Juventus and Roma both learned their opponents in the Champions League Round of 16 earlier this week. So when it comes to how each club is doing in Europe, they know that they will be playing in Europe’s premier club competition come February of the new year.
When it comes to the two clubs’ seasons domestically, that’s a little different.
Juventus, as we know, is comfortably ahead atop the Serie A standings with eight points separating them and second-place Napoli entering this weekend’s slate of games. Juve’s opponents, the aforementioned Roma squad, is fresh out of ritiro and begins the weekend on the outside looking in when it comes to one of Italy’s six European places.
What has caused Roma to Roma so much lately?
Why is a team that has brought in a bunch of young talent into its squad the last couple of years struggling to find consistent results?
Do all of the domestic struggles, despite all of the success in Europe the last 18 months, mean that Roma’s current manager will soon be Roma’s former manager?
Ah, questions that need to be answered — and so we sought out some answers.
Just as we did when Juventus played Fiorentina, I’ve enlisted help from the other side of this rivalry — the longtime head honcho of SB Nation’s Roma blog Chiesa Di Totti, Mr. Bren, who was kind of enough to answer a couple of questions in between throwing darts at a picture of the Juventus logo.
Away we go...
BWRAO: Hey, Bren! Thanks for making this about Roma and not how your beloved Chicago Cubs are stacking up $100 bills and actually being a competitive baseball team. ANYWAYS ... How exactly would you describe Roma’s season to date? Has it gone beyond the simple “Roma gonna Roma” line we like to use every now and then on Twitter?
CDT: Well, we prefer to say ‘Roma Happened,’ it’s more succinct yet it sums up decades of frustration. If you want a more verbose and detailed reason why Roma are Roma-ing, allow me to say this: Marquinhos, Erik Lamela, Miralem Pjanic, Radja Nainggolan, Mohamed Salah, Kevin Strootman, Alisson Becker, Antonio Rudiger, Leandro Paredes, and Alessio Romagnoli. Get it? The Roma brass are perpetually amazed that churning over the roster year after year doesn’t pay immediate dividends. And that’s really the root of the problem, it’s just come home to roost in harsher fashion this season. They made a dozen purchases this summer, ranging from kids no one ever heard of (William Bianda) to spending nearly €30 million on a 30-year-old holding midfielder (Steven Nzonzi). You can’t compete with that grab bag of nonsense. Roma are getting what they deserve right now, and the fact they’re not worse off is testament to the talent of players like Nicolo Zaniolo, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Cengiz Únder and Daniele De Rossi among others.
BWRAO: Be honest, are you surprised that Eusebio Di Francesco is still Roma’s manager knowing how inconsistent his team has been this season?
CDT: Yes and no. I happen to think the men involved in running this team are a particular brand of ego maniac where they won’t allow themselves to be embarrassed again, they won’t admit that EDF was their third or fourth choice to begin with, so they give him their full faith and refuse to go back on it until they find a convenient excuse. Di Francesco can manage, I don’t have any doubt about that, and he hasn’t been perfect, but they’ve cut his team off at the knees the past two summers and outfit him with kids and journeyman, so I’m not surprised they’ve been inconsistent. Having said all that, he’s still here due to lack of other plausible alternatives. They can’t afford Conte or Zidane or Lopetegui, and the likes of Sousa and Montella are positively uninspiring, so here we are.
BWRAO: Edin Dzeko only has two goals in Serie A this season, yet five goals in four Champions League games. Explain.
CDT: He’s too distracted by that singing show Europeans are obsessed with....I really don’t know, he doesn’t get the best service at times and gets bogged down in holdup play, but Roma’s attack in general has been too predictable, and he’s been a victim of that.
BWRAO: Alisson was obviously one of the biggest names to move to a new club this past summer. How has the post-Brazilian Don Draper era in goal gone thus far?
CDT: Well, his two howlers against Genoa on Sunday not withstanding, Robin Olsen has actually been quite good. He’s not a sweeper keeper like Alisson, so he doesn’t have the look of being a bold, brash, world beating keeper, but he’s been really solid after shaking off some nerves early in the season. He’s still a bit passive for my taste sometimes, but he’s big, has quick reflexes and makes all the saves you need him to, so no complaints here.
BWRAO: ‘Reeling Roma’ is obviously the main theme of the season, but have there been any positives for Roma this season?
CDT: The young Italians. Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolo Zaniolo, Bryan Cristante and Luca Pellegrini have each had their moments in the sun thus far, and while they’ve had the ups and downs you’d expect for kids their age, they’ve each taken huge steps forward in their development. Of course, Roma will sell three-fourths of them before the next World Cup, but for now they’re giving us hope for the future. Beyond them, De Rossi started the season off quite well before getting hurt, and he’s really the last link to the Romantic Totti era, so he’s fiercely defended by Roma fans, we’ll take any positive step he makes as a sign he’ll never retire. Which he won’t.
BWRAO: Your prediction for Saturday’s showdown?
CDT: Juventus 4, Roma 2. Ronaldo hat trick, a goal from Zaniolo, some sort of incredible Mandzukic volley and, oh let’s say, an own goal from Chiellini for good measure.