An early Christmas present is on the way for football fans as Juventus face Roma on the 23rd of December in a 2nd vs 4th match-up. Juventus are in a good run of form, while Roma have stuttered somewhat in recent weeks.
Massimiliano Allegri has seemingly fixed the defensive issues which plagued his Juventus side earlier in the year. The Bianconeri have gone 7 consecutive games without conceding, including matches against Barcelona and Napoli, who are known for their attacking prowess. Medhi Benatia deserves credit for his outstanding form recently in defence. The performances have been steadily improving and the team is maintaining their position in the top four.
Paulo Dybala’s revival midweek against Genoa was welcomed by the fans as well after a poor run of form. After beating Napoli and drawing with Inter, Juve will look to take points from another rival in the title race on Saturday.
Eusebio Di Francesco had a great start in his first season at Roma. His Giallorossi topped the Champions League “Group of Death” and Roma are in the top four with a game in hand. Yet fans are concerned. Recent performances against Genoa and Chievo have resulted in points being unexpectedly dropped and Torino eliminated them from the Coppa Italia Round of 16.
This match against Juventus could be key come the end of the season, seeing as few points seperate the leaders. Every point is vital to stay in the race. The talent is there for Roma, so it’s most likely a case of bad form. What’s important is to get out of it as soon as possible.
Around this time last year the sides met in Turin. The score finished at 1-0 in Juve’s favour. Gonzalo Higuain proved to be the difference. Higuain already has 12 goals this season, and could prove to be the difference again. In the return fixture, Roma ran out 3-1 winners with Daniele De Rossi, Stephan El Shaarawy and Radja Nainggolan bagging the goals. Nainggolan especially has cemented his position as a world class midfielder of late.
Since the 2010/11 Serie A season, Juve have won 8 times and Roma only 3 times. There’s also been 3 draws in that time.
JUVENTUS’ KEY MAN: MIRALEM PJANIC
Miralem Pjanic, the ex-Roma man, is the player that keeps this Juve side ticking. Whenever he’s absent, the Bianconeri machine stops running smoothly. In recent outings he’s been tasked with collecting the ball from the defence and transitioning the team into the attacking phase. His array of passes are indispensable whether they provide for Higuain in the centre or for one of the wide players. His calm presence on the ball helps set the tempo for the entire team. When he’s on form, like we saw against Bologna where he grabbed a goal and an assist, he’s unplayable.
His terrific passing ability has allowed him to deliver 6 assists in all competitions so far but perhaps his most impressive skill is his free kick accuracy. With 14, he has the 7th highest free kick total in Serie A history, not a feat to be scoffed at. Any free kick within 25m is immediately a threat with him standing over the ball. He left Roma on bad terms, so emotions will be high in this match-up. Could they affect the Bosnian?
It will be up to his old friends from the capital to press him and not allow him to settle into his game. When Pjanic is afforded time and space he can punish teams.
ROMA’S KEY MAN: ALEKSANDAR KOLAROV
Kolarov is a player many thought was finished at the highest level when he left Manchester City for the lowly sum of €5 million. Instead, the Serbian has proved the doubters wrong. This season he’s played a pivotal role for the Giallorossi both in defence and attack. He scored the only goal in wins over Atalanta and Torino, single-handedly gaining 6 points for his side. He’s also provided 3 league assists thus far. Like Pjanic, he can terrorize teams with his free kicks and crosses. His ability to set up his teammates is vital for Roma. It’s especially important when Edin Dzeko, who thrives off good service, starts.
Defensively, his strength and height are important in stopping dangerous set-plays and crosses from the flanks. His experience will be helpful in leading the back-line and cutting out the danger Juve pose out wide. Juan Cuadrado, Federico Bernardeschi or Douglas Costa could be playing down his flank and that will be a must-win battle in Di Francesco’s eyes. Nevertheless Kolarov has shown he can be trusted with this responsibility.
Even though he played for Roma’s arch-rivals Lazio in the past, Kolarov has had no trouble winning over the fans with his consistently great performances.
Roma will have to be at their very best to win on Saturday. Juve’s defence has been fantastic as of late and will be extremely difficult to break down. Di Francesco will hope to have his team supply Dzeko in the danger areas and let him work his magic from inside the box.
Juve on the other hand will be the more confident of the sides. Allegri’s team have gained 4/6 points against Napoli and Inter, the other two leaders, while Roma managed none. The key for the Bianconeri will be to get the attack to click, which means Dybala maintaining his midweek form.
Expect this to be a tense, exciting, edge-of-your-seat affair, but be prepared for it to finish as 1-0 or even 0-0. It could take just one moment of brilliance from either side to steal the points.
For the home side Juve, Benedikt Howedes is the only player that will definitely miss out with injury. However, Gianluigi Buffon, Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic could all miss out with day-to-day issues. Allegri has experimented between 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 in the past months, but Juve have really hit their stride with a 3 man midfield, so the 4-3-3 will be the forecasted formation.
Szczesny; Asamoah, Chiellini, Benatia, De Sciglio; Matuidi, Khedira, Pjanic; Costa, Higuain, Dybala.
Roma too have only one long term injury, with Rick Karsdorp a certain absence. Gregoire Defrel is doubtful with a knee injury but that shouldn’t impact Di Francesco’s plans too much. Roma will almost certainly play with a 4-3-3 as they have done all season.
Alisson; Kolarov, Fazio, Manolas, Florenzi; Nainggolan, Strootman, De Rossi; Perotti, Dzeko, El Shaarawy.