Typically over the last few years, when Juventus and Roma have faced one another, you could usually count on them being two of the top three or four teams in the Serie A standings. There have been days when it’s a bonafide top-of-the-table clash, with Roma looking to shrink the gap that Juventus had at that given moment. There have been others where both were simply looking to just strengthen their standing at that certain time.
This time around, things are a little different.
Juventus are clear and away the top team in Serie A these days, with plenty of room between them and second-place Napoli. The distance between Juve and Napoli has basically been fluctuating between and eight- and 11-point lead depending on who’s playing first that weekend. While on the other end of the spectrum, as Roma rolls into Turin for a little Saturday night football, the Giallorossi have basically been in a season-long rut where consistently being inconsistent is the norm.
Roma has six wins in their first 15 league matches.
Roma has six losses in their first 16 league matches.
As my buddy Mr. Bren pointed out in our rival Q&A earlier in the week, the constant reshuffling of Roma’s roster truly seems to be catching up with them this season.
So, I think that pretty much tells us who the favorite heading into this one is, huh?
Juventus is picking up win after win against Serie A opposition, recording a historic point total in the process, and about to face a team that has failed to win back-to-back games domestically in almost three months. The odds are in Juve’s favor. The form guide is obviously in Juve’s favor no matter how Roma did against Genoa six days ago to pick up their first win in over a month.
No, this won’t go down as the biggest match of this month of December that is filled with interesting and important matchups to close out the first half of the season. That was probably filled by either one of the derbies — probably the Derby d’Italia, in all honesty — or, based on what was on the line, Juve’s Champions League group stage finale against Young Boys. (Don’t remind me of that game, by the way.)
But it’s still Juventus vs. Roma. And against a wobbling Roma, at that — which could mean Eusebio Di Francesco’s squad plays like total crap or has that sense of desperation kind of energy behind them from the first minute because they know that they need a result or else it’s going to be another long week in a month that has already been a ritiro-filled one.
And, let’s be honest for a second here: If you’re a Juventus fan, why wouldn’t you want your favorite team to add a little salt to Roma’s rather large wound right now?
With Napoli playing before Juventus for what seems like the first time in a long time, there’s still the chance to extend the Serie A lead in double digits. Juve will need some help from SPAL for that. Either way, seeing Roma go out and Roma it up a little bit and be the direct beneficiary of it seems like a nice way to spend a Saturday night in Turin.
I just wanna drop this piece of information on y’all:
There’s a 22-point gap between Juventus and Roma in the standings.
That’s the biggest gap between the two clubs heading into a head-to-head clash in 15 seasons, dating back to the 2002-03 campaign.
That’s good, right?
I don’t know. Maybe the fact that Juve haven’t been playing all that great lately?
1) Creating chances, finishing chances
Let me take you back to the Young Boys game. Not because I hate you, but because it’s the prime example of what this Juventus squad is capable of — both good and bad.
This season has been highlighted by a lot of things, but the fact that Juventus aren’t exactly the explosive kind of attacking team we envisioned they could be with who they have on their roster is probably toward the top of a lot of people’s list.
Like what happened against Young Boys, this Juventus team is fully capable of racking up shot totals and creating a pretty good number scoring chances. But finishing those chances isn’t exactly something that we’ve be a pretty hit-or-miss kind of situation. (See what I did there?)
Essentially, being clinical in front of goal is not something we can apply to Juventus’ strengths this season.
With all of the inconsistencies Roma have had this season, one of the biggest steps backward the team has made is on the defensive end. In recent seasons, Roma has been one of the better defensive squads Serie A has to offer. This season, they’re close to allowing the same amount of goals as teams in the relegation zone have. Roma’s defense has leaked in 22 goals in 15 league games to date, with the likes of Bologna, SPAL, Chievo and Genoa only worse off defensively this season.
So, as we wait for Juve’s attack to break out and truly smash an opponent with Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala doing their respective signature celebrations to our hearts content, there’s only so many chances you can do so against a poor defensive team in Italy. (OMG DO YOU KNOW THAT ITALIANS KNOW HOW TO DEFEND?!) Roma’s defense is trend down — and that sounds like a situation where Juventus will have every chance to pounce.
2) Daniele Rugani or Medhi Benatia shaking off the rust
Between the two of them, Rugani and Benatia have started a grand total of eight league matches this season. Knowing that we’re about to hit the midway point of the season and a brand new calendar year, I think it’s safe to say that’s not a lot of minutes with absolutely no consistent playing time.
But, one of them will probably be lining up alongside Giorgio Chiellini against Roma. That’s because Max Allegri told us so during his pre-match press conference on Friday.
So, who will it be?
The predicted lineups coming out Saturday morning seem to favor Benatia, who has a few appearances already under his belt against his former side. If there is a pecking order behind Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci that we can go off of, I guess it’s the one that says Benatia has the most appearances of any of the three backup central defenders.
But, at the same time, the last game Benatia played in wasn’t even with Juventus. It came on international duty during the last international break, and it’s been well over a month since Benatia last played a full 90 minutes while wearing a Juventus jersey.
It’s clear that Chiellini and Bonucci are going to get the bulk of the playing time this season in the center of the four-man backline. And the two players directly impacted by that are obviously Benatia and Rugani.
At this point, we don’t know how the squad rotation wheels will spin come the new year. But when it comes to somebody other than Bonucci playing against Roma on Saturday night, it’s one or the other — and it’s not like either of them have played a whole hell of a lot lately.
3) Mattia De Sciglio’s continued under-the-radar brilliance
Yes, I know. The fact that Joao Cancelo is going to be out for a good number of weeks beyond this one sucks.
But the fact that Mattia De Sciglio is around makes the absence of Cancelo a much easier thing to deal with. And the fact that De Sciglio has been playing arguably the best he has since he signed with Juventus over the last couple of months makes the absence of Cancelo, really, not a huge deal.
Of course I want to see Cancelo healthy, but MDS has been an absolute rock defensively when he’s been called upon this season. Sure, he won’t be even close to what Cancelo is going forward and contributing to the attack, but that’s never been his game and never will be. De Sciglio is a defensive-minded fullback as much as Cancelo is an offensive-minded one.
No matter what, though, Juventus’ depth at fullback is quite the luxury (and we haven’t even see what Leonardo Spinazzola has to offer this season). A big reason of that is De Sciglio and what he’s been able to accomplish already this season.
When: Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 8:30 p.m. local time in Italy and around Europe; 7:30 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time; 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: RAI Italia America (United States); RAI Italia America, TLN (Canada); Roma TV (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Eleven Sports 1 UK (United Kingdom); DAZN (Italy)
Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.