Rarely has Roma missed points in their season-long chase of Juventus for the Scudetto, but this weekend was one of those times. Playing on Saturday night, it was Inter of all teams that held the Giallorossi to a 0-0 draw at their own stadium. Just the next day, the other title-contender Juventus had their own away match to a team from Milano that was suddenly a huge opportunity to extend an already audacious lead at the top.
So what do Conte and his 11-some warriors do at San Siro? They show up after a late Thursday night game in Turkey, play disorganized, uninspired football at times, allow Milan a few too many chances, but most importantly, strike twice when most hurtful to their opponents against the run of play to silence the Giuseppe Meazza and steal the 3 points.
In Italian football, the team that steps up against the big teams AND wins most of their games against the provinciali is a usual favorite for the title. Today, Juventus reminded us that champions are also the teams that win even when they don't play their best football.
Over Conte's tenure, Juventus have transformed from the defensive team that lacked quality strikers and played often-fruitless possession football, to a team with neck-raising, goosebump-giving starting duo in attack and an overall killer instinct for wins, points, and titles (at least in Italy).
An 11-point gap over Roma it is.
In preparation for the tightly scheduled derby, Conte smartly rested our deadly striking tandem of Tevez and Llorente in midweek. On Sunday, it paid off and then some when both strikers notched a goal for the 0-2 win.
Both teams lacked their best players. Balotelli was still nursing a shoulder injury while Arturo Vidal was out suspended. Both teams were coming off a great spell of recent form, with Juventus leading the pack in Serie A with 14 points in 6 games.
However, until Carlos Tevez put the game away with a splendid strike from outside the box on 70 minutes, Juventus' quality of play was hardly the storyline of the game.
It was Milan, in fact, that enjoyed a great first 44 minutes full of dominance in areas of possession, passing, shooting, and chances. Call them wasteful, or call Juventus (and especially Bonucci) scrappy in defense, but the scoreline stayed 0-0 for 44 suffering Juve minutes. And then, on a quick counter, a lovely team move and passing between Marchisio, Tevez, Lichtsteiner, and Llorente led to a demoralizing goal right at the stroke of halftime and the 0-1 lead.
In the second half, Conte adjusted defensively but Milan kept on pushing for a goal. There were no goal-line clearances this time as the closest the Rossoneri came to equalizing was a cross/shot by Taarabt and a wide header by Poli.
Soon enough, it was the Carlos Tevez show once more. Almost wearing those fateful red and black colors a few seasons ago (though Milan decided to keep Pato over buying Tevez), Carlitos found space outside the box and fired a deadly shot right under Abbiati's crossbar. With just 20 minutes left, Milan had possession, chances, and shots to show for, while Juve held a strong 0-2 lead. Game, set, match Juventus.
Buffon: 8 - Was absolutely fantastic all night, beating out Milan's shots and chances. My man of match along with about 70 of you (per Danny's poll). Still got it, no doubt. A great clean sheet.
Barzagli: 6.5 - Our whole defense had a very slow start to the game, Andrea included. Played a bit too deep on the entry passes to Kaka and Taarabt, but with Conte's guidance, improved in the second half and played a little higher up on them.
Bonucci: 7 - Man, speaking of a slow start, Leo left a lot of gaps open in the opening 20-some minutes. Eventually got his mojo back after the goal-line clearance and some good tackles and interceptions. In the second half he was a lot better and repeatedly cleared Milan's attacks in key moments. Having been the most consistent anchor on defense in the last month or so due to injures to Barzagli and Chiellini, he's kept on well to assure for some great recent clean sheets.
Caceres: 7 - Sacrificed a lot for the team, including a cut on his head. Was solid for the majority of the game and was in the right place at the right time, especially in the second half.
Lichtsteiner: 7.5 - He may not play as a true full back, but he is now the leading Serie A defender with 6 assists. Actually had a good first half and was always in support in attack, almost scoring off of Llorente's miss-timed shot and notching an assist on the Spaniard's goal.
Marchisio: 6.5 - Was almost invisible in the first half except for the run and pass to start the play for the leading goal. In the second half he was a lot more aggressive on both ends.
Pirlo: 6 - The only notable moments of the game were his bad tackle for his yellow card (and next game's suspension) and a late free kick that hit the woodwork. Milan's pressure for most of the game put him on the defensive more so than usual. He struggled to help cover for Pazzini who repeatedly slotted in behind him. Not his best game against his old team.
Pogba: 5.5 - I may be harsh on the youngster here, but he had a horrendous game. His touch was off, his positioning questionable, and kept committing little frustrating fouls. Conte knows he's due for a break, but he won't get it next week against Fiorentina with Pirlo suspended. A good rest should help him re-focus and get back to his early season form.
Asamoah: 6 - Was surprised he started and didn't really make a difference in any way. I actually barely saw him mentioned and his defending wasn't particularly outstanding either.
Tevez: 7.5 - Ladies and gentlemen, your current cappocanoniere in Serie A with 15 goals. Hit an absolute thunder*uck of a strike for his goal, and got the hockey assist on the first goal as well. A very spirited performance as usual, this guy is an amazing warrior every second he's on that pitch. Glad he's wearing bianconero.
Llorente: 7 - Saw a lot of pressure from Milan's defense on long balls and while mostly doing well, was nervous at times and played some errant first passes giving away possession. Still, had a great impact on the game and scored a crucial first goal.
Osvaldo: sv -
Giovinco: sv -
Conte: 6.5 - Despite the final scoreline, Conte wasn't ready for this game. Milan dominated for the majority of the game and gave our defense a lot of problems despite never scoring. Even after the halftime, Juventus didn't look like themselves for the most part. Seedorf takes the cake between the coaches on the day.