Juventus Stadium, Turin
Sunday 5th Oct, 2014
A blockbuster top of the table clash sees Juventus host title rivals AS Roma on Sunday evening at the Juventus stadium in Turin. Still it is very early in the season and the outcome of this game won’t decide the fate of the Scudetto but sparks are set to fly as Italy’s finest come to blows. Early signs suggest that this will be a two horse title race like last season. Both the sides have won 5 games apiece; Juventus have scored one goal more than Roma while Roma have conceded one against Parma. Juventus have looked solid at the back while Roma look devastating upfront. They demolished CSKA Moscow in the Champions League and although the clinical finishes are sometimes missing in league games yet the statistics would show they have more or less dominated all the 5 games so far.
Juventus on the other hand have responded to critics in the perfect manner who thought Antonio Conte’s departure would decimate the squad. 5 games played, 5 won, 10 goals scored and none conceded- quite commendable to say the least. They look confident on the ball averaging more than 65% of the possession, creating chances at will while they have also dispatched teams who have sat back deep to defend – a situation which was not addressed properly under Antonio Conte. This team is built on the foundations laid by Conte but new head coach Massimilliano Allegri deserves credit as well. He has not radically changed the system but the minor tweaks here and there have worked perfectly so far. Claudio Marchisio and Angelo Ogbonna in particular have looked very impressive till now.
Both the sides were in midweek action as Juventus and Roma faced tricky away trips to Madrid and Manchester respectively. Juventus were uninspiring in their 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid while Roma earned a credible 1-1 draw against the English champions.
Team news and tactical brief
Massimilliano Allegri welcomed back Martin Caceres midweek after his absence due to a muscle sprain against Milan but he dislocated his shoulder at the game against Atletico Madrid and is a major doubt for the clash against Roma. Angelo Ogbonna deputized admirably in his absence inspite of being played out of position which shows how well the defensive organization is set.If the Uruguayan does not recover in time, then Ogbonna is expected to start in his place. In goal Gianluigi Buffon made a decisive impact away at Bergamo when he saved a German Denis penalty in a crucial juncture of the game. Once again he showed his class when called upon even though he barely had a save to make before that. Against Roma, he should expect a much busier evening with this being a major test of the so far impregnable Juventus backline. Martin Caceres will find himself in the right of the three man defence with the impressive Leonardo Bonucci in the middle. Giorgio Chiellini looked a bit shaky against Atalanta but he tends to raise his game in these occasions and he would be expected to act as a leader from the back. Roma will play without a reference point upfront so the back three must keep an eye on the clever runs made by the Roma forwards drifting in from the flanks and also behind the backline. Kwado Asmoah’s forward ventures might be limited on Sunday as his primary job would be to curb the attacking threats of Maicon and Gervinho down the flanks. Stephan Lichtsteiner would fancy his chances up against the inexperienced Greek full-back Jose Holebas but he too will have to prioritize his defensive duties to keep the dangerous Juan Iturbe in check.
One subplot in this massive clash is the fascinating battle between two of the best midfields in Europe. Andrea Pirlo, as medical staff of Juventus reported, is available but Allegri would be continuing with Claudio Marchisio in the regista position. Atalanta devised a plan to stifle this system by deploying Richmond Boakye to mark Marchisio and they did manage to disrupt the flow of passing. Unlike the game against Milan, Marchisio’s influence was limited. Roma would have a similar plan to unsettle the Juventus midfield. Arturo Vidal is still not 100 percent fit which is quite visible from his performances on the field. Still he managed to get 75 minutes last Saturday but was fairly quiet against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. Vidal has netted against Roma in this fixture in the last three years and he will most definitely try to keep that run going. Paul Pogba has displayed his physical presence so far this season and has kept the passes short and simple in the middle. Fans are yet to witness his trademark long rangers but it seems he has brought more control in his passing while his penetrating runs from midfield will look to open up the Roma defence. Juventus are slightly ahead of Roma in this department as Rudi Garcia’s men still have some injury concerns in midfield. Fernando Llorente has not scored in the league but his hold-up play with his back to goal is a vital element in this module. He is functioning as a target-man with Carlos Tevez playing behind him. Speaking of Tevez, the Argentine has been on fire this season so far. This is the type of game where Tevez usually raises his game one notch higher. Roma know who the danger-man is in this tie and Rudi Garcia will have to devise a plan to limit his threats in front of goal. Alvaro Morata who opened his account as a Juventus player last Saturday has an injury and will most likely miss this game.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2): Buffon(GK); Chiellini, Bonucci, Caceres; Lichtsteiner, Pogba, Vidal, Marchisio, Asamoah; Tevez, Llorente
Rudi Garcia has really done an admirable job since taking over at Roma and has cemented himself as one of Europe’s finest tacticians. He has rejuvenated the Gillarossi and their supporters are genuinely confident that this is the year when they finally break their long awaited Scudetto drought. Roma barely put a foot wrong last season and that is continuing in this new campaign as well. They had a solid foundation at the back which many thought would be shaken after the transfer of Mehdi Benatia to Bayern Munich. But credit to Rudi Garcia who has shown that it is the system that matters and not the individual. Benatia’s partner in defence Leandro Castan is out injured from the start of the season yet the new center-back pair of Kostas Manolas and Davide Astori have fitted seamlessly it seems. Astori himself is injured now but French international Mapou Yanga-Mbwia has done just fine in his place. They have conceded just one goal in the league so far and have rarely looked uncomfortable at the back. In goal, Morgan De Sanctis, who missed the midweek game against Manchester City, will recover in time to make a comeback. Maicon will be bundles of energy down the right flank once again and his partnership with Gervinho is likely to be a decisive factor in this game. On the left, Ashley Cole will retain his place after a fine display against Manchester City on Wednesday.
Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman miss out through injuries but again credit must be given to Rudi Garcia whose midfield is still functioning with aplomb inspite of the absences. Radja Nainggolan deserves a special mention here for his brilliant start to the season so far. He is the driving force in the middle of the park, winning tackles, scoring goals- the all action midfielder is a real livewire for Rudi Garcia’s team. He enjoys these clashes against Juventus and will be eager to make his mark once again on Sunday. Seydou Keita will slot in the role of De Rossi while Francesco Totti will operate a little from the deep as he has done this season. Totti is almost playing as a regista sometimes this season which enables him to utilize his magnificent vision to pick out passes for the wingers or fullbacks down the flanks. Miralem Pjanic has not influenced the flow of games to the same extent he was doing last season till now but as we saw against Parma, he is capable of producing a magic moment out of nowhere. Juan Manuel Iturbe returned after his thigh injury midweek but he is expected to start from the beginning here. It is an open secret that Juventus were very eager to secure his services at the beginning of this season but eventually he joined Roma. He can expect a hostile reception in the stadium tomorrow. Gervinho has been sensational so far this season and at times he has been just unplayable. A lot depends on how this man drives the show and if he is allowed room to work his magic, Juventus will be in for a very long night. The Ivorian has already dealt a knockout blow previously to Juventus in the Coppa Italia last season and he will hope to do something similar this time around as well. Alessandro Florenzi, Adem Ljajic and Mattia Destro have all made telling contributions so far this season and they represent pretty decent options for Garcia on the bench if he feels the need to change the system.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): De Sanctis(GK); Maicon, Manolas, Mbwia, Cole; Pjanic, Nainggolan, Keita; Iturbe, Totti, Gervinho
Players to Watch Out For
Carlos Tevez (Juventus)
This man simply can’t stop scoring; 6 goals already this season. Apart from the goals, he is also the driving force of this team. When Claudio Marchisio was man-marked against Atalanta, it was Tevez who took up the mantle to drop deep and build the play. Tevez himself admitted that under Allegri he is given more license to roam compared to that of Conte’s module. And so far it has produced the goods for him and Juventus. Tevez is the danger-man and definitely the man to watch out for in this titanic tussle.
Just like Tevez, Gervinho has been quite simply breathtaking so far this season. An amazing sprinter with the ball combined with his dribbling skills makes him an impossible player to defend against. Last year Conte devised a plan to sit back and invite Roma to attack thus limiting the spaces for Gervinho to operate but this year surely Roma would be better prepared for this game. Gervinho has been the protagonist this season for Rudi Garcia’s side and this is the game where he will be looking to make an even greater contribution to help Roma achieve something significant.
Juventus 1–1 Roma
It is still early days in the season and no matter what happens in this game, it won’t be the title decider. Such high profile games are usually very tight and considering the strong defensive setup of both the teams a stalemate looks the most likely outcome. Juventus have a slight advantage in the middle of the park but they have been troubled in the past by teams having quality wingers and Roma certainly fit in that category. A tense affair will most likely see both these strong teams cancel each other out.
Blast From the Past
Juventus ran out comfortable 3-0 winners last time out in this fixture. A tight contest was settled in favor of the Bianconeri in the second half as Roma pressed the self-destruct button with their vice-captain De Rossi getting sent off after a lunging challenge on Giorgio Chiellini and Leandro Castan also receiving the marching orders after an inexplicable handball to deny a certain goal. Roma will need to keep their heads if they have any intentions of getting some points out of this trip.