinho went to the bench again in the 62nd minute, swapping out an ineffective Rick Karsdorp for Zeki Celik. And with the match creeping towards the 70th-minute mark, Roma showed a bit of life as Dybala, Pellegrini, and Abraham finally started to link up, with Dybala playing the Englishman into the box. The end product, however, was lacking as Tammy couldn't find the sweet spot, giving Szczesny an easy save.
But Tammy's revenge came quickly.
Tammy Abraham: 69th Minute (Juventus 1, Roma 1)
Paulo Dybala Tammy Abraham— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) August 27, 2022
Roma draw level with Juventus pic.twitter.com/bWmuFGK3Nh
With Roma struggling in the run of play, this match was always likely to turn on a setpiece. And with Pellegrini's corner quickly drifting wide, seemingly destined to sail over the end line past the far post, it seemed like another opportunity lost for Roma... until Paulo Dybala did the impossible. With the ball taking a sharp turn past the far post, Dybala—with his back turned to the goal and his momentum carrying him towards the end-line—somehow pinged the ball off the pitch and past the on-coming defender before finding Abraham in the middle of the box for the equalizer. Whether this was planned or not, we can't say, but this was a sensational display from Dybala and Abraham.
Rather than gunning for the match-winner, Mourinho restored his club's defensive balance, swapping out Dybala for Marash Kumbulla, seemingly content to play for a draw. While it was a bit disappointing to see Mourinho take the sting out of this match, given how lopsided everything was before Abraham's equalizer, his logic was easy to follow.
Despite the defensive change, Roma made some noise in the final third, hitting Szczesny with a flurry of attempts in the 85th, nearly poking home a match-winner in a penalty box scrum, as everyone from Roger Ibañez to El Shaarawy had a look at the ball.
With four added minutes and both clubs eager to sneak a match-winner via a setpiece or some crazy deflection, this stage was set for a dramatic finish. And with one final substitution in his pocket, Mourinho brought Edoardo Bove in for the final two minutes in place of Pellegrini.
In the end, there simply wasn't enough time for either club to wrest three points from this match, but Roma showed some impressive resolve, with Celik and Bove each making crucial blocks in the match's final moments.
With his club completely overwhelmed during the first half, Mourinho needed to do something to stir his squad, to compel them to compete in the second half, to dig deep and play with pride and passion. And while they didn't exactly stand on level pegging with Juve down the stretch, Roma, as they have in every match so far, rose to the occasion when it mattered most.
In a fixture they had no business winning, it was quite fitting that Pellegrini, Dybala, and Abraham—the club's three most talented attacking players—stood together, pulling off a miraculous setpiece routine to snatch a point from the Old Lady.
It wasn't a win, and it damn sure wasn't pretty, but this was a litmus test for Roma, and by digging deep and delivering a gut-check performance, they may just emerge a stronger side from the struggle.
Roma host the newly-promoted Monza on Tuesday.
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