Roma defeat a tired Juventus

Posted by Mina Rzouki

There's nothing like the arrival of the Italian Champions in the Stadio Olimpico to eradicate tensions and unite an underachieving squad. When Juventus came to Rome this week, they were not sure what to expect. Whilst Zdenek Zeman relied on fast pace and attacking football, his inability to encourage discipline suited the Old Lady's game. However, under Aurelio Andreazzoli, Roma have not only learned to sacrifice but exploited every ounce of their energy to produce the sort of balanced display that defeated Juventus 1-0.

The Bianconeri started poorly and never seemed to really recover. Suffering from lethargy, the relentless running and fast-paced football usually associated with the side was nowhere to be seen on the night. Passes were often misplaced, touches were too heavy, the midfield was caught in a battle it could not win, while Alessandro Matri was continuously found offside.

Roma on the other hand were majestic. Playing only the second game under their interim coach, they understood and neutralised the Juventus style perfectly. Pressing aggressively high up the pitch to win the ball back in advantageous positions, even the attackers were happy to contribute defensively. Both Francesco Totti and Erik Lamela marked Andrea Pirlo in a manner that hindered the playmaker and provoked several poor passes. A poor challenge from Totti in the first half practically nullified the Juve’s player's impact thereafter.

Knowing that the Bianconeri plan was to stretch the Roma backline, the home side looked comfortable defensively in their new 3-4-2-1 formation. With players rushing back to defend when the Giallorossi lost possession, three at the back often turned into five while all Juve players in wide areas often saw their movements tracked by two Roma players.

Juventus simply couldn’t penetrate and without Arturo Vidal making necessary forward runs from midfield and Kwadwo Asamoah struggling to get through on the left flank, Juve looked impotent. Every effort to cross the ball into the box by the Bianconeri was appropriately shut down by a Roma side that also excelled in neutralising the Old Lady’s tremendous midfield.

Without the ability to run relentlessly or play at a high tempo, Juve simply looked ordinary. Any effort put into winning back the ball resulted in little as possession was often quickly given away due to pressure applied by the opponent. The only real chance the Bianconeri had in the first half was from a Pirlo a free-kick. Unfortunately for him, Maarten Stekelenburg performed an excellent save to deny him.

Antonio Conte admitted that for a side that relies heavily on the sum of its parts to win, the lack of individual quality sees them capable of failure at certain hurdles. The Giallorossi had captain Totti to depend on, a player who performed imperiously and dragged his side to success.

His sensational goal coupled with his dangerous passes, including the delicious one to Vasilis Torosidis, demonstrated the capability of a man that still looks a cut above the rest. Between his pressing, his vision and his inspirational leadership on the pitch, Juventus were unable to come back.
His goal did result in a slight reaction from a Juve squad that attempted to equalise. However, a Roma side willing to put in the work effectively halted every effort made to push forward by the Old Lady. Conte attempted to shake things up by throwing on Sebastian Giovinco and Nicolas Anelka but while the latter proved adequate in his link-up play, the former regularly lost his battles against his markers.

The second half produced a more open game, though the battle in midfield was not as much as a headline anymore. However, Roma’s growing confidence coupled with Juve’s forced attempts to go forward resulted in lots of space on the pitch to effectively exploit. The Giallorossi now had more room to operate whilst Juventus’ attempts to turn to plan B, C and D in order to equalise were made in vain.

Needless to say, Juventus fell to another defeat after a Champions League game to leave fans wondering whether they really have the mental fortitude and strength in depth to compete in several competitions. Perhaps Conte ought to have rotated the squad more or made different substitutions but to point the finger at him would be naïve. One cannot blame the coach for the fatigue felt by his squad - especially after a perfect performance against Celtic that robbed them of both energy and mental strength.

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