We sit here less than two days away from the first Juventus-Roma showdown of the season. You know this is true because the Italian press has been dominated by players from the both teams giving their respective thoughts on the game. Some say it’s not decisive, others say they want to rip the opposition’s throat out. (Okay, so that second one might not be all that true, but go with me here.)
There is much to like about this latest top-of-the-table matchup between the five-time defending Italian champions and one of the teams that people think are their closest competition. Two of Serie A’s top defenses will be facing one another. Two of Serie A’s most productive strikers will be going against one another. Former Roma midfielder and fan favorite Miralem Pjanic will be facing his old club for the first time this season.
See? A lot to like!
As has become tradition around these parts for the bigger games of the season, we enlisted the help of one of our SB Nation blog friends to give their side of the weekend’s Juventus game. This time it means we go over to the site that represents one half of the Italian capital, Chiesea Di Totti, and see what they have to say about their favorite team and what they think about facing Juventus just a few short days before Christmas arrives.
Enough of this rambling from yours truly. Let’s ask the man who runs the SBN Roma blog, Mr. Bren himself, some questions about his beloved Giallorossi.
BWRAO: Hello, Bren! Thank you for joining us on this wonderful December afternoon. Let’s get to it. Simple question first: How has Roma been able to be un-Roma-like in its rise to second in the Serie A table?
CDT: Well, perhaps you haven't been paying attention the past decade, if there's one thing Roma does well, it's second place! But in all seriousness, it started last spring when Luciano Spalletti was brought in to replace Rudi Garcia. I'm not exaggerating, but I think within three weeks, Spalletti used more formations than Garcia did in two plus years. His willingness to shape and mold his formation to both create and ride the hot hand--be it Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy last season or Edin Dzeko this year--has given the club more ways to win.
Roma is all about offense, and with Dzeko and Salah firing on all cylinders, the rest of the attack has sort of fallen into place, while the defense has kept afloat despite some horrific injuries.
BWRAO: What the hell has gotten into Edin Dzeko this season?
CDT: I honestly have no clue, maybe Miralem Pjanic was holding him back! It seems to simple to chalk it up to an increased familiarity with the league, but that may just be it. He was so horrifically bad last season, it seemed to snow ball to the point where he couldn't do the simplest things; not on a Rick Ankiel level, but his confidence was completely shot, you could see it in his body language. Getting off to a fast start seemed to help, and to speak to my first point, Spalletti has really built the entire ship around him, so the conditions for his success have been there from day one under Spalletti.
BWRAO: Roma's goal differential is almost as good as Juventus' this season. How much has solving the defensive issues of years prior played into Roma's success?
CDT: This is a tough question to answer. Going into the season, we pictured a quartet of Antonio Rüdiger, Kostas Manolas, Bruno Peres and Mario Rui, which would really only be exceeded by Juventus, though I'd argue Roma would have the edge on the flanks, but apart from Manolas, each of those names has missed significant time. But, and crazy as this might sound, Federico Fazio has been amazing for the club this year, he's been the perfect foil for Manolas. I think for much of the season, we've been waiting for the other shoe to drop, but they keep doing just enough to stay in matches, and the improved play from De Rossi and Strootman has certainly alleviated a bit of the pressure on the back four.
BWRAO: I'll turn it right back at you with what you asked me: What worries you most about Saturday's match?
CDT: Welp, I think it would have to be the fact that Pjanic and Higuaín seem to be rounding into form, though I cannot wait to see Higuaín and Manolas go toe-to-toe, and if De Rossi or Strootman knocked Pjanic on his ass, you wouldn't see to many tears in the Roma section, unless they were tears of laughter. But honestly, at the end of the day, facing the Old Lady at Juventus Stadium is reason enough for worry, but I think this is going to be a close one.
BWRAO: What has surprised you most about Roma this season?
CDT: On the positive side, Dzeko and the defense surviving the injuries. I won't rehash it because we already spoke about it, but had I woke up one late August day and Dzeko's head was on a spike outside the Olimpico, I wouldn't have been surprised. I honestly cannot recall a player pulling a 180 like this in my time covering Roma and the league as a whole. On the negative side, I'm a bit disappointed that Spalletti hasn't found more consistent minutes for El Shaarawy — he was so massive for us in the spring, its a bit disconcerting to see him on the bench, but again, that's a byproduct of Dzeko's resurgence, so there's not much we can do about that now.
BWRAO: The Dzeko, Salah, Perotti trio has scored all but seven of Roma's goals in Serie A this season. Are they almost too dependent on those three for offense or is it something that can continue to breed success?
CDT: Too dependent...yes and no. If you run up and down Roma's roster, there is no nominal attacking midfielder, so the heavy lifting has been done by Dzeko getting service up top or spreading the play out to Salah and letting him run; its not a recipe for long-term success, but it's working. There are other options, Totti and El Shaarawy for instance, but Salah, Dzeko and Senor Neck Tattoo have done such a bang up job, why mess with success?
BWRAO: Let's be honest here, how happy are you that Kevin Strootman's ban was overturned?
CDT: Oof, that would have been tough. Spalletti would have had to make a major tactical change, one which would have probably seen Juan Iturbe take the pitch, and no one wants to see that. You guys still upset about that one!?