After Tuesday’s superb win, Juventus return to the daily grind of league play but – rather than struggling to raise their game for a lesser opponent – Antonio Conte’s men will need little motivation to raise themselves for a trip to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. Awaiting the Bianconeri in the capital will be a wounded Roma side still hurting from Zdenek Zeman’s departure and the unrest it caused.
The two teams come in to this encounter in very different circumstances; Juve riding high thanks to a consummate European away performance in Glasgow while the Giallorossi have had a week to mull over last weekend’s 3-1 loss to Sampdoria. The sacking of everyone’s least favourite Czech has yet to lead to any improvement in the side but they, like the Bianconeri will need no pushing or cajoling to put on a better display in this clash.
In the six most recent fixtures between the two, Roma have won just once, a 2-0 Serie A victory in April 2011 with a single draw later that same year. The other four have all seen the Old Lady come out on top and over those games she has outscored the Giallorossi by fourteen goals to four, highlighting a defensive frailty which has characterised Roma for almost as long as anyone can remember. Defensive blackouts which began under Luciano Spalletti continue to this day, although it is still something of a surprise to see that only Pescara have conceded more goals than the 45 to hit their net this term.
This match will however feature Serie A’s two best attacks, so long as we allow the three goals awarded to Roma by the league for the forfeited match away to Cagliari. Those two facts are somewhat typical of a Zeman-led team and it remains to be seen what identity Saturday’s opponents will adopt under the leadership of former assistant Aurelio Andreazzoli.
With Conte free to return to the bench following his post-Genoa ban, it will be a tough ask of the new coach but – with his team resting while Juventus were all but sealing their place in the Champions League Quarter Finals – the home side will seek to use that advantage.
Andreazzoli has been left with no end of problems to overcome following his appointment as temporary coach. He has Maarten Stekelenburg, the Netherlands international goalkeeper, completely shorn of confidence after Zeman inexplicably chose to drop him and almost sell him on the cheap to Premier League side Fulham. He has Daniele De Rossi back in the side after the equally baffling decision to not field Roma’s best and highest paid player because he somehow didn’t fit the preferred midfield configuration of the now departed coach.
As if that was not enough he has Pablo Osvaldo, the club’s best striker perhaps since Gabriel Batistuta left the club, unhappy and being criticised by supporters for numerous minor points. Somehow, from this dysfunctional mess, the 59 year old – in his first major coaching role – is expected to salvage a team and drag them into the European places.
What he does have is Francesco Totti. The Captain is in his best form of recent years with eight goals and eight assists to his name, playing some remarkable football at the age of 36. Alongside him in attack, Zeman must be given credit for the superb season Erik Lamela is enjoying. Eleven goals and two assists already recorded, the Argentinean star has been almost as effective as the older man and, with Osvaldo they boast a hugely effective trio of attacks.
However, the latter will miss this game through injury and is joined on the sidelines by Mattia Destro which means were are likely to see the 4-2-3-1 formation deployed last week once again here. It is a shape many at the club are already familiar with and allows Roma to get as many of their better players as possible on the field together.
As much as Juve travel to Rome boosted by the dominant scoreline posted in midweek, they will perhaps be even more boosted by a number of returns. Kwadwo Asamoah rejoined the squad in Scotland with Conte not making the same mistake as Neil Lennon in fielding his Africa star immediately. He instead chose to rest the Ghanaian for this match up and, given the injuries suffered by both Federico Peluso and Paolo De Ceglie, it could not be more timely.
Leo Bonucci will, like Conte, be back from his two game stop for attacking the referee in Genoa, further bolstering Serie A’s best defence. Peluso joins the hero of Park Head Claudio Marchisio in missing this match following bookings last weekend, the latter of which means Paul Pogba is likely to feature in midfield once more. His freshness and work rate will be sorely needed against what is now an impressive looking Giallorossi duo while Andrea Pirlo, freed of the close attention paid to him by Scott Brown, will once again look to dominate proceedings.
We can almost certainly expect a return to the possession orientated football that has become the hallmark of Conte’s Juventus while hoping that Alessandro Matri – now with six goals in his last six games – can continue his impressive scoring streak. Martin Caceres should also retain his place after a superb display against Celtic.
Roma have continually proven to be poor in the air this season and that is one area the Bianconeri should look to dominate, meaning corners should be about more than Stephan Lichtsteiner’s best impression of Rick Flair. Woooo!
With Napoli pressing Juventus hard in the league and the gap currently just five points, it will be another big weekend in the Scudetto race. As always with these meetings, it will be tough and the team will need to be at their best if they are to take another three points back to Turin. Yet as ever, winning on a Saturday night makes Sunday’s Serie A games so much more enjoyable for Juventini everywhere so get your TeamEats cacio e pepe eaten, settle down and enjoy the game!