The last time Juventus played, they participated in one of the kookiest games of the year, falling behind twice to Torino but battling back each time and finishing their crosstown rivals in the second half for a 4-2 win.
The last time Juventus played Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, the game was somehow even crazier. Roma went up 1-0 early and 3-1 in the early phases of the second half, only to see Juve score three goals in seven minutes — the last of which came from Mattia De Sciglio, of all people — and then save a penalty to preserve a 4-3 win.
Sunday night’s game between the Bianconeri and the Giallorossi contained little to none of that kind of mayhem. It was a cagey affair between two cagey coaches. The opening phase very much looked like two teams racing each other to see who got the opening goal first so that they could park the bus and dare the other to try to break them down.
Ultimately, it was Roma who managed to get that goal, thanks to an absolutely phenomenal long-range strike from, of all people, center-back Gianluca Mancini. From that point on, Juve looked like a team that was somewhere between flummoxed and beaten. There was some extreme bad luck involved — the ball was kept out of the Roma net by the post twice after the home side took the lead — but the game also laid bare the fact that, despite having some high-level attacking talent at their disposal, Juve are very ill-equipped to try to break down an entrenched defense, especially one as well-drilled and simply good as Roma’s. In the end, the home team beat Juve and Massimiliano Allegri at their own game in the 1-0 win, vaulting themselves into the thick of the top four and leaving Juve very much dependent on either the Europa League title or a successful appeal of their point deduction to have a chance at Champions League football next year.
Allegri got a boost to his bench when Fabio Miretti returned from his ankle injury, but Arkadiusz Milik and Kaio Jorge were still out, while De Sciglio was an addition to the injury list. He made only one change to his 3-5-1-1 from Tuesday’s win in the Derby della Mole. Wojciech Szczesny started in goal, with the Brazilian defensive line of Danilo, Bremer, and Alex Sandro in defense. Juan Cuadrado and Filip Kostic manned the wing-back spots, while Manuel Locatelli returned from a yellow card suspension to take his place next to Nicolo Fagioli and Adrien Rabiot in midfield. Angel Di Maria floated in the hole behind Dusan Vlahovic.
Jose Mourinho had been sent off and initially suspended for two games after an altercation with officials in Tuesday’s game against Cremonese, but with his appeal still in progress, he was allowed to be on the touchline. His intentions for the match were made clear when his starting XI was announced, benching the out-of-form Tammy Abraham for a 3-4-2-1 lineup light on sheer attacking power. Rui Patricio started in goal behind the back three of Mancini, Chris Smalling, and Roger Ibanez. Nicola Zalewski and Leonardo Spinazzola set up on the wings around the double pivot of Bryan Cristante and Nemanja Matic. Lorenzo Pellegrini recovered from flu-like symptoms in time to start alongside Georginio Wijnaldum behind Paulo Dybala, who made his second start against his old club as a false nine.
The early minutes of the game were deceptive in terms of just what kind of game it would turn out to be. Just four minutes into the game Vlahovic redirected a free kick on target, but it was right at Rui Patricio for an easy save. In the 11th minute, Kostic bamboozled Zalewski, leaving the young wing-back for dead and pulling back for the run of Di Maria, but the Argentine got the ball stuck in his feet and Pellegrini came over to block the shot.
Roma got in a jab on the other end five minutes later, when Dybala tried to cut inside and pop one of his trademark far-post curlers. Unfortunately for him, the entirety of the Juve defense around him knew what was coming, and four of them tracked him across the top of the box before he was finally forced to simply turn and let fly, with Rabiot ultimately blocking the shot.
But even these were relative bursts of activity in an incredibly cagey affair. Each team carefully attempted to pull the other out of sorts to take advantage of a lapse so they could fall back onto their preferred method of play an set up a low block. That led to a game rhythm that was at times stupefyingly dull. Roma in particular had trouble creating any kind of offense, as Wijnaldum was tasked with being the man furthest forward when Dybala dropped deep to get the ball. This was a role he was entirely unfamiliar with, leaving their attack scattered and easily dealt with, while Juve’s attack couldn’t come up with ways to move the ball through the Roma defense. As a result, only the occasional pinprick of excitement peeked through the clouds as the game went on.
The first of those came in the 27th minute, when Dybala actually did get to his spot for a shot, but Szczesny similarly knew what was on the way, and he parried it away on the dive. It wasn’t until late in the period until Patricio was tested again, first in the 42rd with a long-range belt from Locatelli, then two minutes later Juve created their absolute best chance of the night when Danilo sent in an early cross that dropped perfectly for Rabiot at the back post. He tried to squeeze a powerful header into the ground at the post, but Patricio somehow managed to react and redirect it onto the post with a kick-save.
As the teams emerged from halftime, Allegri made an unexpected change, sending on Leonardo Bonucci for his first extended action since Oct. 11 in place of an apparently injured Sandro. Juve came out of the locker room with a renewed energy, and the Roma defense had to make some timely interventions in the opening minutes of the second half. Kostic once again abused Zalewski only to see his pullback to Di Maria intercepted, then the Argentine fizzed a low ball through the box that was just too far ahead of Vlahovic with no one at the far post to turn it in.
Just as Juventus looked to be building some momentum at the start of the period, they received a whack upside the head.
Roma was working the ball on the attacking left, while Mancini began creeping his way down on the opposite side. So out of place was the center-back that CBS play-by-play man Andres Cordero literally said “with Mancini, of all people” as he received a pass from Cristante. When Rabiot was painfully slow to close, the center-half reared back and unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot across the goal that Szczesny had absolutely no chance of saving.
For a minute, it looked like the confidence boost of the opener would see Roma run rampant. Cuadrado had to make a fantastic tackle on Spinazzola to prevent him from taking a point-blank shot after Pellegrini made a run through the defense. But Juve were given the opportunity for a quick response when Cristante brought Rabiot down as he broke past him, earning himself a booking in the process. Cuadrado took on the free kick and curled a beauty of a shot that only just missed, whacking off the outside of the post.
Allegri began to make moves, sending Federico Chiesa on for Fagioli. A few minutes later, Roma very nearly shot themselves in the foot when Zalewski made a risky back pass that only missed being tapped in by a lurking Vlahovic by inches. The young Pole got the hook from Mourinho within two minutes, capping a lackluster display. Soon after, Juve got a free kick that was basically the inverse of what Cuadrado taken a few minutes earlier, but Di Maria’s attempt was far too central and an easy save for Patricio.
Roma came very very close to putting the game away with 15 minutes left when Smalling flew forward for a back-post cross and tried to head back across for a waiting Abraham, but Szczesny made himself as big as he could and basically let himself get hit by the thing before it could get to substitute. After a minor fracas that saw Kostic get booked for taking a late chunk out of Ibanez, Di Maria took the ball off Chiesa’s foot and hit a 25-yard bolt that was destined for the top corner, but Patricio flew to make his second big save of the night and deny the equalizer.
Juve kept pushing as Roma ceded them the possession, but it can’t be said that they were placing the hosts under a constant siege. As the game entered the home stretch, one of the best chances Juve had to equalize came off the head of a Roma player, with Mancini very nearly reversing his own strike with an own-goal, only to breathe a sigh of relief when the ball hit the post again. But Juve continued to struggle trying to actually pierce the Roma defense, and for the last 10 minutes of regular time Juve’s only shot of note was another free kick that went into the wall.
Allegri spent his last substitution with a little more than 60 seconds of normal time remaining when he threw on Moise Kean in place of Cuadrado. Unfortunately, the pressure immediately got to the striker. Receiving his first touch, Kean was dragged by the back of the collar by Mancini. Referee Fabio Maresca seemed to let the blatant foul go, but had no choice but to bring out a straight red card when Kean lashed out in retaliation and kicked through the back of Mancini’s legs, receiving his marching orders after just 41 seconds on the pitch.
Up a man for seven minutes of stoppage time, Roma still let Juve come to them. The team’s discombobulation was apparent when Chiesa made a foul throw halfway through the added time, and his attempt to make up for it was a major letdown when he launched a shot into the stands. Even then, he and the team came agonizingly close to the equalizer when his cross squirted back to the path of Danilo, whose first-time shot was too close to the Patricio, who smothered what turned out to be the last meaningful kick of the game.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 6. Did what he needed to do in goal on a day where he really wasn’t tested all that much. I’ve seen a few people put blame on him for the goal, a take that is patently insane. Mancini’s shot was just too good. You’d need a superpower-level Gigi Buffon to have stopped it.
DANILO - 6.5. Led the team with four tackles and completed 94.1 percent of his passes, including five of eight long balls. He was the only defender on the team to complete a significant number of long passes, and one of them turned into the team’s best chance to score when he found Rabiot with that early cross.
BREMER - 6. Not a day where he stood out, but he didn’t make any big errors either. He made Wijnaldum’s life hell whenever he tried to move up to the space Dybala vacated, and did a good job on Dybala himself when he stayed up.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. Made two tackles and three clearances in only one half’s worth of work. He also got himself up the field, providing a key pass and acting as an outlet for Kostic on the left side. Hopefully his reported injury isn’t serious.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6. Made some good plays up and down the pitch. Without his massive tackle on Spinazzola Roma may have quickly put the game away, and if his free kick had been a few inches to the right he would have tied it.
NICOLO FAGIOLI - 5. Rough night for the youngster, who was caught up in what was a down night for the midfield overall. He completed 85 percent of his passes, but none of them expressed the creativity we’ve come to expect from him, and his defensive contribution was slight.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5.5. Made three tackles and two interceptions in midfield and launched a couple of interesting-looking shots from distance, one of which was saved and the other of which looked goal-bound before it was blocked. Still, he didn’t command the midfield the way it needed to be done in a game like this. He’s going to be so much better off if the team can move him out of the regista position.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5. Came the closest Juve came to scoring when he was denied by a fantastic kick save. He provided one key pass and drew a yellow card but not really able to penetrate into the box as Juve tried to break Roma down. Then there’s the matter of his defending on Mancini’s goal, which was wholly inadequate. I get that Mancini isn’t the kind of guy you expect to load up and fire in that situation, but you have to get there quicker than Rabiot did. His lollygagging might have been the difference in the game.
FILIP KOSTIC - 5.5. Made mincemeat of Zalewski early on but couldn’t connect on any of his crosses once he got free. Struggled a little more once the more experienced Karsdorp was inserted on that side, and Allegri pulled him almost immediately after he was booked for taking a late bite out of Ibanez.
ANGEL DI MARIA - 6. The only consistent source of attacking threat for Juve, although even he was a tick below his usual standard. He could’ve done a little better with his two free kicks, but tied for the team lead with two key passes and was denied by Patricio on a really excellent long shot.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 5.5. It’s really hard for any striker to do anything when he only touches the ball 18 times. He put a shot on target in the fourth minute and then wasn’t put in position to threaten again. He needs more volume, pure and simple.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 5.5. Defended well, but his passing, particularly those long balls that he’s so well known for and that can be a key to breaking a defense like Roma’s, simply didn’t sync up. Considering the fact that this was the first time he’d played more than 10 minutes since October that’s not 100 percent surprising, as he’s going to need to play himself into sync, but Juve is going to need that from him if he’s on the field on a consistent basis.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 5. Seemed unusually subdued in his first game at the Olimpico since his knee injury last year. He almost seemed wary that Roma’s Turf Demon was going to hit him again. He did provide a pair of key passes off the bench, but was also rather wild trying to shoot and generally didn’t provide the jolt the team needed.
PAUL POGBA - NR. Only touched the ball 15 times, none of which were particularly threatening. Obviously he’s working his way back into things, but he needs to do it fast, because he was signed to be the one to unlock these kinds of games.
LEANDRO PAREDES - NR. He just sucks. Pure and simple. He could barely get a simple entry pass past his first defender. This loan was a massive mistake, especially given the season Nicolo Rovella is having in Monza.
MOISE KEAN - NR. If it weren’t for my policy not to give number grades to any player who plays less than 15 mintues, this would be the lowest grade I’ve ever given a player. While Mancini’s conduct was also well over the line — he should’ve gotten a yellow card for the way he was dragging Kean by the collar — lashing out the way he did was just stupid. The ref always sees the second guy.
Juventus moved on from Max Allegri the first time because it had become clear that things had gone stale and that he was having trouble coming up with ideas to break teams down and get the best out of the players.
Perhaps Andrea Agnelli should’ve thought of that when he brought him back, because it doesn’t seem to have changed.
In a game where both coaches were hell-bent on getting to the point where they could pack things in, Allegri’s defense was the first one to blink. At that point, Juve’s only hope to get back into the game was a moment of individual brilliance from someone, because Allegri clearly doesn’t have a plan beyond that to get past a packed-in defense. The players looked like they didn’t know exactly where they were going in relation to each other — and more than that, that they weren’t told where to go and were just winging it.
That problem has existed for pretty much all of Allegri’s second tenure with the club. That being said, it comes as no surprise that Juve have only won one game this season when conceding the first goal of a game — and none on the road.
It also didn’t help that Allegri didn’t really do his best with substitutions. While it’s clear that Chiesa and Pogba are still on minute restrictions, and if that’s the case then medical decisions are medical decisions. But putting Paredes on after such a terrible season almost feels like you’re just not looking at things that are going on on the field. And waiting until the last minute of regular time to introduce Kean was also a misfire. While there’s no one to blame but himself, introducing him earlier would’ve given Juve another man to try to pull the defense apart. It could also have kept him from getting into the position he found himself win when Kean was sent off seconds later. This part of the game was mismanaged on the night, and it’s one of the decisive factors for the loss.
Juve look toward the Europa League next, hosting Freiburg in the round of 16, starting with the first leg in Turin on Thursday. Then comes a home game against Sampdoria before a trip to Germany for the second leg. Then it’s off to the San Siro for a league Derby d’Italia before the international break.