AS Roma v Juventus
Serie A Week 37 – Sunday, 13th May – 19:45 GMT – Stadio Olimpico
Mission accomplished by the lads on Wednesday, who brought home the fourth Coppa Italia in a row and also delivered one of the best performances of the past few weeks. Obviously, it helps when the opposing goalie has a couple of howlers and the other team scores an own goal, but the squad came out with the right intentions and took advantage of the fact that Milan let them play a lot. Napoli showed the game plan to stifle us, but I guess not every team has the tools to pull it off.
In any case, Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa turned it up in the second half, Miralem Pjanic had a corner kick clinic, Medhi Benatia wrote his own redemption story and Gianluigi Donnarumma did the rest with some glaring gaffes. It baffles me how many have criticized the choice of calling up Gianluigi Buffon for a couple more national team games than expected, like he is the problem of Italy and not still the best goalkeeper we have.
Next up is the Roma game and by now everybody knows the situation: Juventus need a point to mathematically secure the title, but it is already certain because the goal difference can not be closed in just a couple of games.
Mattia De Sciglio and Stefano Sturaro were in the squad list against Roma after a plantar fascia lesion and an Achilles issue. Juan Cuadrado is suspended, so Stephan Lichsteiner will likely make his final start before the reported move to Borussia Dortmund, which is not a bad landing spot for him after a distinguished career in black-and-white. Wojciech Szczesny will defend the goal. Benedikt Howedes and Giorgio Chiellini have been called up, but they should not be ready yet.
On Wednesday, it was one of the few times we really played with both Douglas Costa and La Joya in a supporting role and they both had the freedom to roam and pick their spots. The Brazilian did not have to stick to the right flank and we deployed a true three-man midfield and not the hybrid with Matuidi wide left. Obviously, Massimiliano Allegri is very flexible tactically and we will not stick to one scheme, but that would be the best model going forward because it makes us much more unpredictable. Dybala is a little more distant from the goal, but in this way he does not clutter the spaces playing too close to another centre-forward and that has sometimes been the case when featuring alongside Gonzalo Higuain.
Higuain and Dybala have already been confirmed as starters for this one, with Mario Mandzukic fighting for a spot more with Douglas Costa than with Matuidi. The coach stated during the pre-game presser what we already knew: it is kind of pointless to bring the Croatian off the bench. With Cuadrado out, he might opt to have the Brazilian speedster as an in-game weapon. There are some rumours suggesting that Claudio Marchisio could start in the midfield and it is a little surprising how little playing time he has gotten this year since he has been serviceable every time he was called upon. Hopefully we do not lose him, because we could really use some leadership with Buffon retiring.
4-3-3: Szczesny; Lichtsteiner, Benatia, Rugani, Alex Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala, Higuain, Mandzukic.
Roma are enjoying a very rewarding season and they will likely finish third in the standings. They have two points more than Lazio and four more than the fifth-placed Inter, so they are very close to locking up a deserved Champions League berth, which would be beneficial for Italy’s ranking considering how well they performed in the big-eared cup this season.
They went a little haywire after we defeated them back in December, dropping points for five games in a row, but besides that moment they have been pretty consistent. Considering it was the first season with Eusebio Di Francesco at the helm, they have a lot to build on and might ascend to title contenders next year. However, the question with them is always how much roster continuity they will have and if any top player will flee. It is crazy how close Edin Dzeko came to leaving in January.
They are riding a four-game winning streak where they defeated Genoa, Spal, Chievo and Cagliari: not the toughest competition in the world, but you still have to knock them down and at times teams get in their own heads down the stretch, when there is a lot at stake and they are battling for a prestigious objective. That has not been the case with them and, sustained by the good form of Edin Dzeko and Cengiz Under, they have rallied.
The Turkish starlet has been an excellent find in the summer and really broke out after an adjustment period. His numbers could have been even better if he was not slowed down by a knee sprain. He is bubbly and a first-rate shooter with the left foot: he has some Dybala-esque traits while being more of a wing player. Dzeko has tallied 24 goals in the season and had a magnificent Champions League campaign: he is always tough to deal with due to his combination of size, skills and cynicism.
Patrik Shick is truly the only thing that has consistently not worked for them this season, even though he finally notched a pair of scores recently. The problem is simple: he is not a great fit for their tactics. He is not a pure centre-forward, he can play with Edin Dzeko but Di Francesco, for good reasons, does not want to move away from 4-3-3. Also the rest of the roster, the midfield in particular, is tailor-made for that formation. They have tried 3-4-1-2 a little, but the alternative just works better. Schick does not have the speed to play on the flank, so I do not really know how they are going to solve this whole situation after spending a conspicuous sum for him in the summer. It is also been a mild surprise how stout they have been in the back right away: having two world-class players in their roles like Alisson and Manolas does not hurt, but the whole team buckles down on that side of the ball.
They have some injury concerns heading into the game: Kostas Manolas was pulled last minute before the Cagliari game because of a muscular problem and he is doubtful, Diego Perotti has been dealing with an ankle sprain with ligament damage for a couple of weeks, while Kevin Strootman has bruised ribs. Among the trio, the Dutchman is the most likely to recover, while the other two might end up being left out of the squad list altogether. Juan Jesus would replace Manolas, Lorenzo Pellegrini would do the same with Strootman. Gregoire Defrel and Rick Karsdorp are out with long-term issues.
Speaking of Pellegrini, there have been numerous reports since January about Juventus being interested and ready to trigger his release clause. I do believe the Old Lady will likely buy one among him, Bryan Cristante and Nicolò Barella to continue her rich tradition of investing in the best Italian players. Barella is probably the most complete prospect, but Pellegrini is not far behind and the €28M clause, if confirmed, would make him a much easier and cheaper signing compared to the Cagliari player. Cristante is a little riskier because we have seen players thrive at Atalanta and not do much elsewhere. Back to Pellegrini: he has disappointed a little in the final few games, but he has great upside and, while he was already excellent in the offensive phase at Sassuolo, he has rounded up his game in the Capital, making it more complete.
4-3-3: Alisson; Florenzi; Fazio, Jesus, Kolarov; Strootman, De Rossi, Nainggolan; Under, Dzeko, El Shaarawy.
Defrel (knee), Manolas (hamstring), Perotti (ankle), Karsdorp (knee).