Roma vs. Juventus is always one of the first dates we circle on the Serie A calendar, even if, more often than not, it's a traumatic experience for Giallorossi supporters. This time around, the two clubs find themselves desperately chasing crucial benchmarks. For Juventus, that means closing the four-point gap behind league-leading Inter Milan, while Roma is in the thick of a five-team chase for a spot in the league's top-four and the precious Champions League place that comes along with it.
Despite the historical imbalance in this rivalry, Roma has played the Old Lady pretty close during the José Mourinho era, taking four of six possible points during the 2022-2023 season. Needless to say, Roma needs to at least gut out a draw tomorrow at the Allianz Stadium to remain in the top-four hunt.
And as we often do when this fixture comes around, we reached out to Danny at Black, White & Read All Over for the Juventus side of the equation. You can also hear my two cents on this matchup in the BWRAO crew's always-entertaining Old Lady Speaks podcast.
To the questions!
The 2020s haven’t been quite as kind to Juve as the 2010s were. For those of us sleeping on Juve, tell us what makes this particular version of the Old Lady so dangerous to the league. Who are some of the key players fueling their run up the table?
BWRAO: Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that the 2020s have been a liiiiiiiiitle less successful and exciting than the 2010s. But the thing about this current season’s group is they just seem to be a really tight team. I know it’s a major sports cliché (and being somebody who writes about sports, I know all about those), but the thing that seems to be keeping Juventus in some sort of title race is that they’re all very much a united group this year. Of course, it also helps when there’s not a points penalty either coming down before kickoff or just hanging over everything has helped, too. That doesn’t mean they’ve been bereft of off-field things this year, with the Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli suspensions for two very different reasons being the big ones.
They obviously don’t play the most beautiful brand of ball, but when you’ve got somebody like Bremer leading the defensive line, Weston McKennie being one of the biggest pleasant surprises in the league this season and a team-wide dedication to defending as Max Allegri wants to defend, the wins have come. We still don’t know if Juventus can play this way for an entire season and finish any better than second place. And we are all pretty much aware that Inter, solely on talent, is the better and much more dangerous team. But, somehow, Juve’s fighting above their weight and are just four points behind Inter. Color me surprised.
We spoke about what we might call Allegri fatigue on a recent episode of your podcast, but what’s the general consensus towards Max this time around? Does he still have “it,” or are his tactics and methods too outdated for football in 2024?
BWRAO: I think folks are very much in two camps — it’s still very much #AllegriOut because this style of play is deemed as not sustainable, and he’s holding players like Federico Chiesa and Dusan Vlahovic back with the defense-first 3-5-2 setup, while there are those who are happy that (for the time being) Max has been able to right the ship a little bit and at least deliver three points most matchdays this season outside of a few occasions. We know Allegri’s tactics are from a differing time in Italy and trying to grind things out 1-0 or 2-1 every single time out is just walking a fine line between a win and dropping points. But I think Allegri has done a good job in managing the team as a whole, even though I don’t really want them playing this defensive every time they take the field.
I don’t necessarily think that Juve needs somebody who will come in and revolutionize the way the team plays in the kind of way that Andrea Pirlo or Maurizio Sarri attempted a few years back prior to Allegri’s return. You just wish that he would, I dunno, play Chiesa in his natural position like he does with the Italian national team. Or try to have Vlahovic resembling the player from Fiorentina who had Juve forking over all that cash a couple of years ago. It’s though, because while this team is winning, you can still see that there are some things that can be improved upon.
What’s going on with Dusan Vlahovic? Why hasn’t he taken the next step? Is the club having any buyer’s remorse?
BWRAO: This is a lot like the Allegri question, I think. There is the camp that essentially feels like Allegri is holding Vlahovic back, and then there are those who just don’t think Vlahovic has developed all that much, regardless of what tactics are being used. I think it’s a little of Option A and a little of Option B. What system Allegri wants to deploy is VERY different from what was the case during his breakout time in Florence, and that means he’s being asked to do different things compared to when Vincenzo Italiano was his manager. But, at the same time, Vlahovic’s struggles are also his doing, too. He has missed a lot of chances. They might not come in droves each game, but they add up. That means every time he scores a goal or two, we run out the same line of “We hope this is the goal that gets him going, and he can start to show that he’s the player we know he can be.” Unfortunately, that run of goals like we saw when he first signed with Juve just hasn’t arrived.
At this point, I would love to see Vlahovic play under a manager at Juve who has a little more of a progressive approach before they throw in the towel on one of their biggest investments ever. but I also know that if he keeps playing like this, the return on that investment is going to be a fraction of what they paid to Fiorentina in January 2022.
Following that, are there any particular areas the club should address this winter?
BWRAO: If new sporting chief Cristiano Giuntoli is to address anything this winter, then it’s definitely in the midfield. Both because of the suspensions to Pogba and Fagioli and then there being the risk of injury whenever you step onto the field, this team has been shorthanded in midfield basically since the beginning of the season. Even without the doping suspension, Pogba was a giant question mark because of his injury issues since the summer of 2022. Fagioli’s suspension was very much out of the blue and it caused Juve to be without another one of their best (and most progressive) midfielders for the rest of the season. So, yeah, the midfield is where this team needs to add somebody in the worst possible way. Whether Giuntoli can actually do it knowing that there’s no European money coming in and Juve’s finances being what they are may prevent him from doing anything extremely notable.
Moving onto the actual fixture, what kind of match are you expecting between Roma and Juve on Saturday?
BWRAO: I think it’s going to be a physical, low-scoring kind of night at the Allianz. Like we talked about on the pod a few days ago, these are two of the last managers who want to just grind out wins no matter who is on their team. It doesn’t matter if it’s a star-studded attack leading the line, they aren’t going to be mistaken for Pep or Roberto De Zerbi. If it’s 1-0 for either team with 10 minutes to go, I won’t be shocked at all. This just how they operate.
Lastly, give us a bold prediction for Saturday’s match!
BWRAO: I don’t know if thinking this finish as a 1-1 draw is bold, but that’s what I keep coming back to. Juve’s defense has shown a few cracks in recent weeks after their shutout streak ended, so I’m not so sure they’ll be able to keep Roma off the scoreboard.
Thanks as always to Danny for his time and insights, you can catch his work at Black, Whtie & Read All Over.