After their humiliating defeat to Cremonese last Tuesday, Roma desperately needed to right the ship with a no-nonsense win. There was just one small problem. Rather than facing an also-ran, Roma had the misfortune of facing Juventus this evening. As if the historical enmity between the two clubs weren't bad enough, the Old Lady rode into this match on the back of a seven-match unbeaten streak; the tired and worn-out Juventus of the fall has disappeared, leaving Roma with an enormous challenge to close out the weekend.
Rather than sticking with the usual three-man defensive formation, José Mourinho tried something slightly different today. With Tammy Abraham still donning a unique mask to protect his lower eye-lid and Andrea Belotti struggling all season long, Mourinho opted for a striker-less formation today, with Paulo Dybala serving as a false nine with Lorenzo Pellegrini, Leonardo Spinazzola, and Georginio Wijnaldum directly behind him.
With no one leading the line and only a pair of wing-backs flanking his creative players, Mourinho's formation was more defensive than your typical, Totti-inspired false-nine formation where you at least have wide players receiving passes from the playmaker turned striker. However, with Juve scoring nine goals over their last three matches, Mourinho's logic was solid: they had to stop the Juve threat at all costs.
After being serenaded by the refrains of Roma, Roma, Roma, the match began with a slightly more measured approach from Juventus. Rather than trying to blow the barn doors off with an early goal, Juve was happy to take their time, slowly working the ball through the midfield before trying to stretch the Roma backline thin. It wasn't exactly the most intimidating approach. Still, given the hostile atmosphere, Allegri was wise to lull them into submission with carefully orchestrated passing networks rather than an all-out blitz.
With Roma taking a similar path, this match wasn't necessarily appointment viewing. Through the opening 15 minutes, Roma was held shot-less while Juventus could muster only two attempts, one of which was off target.
The Giallorossi's first attempt came in the 16th minute. With Roma finally enjoying some useful possession, they produced their best sequence of the match; a three or four-touch maneuver down the right flank. With Dybala sprung into space by de facto overlap, La Joya cut in from the flank and dragged at least four defenders with him across the 18-yard box but couldn't find enough space to get a clean look on the ball, firing a speculative effort on goal that was quickly thwarted by the Juve backline.
Roma came close several minutes later when Spinazzola got loose down the left, putting him almost one-on-one with Wojciech Szczesny. Rather than taking the shot, Spinazzola squared the ball to the middle of the box, only to see Dybala overrun the ball by a fraction of a second, leaving another chance wasted.
Dybala would threaten again in the 27th minute after a frenzied approach from Roma. With Spinazzola controlling the ball down the left flank and multiple options around the 18-yard box, the conditions seemed perfect for the evening's first goal. After a few touches in the attacking area, the ball reached Dybala, who whipped a stinging effort at Szczesny from 20 yards out, forcing the former Roma keeper into a spectacular stretched save.
With both sides coming up short, the match crept past the half-hour mark with little action to speak of, as both sides seemed more focused on maintaining possession than taking any genuine risks going forward.
The match finally came to life in the waning moments of the first half...for Juventus. In the 44th minute, the Old Lady nearly broke the deadlock after Danilo floated a ball to Adrien Rabiot at the back right post. Rabiot had the defense beat but couldn't get enough English on the ball to beat Patricio, who made a kick save, redirecting the ball off the post and out of harm's way.
And that was all she wrote for a first half that saw only seven combined attempts on goal.
While Mourinho stood pat to begin the new half, Allegri made a defensive change, swapping out Alex Sandro for veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci, a rare sight of the former Juve mainstay. Juventus would carve a few half chances out of thin air early in the half, with Filip Kostic playing the role of playmaker, threading multiple balls into the box to begin the second half, putting Roma on notice.
Juventus continued to flash their new-found confidence, this time with Angel Di Maria playing the role of creator, whipping a low out-swinging cross into the box. Fortunately for Roma, no one in a black and white shirt was waiting at the far left post, turning a gimme goal into a chance wasted.
With Juve ratcheting up the pressure, Mourinho was prepping to respond with Tammy Abraham, but Roma broke the deadlock in the most unexpected way.
Gianluca Mancini: 53rd Minute (Roma 1, Juventus 0)
Gianluca Mancini unleashes a rocket to give Roma the lead. pic.twitter.com/cs3i3GTBuD— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 5, 2023
While Mourinho was busy scheming and plotting with Abraham near the Roma dugout, Gianluca Mancini brought down the house with one of the most unexpected and jaw-dropping goals we've seen during the Mourinho era. After receiving the ball from Cristante in the right channel, Mancini settled it before rifling a shot from 20 yards out, burying it low and away at the far post, leaving Szczesny with no chance. What. A. Hit!
Not content with a one-goal lead, Roma pressed ahead and nearly found a second goal moments later. With Pellegrini controlling the center channel and barreling toward the edge of the 18-yard box, Spinazzola soon burst through left, calling for a pass from his captain. While Pellegrini waited a moment too long, he nevertheless setup Spinazzola in the area, but that fraction of a second gave the defense enough time to close out Spinazzola, turning a would-be second goal into a moment of anguish for the 60,000 fans in the stands.
Mourinho would finally go to the bench in the 63rd minute, bringing off Nicola Zalewski in favor of Rick Karsdorp, and not a second too soon as, moments earlier, Zalewski nearly coughed up a goal with an errant header back to Patricio, one that would have set up Dusan Vlahovic for a likely equalizer were it not for the Portuguese keeper's quick response.
The Special One would go to the bench again in the 73rd minute, finally bringing Tammy Abraham into the fray (and Edoardo Bove), giving the Giallorossi another target to secure the victory in the final quarter of an hour. And Tammy was thrown into the thick of it straight away after Spinazzola pulled off a clever drag-and-go move past Cuadrado down the left flank, playing Tammy into the box only to see the ball turned away by the defense.
Roma kept the pressure on as the match moved past the 75-minute mark, threatening from a corner kick and in the run of play, with Chris Smalling coming close to steering a far post header past Szczesny.
Di Maria would threaten to level the match with a stinging left-footed effort, forcing Patricio into a stretched save at the far right post, keeping Roma's hopes alive. Still, Juventus were creeping up the pitch, little by little. The former Real Madrid man would have another pop on goal on an 81st-minute free kick, only to be thwarted by Roma's wall.
Leandro Paredes would whip the ensuing free kick towards the near post—nearly scoring directly from the corner—only to be denied by Mancini's glancing header, which actually struck the post, caroming back into the 18-yard box.
Mourinho's final swap would see Pellegrini make way for Andrea Belotti in the 86th minute, giving Roma another hard-running player to close out this match. Allegri would respond with a late Moise Kean appearance as Juve chased a late equalizer.
But it would be a brief appearance for Kean, who was given a straight red almost immediately for kicking Mancini in the back of the leg after a tussle/tackle. Kean lasted all of 44 seconds before being sent off—only in Italy, right?
Thanks to a flurry of substitutions and a few minor knocks, the officials tacked on seven additional minutes to this match, giving extra weight to Roma's one-man advantage. With the Old Lady manically chasing an equalizer and Roma equally crazed in their defense, the final moments of this match were intense, especially when Juve fired a last-ditch effort at Patricio in the waning moments, nearly squeezing a shot under his gloves.
Ultimately, Roma held firm and secured three critical points as they chased down Italy's final Champions League place.
I'm not sure we should have expected any different from a match that featured Max Allegri and José Mourinho on the sidelines. But in a fixture featuring two clubs cautiously throwing jabs at one another, carefully picking and choosing their moments to strike while not opening themselves up for counter-attacks, Roma did what you must do in fixtures like this: maintain your composure and finish your chances.
And really, it's as simple as that. Roma kept their wits about them and converted on their best chance, while Juve did not. From near misses, shots striking the woodwork, and Kean getting sent off before breaking a sweat, Juventus had a rare off night, lacking composure and quality when and where it mattered most.
Roma returns to Europa League action as they face Real Sociedad on Thursday in the first leg of the Round of 16.
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