Another week, another dead rubber. Juventus came into their match against Roma on Sunday night with little to play for other than pride — and the chance to get those fugly new uniforms over on fans with a victory.
For the hosts, on the other hand, the game had a lot more riding on it. Roma’s shambolic season was winding to a close with their chances at a place in the UEFA Champions League almost up in smoke. Needing three wins and a lot of help to sneak into Serie A’s top four, the Giallorossi emerged from the tunnel in desperation mode.
That desperation nearly turned into despair in a first half that saw Juve on the front foot for long stretches. A trio of Antonio Mirante saves that stretched from excellent to insane on the spectrum were all that kept the Old Lady of Italian football from killing the game by the break. But the half ended goalless. The game began to stretch in the second period, both teams started coming up with opportunities. Roma was given a huge let-off when Cristiano Ronaldo was — correctly — flagged just offside, then finally made the most of one of their opportunities when Alessandro Florenzi caught the left side of the defense napping and chipped a stranded Wojciech Szczesny. A stoppage time strike sealed Roma’s 2-0 victory, keeping them alive — barely — in the Champions League race.
Massimiliano Allegri got a small boost with the return of Martin Caceres, Alex Sandro, Emre Can, Rodrigo Bentancur, and Paulo Dybala from the injured list, but still came into the game shorthanded — especially up front. Federico Bernardeschi was suspended due to yellow card accumulation and Moise Kean stayed home in Turin with the flu, leaving no healthy first-team forward for Allegri to deploy on the bench. Leonardo Bonucci also bowed out after he bruised an ankle in training.
With few options, Allegri kept to the 4-3-3 that has been standard most of the year, but with a wrinkle up front. Szczesny started in goal against his former team behind the defense of Mattia De Sciglio, Caceres, Giorgio Chiellini, and Leonardo Spinazzola. Blaise Matuidi and Can joined another former Roma man, Miralem Pjanic, in midfield, with Ronaldo and Juan Cuadrado flanking Dybala, who played as a false nine.
There were a lot of changes to Roma since the last time Juve faced them in December. Rather than Eusebio Di Francesco, they were guided by caretaker manager — and former Juve boss — Claudio Ranieri. Also new was the goalkeeper, with former Juve academy product Mirante having supplanted the error-prone Robin Olsen as the starter. In front of him Ranieri deployed a 4-3-3 of his own, with Florenzi, Federico Fazio, Kostas Manolas, and Aleksandr Kolarov arrayed in front of Mirante. Steven Nzonzi, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Nicolo Zaniolo manned the midfield, while Justin Kluivert, Edin Dzeko, and Stephan El Shaarawy formed the strike team up front.
Juve grabbed the upper hand early, and should have taken the lead seven minutes in when Blaise Matuidi released Emre Can on a counterattack. Cuadrado streaked down the right side unmarked and met Can’s square ball first time, but he put it in the one spot that Mirante would have been able to save it — and save it he did. It was an impressive stop, but also a definite miss by the Colombian.
Roma was being forced to play on the counter in the first phases, as Juve played hard to get to loose balls and kept the Giallorossi penned in their own half of the Stadio Olimpico. With 16 minutes gone Mirante was called into action again when Ronaldo wove his way past four defenders to tee up Dybala in his sweet spot in the right channel. His left-footed effort was destined for the net, but this time Mirante made a truly fantastic stop, flying to his right and palming the ball away with one hand.
Roma nearly took advantage of their keeper’s heroics two minutes later, moving swiftly up the field on the counter and delivering the ball to Pellegrini on the right side of the box, but his cross/shot toward Kluivert ended up hitting the bar. The 22-year-old had a shot go wide from the top of the penalty area before Mirante was called upon to yet again deny Dybala. This time it was a team move that created the opportunity, with Matuidi knocking a pass that Pjanic scooped over the top into the path of Ronaldo, who tapped it into the Argentine’s path. His powerful shot hit a sprawling Mirante in the hands and flew across the goalmouth, hitting the post on the other side and trickling into the middle of the six-yard box, where Can was flagged offside trying to poke it home.
El Shaarawy has quietly had a bounce back season this year, leading Roma with 11 goals, and he got himself a good opportunity in the 36th minute when he beat his old Milan teammate De Sciglio and cut inside, but Chiellini slid into his shooting lane and blocked it with his chest.
The half ended goalless, thanks entirely to the efforts of Mirante, and Roma got themselves the first chance of the second period four minutes in when El Shaarawy put in a good cross toward Dzeko, but Matuidi made a vital touch to disrupt the service, with Chiellini heading the second effort away from the box. Five minutes later a terrible pass by Can triggered a swift Roma counterattack, allowing Il faraone a great shooting opportunity, but he badly mishit it. The ball came right back to him off of Caceres, but he put it over.
Just before the hour mark a minor scuffle broke out when Ronaldo began advancing the ball after Dzeko had gone down near the center circle. It was borderline unsportsmanlike, but Dzeko had also been embellishing the contact and had moved on to complaining to referee Davide Massa about not getting a foul, so the argument could be made that he had shown he didn’t need the attention. But once the ball had gone out of play Florenzi got into Ronaldo’s face, causing a minor rhubarb that Massa quickly broke up. Ronaldo would come away from the meeting making fun of Florenzi’s stature—a move he’d be eating later.
Five minutes later it looked like he’d have the last laugh when Dybala put him clean through on goal. He beat Mirante one-on-one with a delightful stutter step, but the flag went up late. It was the right call — Ronaldo was offside by about the length of his thigh.
Two minutes later Dybala again put a a man into a good position, but Can chose to take a shot at the near post rather than tee up one of three runners on his right, and Mirante was able to make his fourth save of the night. Then it was Szczesny’s turn to tip one away, poking an effort from El Shaarawy over the bar.
With 20 minutes to go Allegri was forced into a move that probably changed the game in Roma’s favor. Rodrigo Bentancur was sent on in place of Pjanic, who was eventually attended to on the bench by the training staff. Pjanic had done a fairly good job making the team move in midfield, but Juve’s attacking game slowly began to devlove into Route 1 long balls, while Roma managed to carve out a foothold in possession. The payoff came nine minutes later when Chiellini overcommitted in an attempt to prevent Florenzi from making a square pass to Dzeko. The center-back thought the had the safety net of the offside trap behind him, but both full-backs were keeping the Roma captain on, and he burst into the space Chiellini left behind. He got a neat return from Dzeko and chipped the ball over Szczesny, who had rushed to close the angle, and into the net.
Without Pjanic to pull the strings, Juve couldn’t manage much in the remaining 10 minutes to earn an equalizer. Allegri threw on Sandro and Joao Cancelo to try to give the team some more offensive punch, but there seemed to be no sense of urgency, and Mirante was never threatened. Cancelo continued to show his defensive flaws in stoppage time, when Roma managed to get a two-on-one with Juve committing men forward. The Portuguese moved to El Sharaawy, who was carrying the ball, despite the fact that Can was gaining on him. That left Dzeko completely uncovered for an easy feed and goal past a stranded Szczesny, sealing the points and keeping Roma’s slim hopes of the top four alive.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Was left completely stranded on the two goals but didn’t put a foot wrong the rest of the game. The only other save he needed to make was a good one.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6. Was beaten once by El Shaarawy but was otherwise solid defensively and even threw a key pass into the mix.
MARTIN CACERES - 6. Struggled a little bit with pacy moves, but won the second-most aerials of any player on the field and generally held his spot well and intercepted three passes.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 6. This would’ve been a lot higher, because his first 80 minutes were typically excellent, but his mistake on Florenzi led to the opener. Made a game-high six clearances to go along with a pair of tackles.
LEONARDO SPINAZZOLA - 5.5. Didn’t carry the danger down the left side that he usually does, but he did lead the team with three tackles.
EMRE CAN - 6. Should have ended up with an assist early on Cuadrado’s chance, and maybe another when he chose to shoot instead of pass midway through the second half. Didn’t have the ball-winning numbers he sometimes puts up, but that has more to do with the fact that Juve had the upper hand for a good 70 minutes.
MIRALEM PJANIC - 6.5. Made some interesting passes when he had the liberty to push himself further up the field. Started the move that led to Dybala’s second shot on target with a smart scooped pass, and kept the ball moving in midfield. Juve started losing their grip on the game when he left the field.
BLAISE MATUIDI - 6. Led the team with four tackles and made a couple of good passes over the course of the game. At least twice he would have gotten the “hockey assist” were it not for Mirante’s efforts in goal.
JUAN CUADRADO - 4. Created hardly any trouble on the right, and goodness he needed to score that goal early. Mirante made a good save but he was helped by the fact that Cuadrado put the ball far too close to him. Definitely a Bad Juan night.
PAULO DYBALA - 6.5. Denied by two circus saves from Mirante, and also distributed the ball well from a false nine position. Allegri toyed with him in this position last year, but between the first half against Ajax, which saw him hold the ball up well and do a lot of dirty work, and today, the move inside has been very good to him.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 6.5. Had a pair of key passes on the Dybala saves, but didn’t have much in the way of shooting opportunities tonight barring his disallowed strike.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 5. Wasn’t able to control midfield after replacing Pjanic. He was in a tough position because that’s really not his game, but Juve started getting far more direct once he got on, and he missed nearly a quarter of his passes.
ALEX SANDRO - NR. Didn’t have much of a chance to make any impact in five minutes plus stoppages.
JOAO CANCELO - NR. Didn’t defend the final breakaway well at all, abandoning Dzeko. If the recent rumors of his exit are indeed just rumors, his defense needs to improve in leaps and bounds.
The injury list continues to limit Allegri’s options, but Dybala’s ability in the center as a false 9 is an interesting revelation, one that will give him a few more options to see out the season. It’s worth wondering if that could have been used earlier in the season rather than stranding him out on the wing—although on the flip side if he had been employed that way the emergence of Moise Kean would have been a lot less likely.
With so little option up top it’s hard to criticize the team’s subs. One gets the feeling Bentancur would have made an appearance regardless of whether or not Pjanic felt something, just not replacing Pjanic. It would maybe have been nice to see Hans Nicolussi Caviglia or Matheus Periera up top at the end, but Allegri does have to be careful with how they’re used — once they play five times with the senior team they’re no longer eligible to go back down to the B team next season.
Only two games remain before the offseason begins. Next week’s game against Atalanta will again have Champions League implications, and will be followed by the Serie A trophy presentation. After that, the season closes with a trip to Genoa to face Sampdoria.