"Siamo noi, siamo noi! I campioni dell'Italia siamo noi..."
For 14 minutes, this was one of the two things that went over and over again through my mind. The other one was the image of Andrea Barzagli and Simone Pepe running in wild celebrations to congratulate Carlos Tévez for his stunning free-kick goal. Probably one of the best quarters of an hour lived in the last months.
But then what all juventini dreaded, happened.
It is quite hard to explain how, after playing some great first 70 minutes — allowing Roma the possession of the ball, but at the same time, containing them and leaving no spaces for attacks — Juventus lost their cool, started making silly fouls and looked under much more threat against a 10-men-team, eventually conceding a cheap goal from a set piece. It looked like it was Juventus who had a man sent off and not the other way around.
It is a bit disappointing — not because the team didn’t win, but because of the careless manner the end of the game was treated. Whether there is a nine-point or a 12-point gap at the top of the table is probably an irrelevant discussion at the moment. Okay, there would be no way Juventus would lose the fourth consecutive Scudetto after gaining a double-digit advantage, but the current lead is not something to be thrown away either.
What really matters, however, is the psychological advantage. Even if it is just the beginning of March and all this Scudetto talk may sound absurd, winning against Roma at the Olimpico would just have been that final blow to their hopes of claiming a fourth Scudetto. Not in a row for them, but rather... er, fourth in Roma’s history.
Max Allegri needs to work his magic again, as he has already done with great effect in several occasions in the past, and make sure players stay focused for the reminder of the season. Getting back to the winning ways away from home might help as well. There is also the first leg of the semi-final in Coppa Italia and the most important match of the season so far, the meeting with Dortmund on the Signal Iduna Park in the Champions League.
There is so much coming on in the space of two weeks that it is almost frightening to think of — especially with the injury problems at the moment. That’s why the available players need to be in the right set of mind and Allegri the man to make sure this happens. Drifting off during matches like Juventus did in the last part against Roma, even for just 10 minutes, could prove more costly than ever.
It could also cause certain people, who for some reasons keep seeing images of Andrea Barzagli and Simone Pepe celebrating, regain consciousness and stop dreaming with the eyes wide open — and this is most distressing, indeed.
Juventus played the perfect game for the first 70 minutes, allowing Roma the possession of the ball. They created next to nothing, however, as their attacks were too slow and predictable, while the midfield was simply bossed by the bianconero trio.
In a first half with no shots on goal and a couple of teams appearing to be taunting each other, Juventus happily gave away possession, waiting to hit on the counter. It was them who had the first notable action of the game, as Roberto Pereyra found Stephen Lichtsteiner unmarked on the right side and the Swiss delivered a low cross that was cleared by the defence. The ball reached Arturo Vidal, but his shot was poor and wide off the goal.
Lichsteiner and Pereyra were, incidentally, Juventus’ best players in the first part of the game, alongside Leonardo Bonucci. The Argentine midfielder was at the heart of another potentially dangerous action in the 22nd minute when he found lots of space on the right wing and sent a low cross for the lurking Alvaro Morata, only for Kostas Manolas to deflect the ball inches wide of the post for a corner kick.
Another half-decent chance was wasted by Juve five minutes later. Arturo Vidal played Patrice Evra inside Roma’s box but the Frenchman’s first-time cross got too much spin on it, reaching none of the players waiting in the area.
The dull first half saw a final moment of action in the 43rd minute and the same Pereyra was the one to start it, after getting past Jose Holebas, who was waiting for referee Daniele Orsato to blow the whistle for a foul. No such whistle came though and Tévez received the ball just inside the box but his shot was slightly deflected and went behind for a corner kick.
The first chance of the second half belonged to Juventus as well. Pereyra – him again – recovered a ball just inside his own half and found Vidal on the left flank but his left-footed shot from outside the box narrowly missed the target.
Roma defender Vasilis Torosidis was sent off in the 62nd minute after he saw his second yellow card of the game for tripping Vidal, who almost got through on goal, outside the penalty area.
In the absence of Andrea Pirlo, Tévez stepped up to take the free-kick and he didn’t fail to deliver, giving Juventus the lead. The Argentine curled his effort brilliantly over the wall and into the net past a motionless Morgan De Sanctis, scoring his 15th goal of the Serie A campaign.
Pereyra and Tévez both had half-chances to extend Juventus’ lead in the following minutes but it was Roma who started to press more, even though they were playing with 10 men. Gianluigi Buffon was called into action for the first time in the game in the 72 minute. Alessandro Florenzi delivered a great cross from a free-kick and Manolas leaped over the defenders to send a header near the post, pushed behind for a corner by Buffon.
Juventus made several silly fouls in their own half and following one of these set pieces, Roma managed to equalise in the 78th minute. Florenzi took another free-kick from the right side of Juve’s box and found Seydou Keita at the far post, who beat Martin Caceres to the ball and sending his header into the net, despite Claudio Marchisio’s efforts to keep the ball out.
There was a late surge from Roma who were pushing for a winner, but they couldn’t create another decent opportunity to score and the game ended in a stalemate, ensuring Juventus maintain the 9-point at the top of the table.
Buffon: 6 Had literally nothing to do in the first hour of the game, but his positioning at the goal was a bit weird.
Lichtsteiner: 6 The Swiss had a better performance than in many of his games this season, especially in the first half when he bossed the right flank. Decent contributions in attack and managed to contain Gervinho when needed
Caceres: 6 Was at fault for losing Keita at the goal, but worked well with Lichtsteiner to keep Gervinho quiet and had a steady game overall
Bonucci: 6.5 By far the best Juventus’ defender. Especially good in first half, clearing a lot of balls and winning all his aerial duels. Also delivered some good long balls that were welcomed in Pirlo’s absence
Chiellini: 5.5 Poor performance from the Italian, who seemed rather shaky lately for Juventus. Committed a silly foul just outside his box that lead to Roma’s goal
Evra: 6 Decent game from the Frenchman, although he wasn’t very involved in the game. Booked for a late tackle on Torosidis in the first half and had to take extra care from then
Vidal: 6.5 Won the free-kick from which Tévez scored and was very lively in midfield in the second half – definitely better that what she showed often this season
Marchisio: 7 Great performance from Il Principino, who once again proved he can easily fulfil Pirlo’s role. Good vision and ball distribution, topped with great work in defending
Pereyra: 7 Juventus’ most active and dangerous player – worked tirelessly in midfield, starting almost all the attacking moves. Most welcomed performance, giving the fact Pirlo is out for at least two weeks.
Tévez: 7 Wasn’t as involved as usual in attack but, as top players usually do when they have the quiet game, managed to make his mark when it mattered the most, scoring a fantastic free-kick.
Morata: 5.5 After some brilliant recent performances, the Spaniard was set to have that one-off. Was kept very quiet by Manolas and rarely linked-up with Tévez or any of the midfielders
Coman: 6 Replaced Morata in the 83rd minute and would have had a good opportunity, had he paid more attention at his positioning when he received a ball from Tévez, as he ran offside
Padoin: N/A Replaced Lichtsteiner in the stoppage time
Allegri: 6.5 Got his work done nicely, as Juventus had little problems in containing Roma for most of the game and would have even gotten away with the three points if it wasn’t for the late slump.
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