The two-week Christmas break, as well as the fact that this was a top-of-the-table-clash, made this one of the most highly anticipated domestic games for Juve in recent times. Prior to the game a lot was said — particularly in the Roma camp — but in the end it was Juve who did the talking on the pitch.
Before I go any further, this wasn’t the greatest ever performance from Antonio Conte’s Juventus. In fact, Roma were very impressive for long periods in the first half. But when it mattered most, Juve rose to the occasion with some very solid defensive work and some clever play and well worked set pieces.
It was unusual to see Juve start so deep for this game, but Conte had clearly done his homework on Rudi Garcia’s Roma side, which has been lethal on the counter attack this year. We got a glimpse of that threat early on when Leonardo Bonucci was dispossessed in midfield and Roma broke with a four on three situation before Giorgio Chiellini and Gigi Buffon combined to deny Adem Ljalic.
Juve really only managed to maintain any significant spell of possession in the first half when Miralem Pjanic went off for treatment on the sideline. This spell gave the home side some confidence and shortly afterwards a goal made in South America gave the Bianconeri the lead, as Carlos Tevez cleverly awaited Arturo Vidal’s run before sliding a perfectly awaited pass for the Chilean to convert past Morgan De Sanctis at the near post. This was Vidal’s eighth Serie A goal of the season and 13th overall for Juve, demonstrating his importance to Conte’s side. Going behind was a real sucker punch to Roma who had started the game so well. Almost as if Juve were playing cat and mouse with them.
Roma did respond quite well to going behind with some nice combination passing but with Juve’s wingbacks sitting so deep they found it very difficult to penetrate what was essentially a five man defence. When Juve did have possession , Andrea Pirlo, the man who is usually at the heart of everything was particularly quiet. This was mainly due to close attention from both Francesco Totti and Pjanic, not to mention it was his first game back from injury.
As the Roma pressing waned towards the end of the first half Pirlo had more time on the ball and Juve started to tick. Llorente went close with a shot from distance and there were some further raids into the Roma box but it remained 1-0 at the end of the first half.
The second half had barely started in earnest before Juve scored that killer second goal. Pirlo provided the perfect free kick for an unmarked Bonucci to slot home his second Serie A goal of the season. A Roma comeback would now require something very special. Garcia changed from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 and made various substitutions, but to no avail.
Juve had to make a substitution of their own as Tevez went down with cramp. Mirko Vucinic entered the fray and it was the Montenegrin who converted the third and final goal of the day from the spot following a handball from Leandro Castan which saw him dismissed.
Prior to this, Daniele De Rossi had also seen red for a ridiculous challenge on his Azzurri teammate Chiellini following a marauding run from the defender down the left side of the pitch. That moment of madness from De Rossi essentially ended the game as a contest and Conte introduced Claudio Marchisio and Fabio Quagliarella for Vidal and Fernando Llorente respectively. Perhaps the only blight on the day came in the awarding of a yellow card to Andrea Barzagli, who as a result will miss the Cagliari game.
When that is the only downside of a game against your main rival for lo Scudetto, you know you’ve had a good day at the office. This was Juve’s 10th successive Serie A win since the Fiorentina defeat and credit must go to Conte for this result as his tactics suited the game perfectly. Although not a vintage performance from Juve, it was enough to send out a signal to its rivals that it will take a lot to stop them from attaining their third successive title.
In the 60th minute came a moment that for me encapsulated this Juve performance. It wasn’t an audacious flick or howitzer of a shot. The highly rated Roma midfielder Strootman had possession of the ball and Vidal overpowered him with a tackle. Juve broke quickly to get a corner as Vidal chased down Paul Pogba’s over the top ball. There was nothing spectacular about this sequence of play but after winning the corner the camera broke to Vidal as he recognized the fans applause. This was the edge Conte’s side had over Roma: Solid defensive work and the stronger desire to win. A performance of Champions.
Buffon: 6.5 - Despite Roma having the majority of possession the Juve keeper did not have a very busy day but when called upon was up to the task.
Barzagli: 6.5 - A solid performance as usual in what was an unusually defensive approach from Juve.
Bonucci: 7.0 - Performed well as the central man in the three-man defense. Dispossessed early in the first half which led to a 4 on 3 situation, but his teammates covered the situation .Scored the all-important second goal at a crucial point in the game.
Chiellini: 7.0 - An excellent performance defensively from the big man. Won a lot of 1 v. 1 battles and his driving run in the second half led to the sending off of De Rossi which essentially ended the game as a contest.
Lichtsteiner: 6.5 - Like Asamoah, he was somewhat restricted by the early defensive tactics. The second half saw more of the maurading runs that we are used to but did not have a huge impact on the game.
Vidal: 7.5 - An all action display from the Chilean as is now the norm. Encapsulates everything that is good about this Juve side. Slipped in behind the Roma defence for the opener.
Pirlo: 6.5- After a slow start due to close attention from Totti and Pjanic the maestro grew into the game. Provided the perfect assist for Bonucci’s goal which had the look of a training ground move.
Pogba: 6.5 - Not one of the Frenchman’s better games in Juve shirt but did show flashes of his immense talent at times.
Asamoah: 6.5 - Was positioned unusually deep for most of the game as part of Conte’s tactics and was attacked regularly in the first half but emerged unscathed due to good cover from his teammates.
Tevez: 7.0 - Very clever assist for the opener and worked tirelessy as ever. Was marked very closely by Caston but provided the guile when it mattered.
Llorente: 6.5 - A quietly effective performance. Had to perform a lot of defensive work and as a result of tactics his impact offensively was limited.
Vucinic: 6.0 Apart from the converted penalty and trolling of Roma with that celebration, he didn't have the opportunity to do much more.
Conte: 7.5 – Mister got his tactics spot on. Juve sat back and soaked up the Roma pressure early on before pouncing with the Vidal goal. Garcia’s side have been excellent on the counter attack this season and Conte’s tactics did not allow that to happen.