With the storied Winter Champions title already sewn up with a game to spare, we welcomed an ever improving Roma side to Turin, who were placed just 4 points below us in the table. A win for our foes would assuredly re-open the scudetto race, no doubt adding wind to the sails of those further adrift, reigniting dreams which had been slowly dying on the vine.
We started the match strongly, high pressing, and were clearly the first to settle. Higuain had an early effort well saved, and when the goal came before a quarter of an hour had been played, it was deserved. Gonzalo muscling past De Rossi, pushing the ball beyond Manolas to unleash a gorgeous left foot drive from just inside the box for 1-0.
The only other clear cut chances to fall to either side were Juve’s as we delivered a determined, confident performance, extending our lead at the top of the table to 7 points and putting our most obvious rival for the title to the sword. A deserved 3 points.
Buffon – Very few can pull off the tash and remain classy, but Santo Buffon wore it well. A misplaced punch aside, barely one real save of note to make, his evening was solid and quiet. 6.5
Rugani – Growing in stature game by game, the youngster has made the most of chances afforded by injuries to the old guard and looked assured and composed throughout. 7.5
Chiellini – Finally, King Giorgio has settled back into form, just when we need a cool, experienced head at the back. Offered support going forward on occasion, other than which was a rock in the rear guard. Dzeko was hardly seen, perfectly shackled. Resolute. 7.5
Sandro – Showed he can be just as effective as a fullback (as wingback). Covered the flank with guile, fine stamina and cunning technique. Glad to see him returning to his best. 7.5
Lichsteiner – We are far more solid defensively with Stephan in the ranks in place of Alves, and I hope he is brought into the champions league squad for the knock-out stages, as we need his experience and nous. Found a few promising positions high up the field and covered the defensive areas with intelligence. It has taken a while for him to regain his rhythm, yet he is clearly moving through the gears. 7
Marchisio – Smart on the ball, tactically superb, screened the defence and kept the ball moving. His game is blossoming. Slowly but surely he is returning to his world class consistency. We are blessed to have him back in the ranks, the whole side lifted and our chances of glory increasing with every step forward taken by Il Principino. 7.5
Khedira – Dovetailed well enough with Mandzukic, choosing when to make up the numbers in the box and when to pull back to defend. I still feel Allegri is yet to find his best role in this side, but this was a calm, measured showing from the German. 6.5
Pjanic – Looks far more useful in the hole between midfield and attack, able to string passes together swiftly and pick up great positions from where he can produce creativity in the final third. A shame he went off injured, but thankfully it seems an innocuous knock. 6.5
Sturaro – Outstanding. Young Stefano has taken a few games – as to be expected – to regain his stamina and sharpness, and a portion of supporters seem to have strangely forgotten his longlasting injury bothers as well as his sterling form of last season. He was ubiquitous. Offering opponents zero space in the defensive phase, racing forward to find himself on the end of several promising moves, forcing the keeper into two decent saves, never tiring, giving his all for every ball. His passing, movement, tenacity and energy were top drawer. Plenty of room for improvement, but this performance was greater than anything offered by Lemina, Hernanes or Asamoah this season. Was not at all outclassed by Strootman, De Rossi or Nainggolan. I am glad but unsurprised to see such sterling work from the 23 year old. More is to come, but with him and Marchisio in midfield, Pjanic is able to play far more freely, for the dirty work is done by others. 8.5
Mandzukic – Mario has enjoyed a fine return to the starting XI since Dybala was crocked. His work rate is immense; defending, battering out space, pulling defenders out of position, and creating for others. Alongside Sturaro, his grinta was a wondrous example of lo stile Juve. With Pjanic, Sturaro and Khedira supporting the attack, the Croatian intelligently drops back to defend and cover with brilliant zeal. 8
Higuain – He found three chances, scored the winner with world class technique and looks sharp and menacing. Allegri has finally worked out a system to play him and Mario and to keep the Argentine further forward. And it is paying dividends. 7
Cuadrado – Appalling, gave the ball away in dangerous positions too many times to count, his passing was woeful, he seemed ill prepared to play. Hellbent on offering Roma a way back into the game. Still, by now I am accustomed to his mainly cold, sometimes hot consistency. Regardless, this was a wretched outing from the Colombian. Even by his…haphazard standards. 3
Barzagli – Pleasing to see him return and end the game unscathed. His experience will prove mightily useful when we enter the more serious segment of the campaign.
This was a fairly comfortable victory against a well organised, confident Roma side. Chances came at a premium, yet all four of the only clear cut opportunities were forged by Juve. And this was the difference. Indeed, Spalletti’s charges huffed and puffed, and played some decent football, but they were unable to match not just our quality but also our belief and pressure.
We stood off them a little late in the second half and its a shame we didn’t get the second. Yet we held on, remained dangerous on the break and Buffon’s gloves were rarely warmed. The team is growing, with Allegri finally feeling the time is right, perhaps somewhat forced through injuries, to deploy Pjanic in a more natural attacking midfield role. This is not just down to the defensive absentees, but more-so because Sturaro and Marchisio offer assurances in the middle, which we have hugely missed during their respective stints in the medical ward.
This industrious performance by Sturaro was no one-off, it was how he was playing regularly after joining the side in early 2015, until injuries began to niggle late last term. Asamoah has appeared awkward, Lemina hugely inconsistent and Hernanes at best a fair but insipid replacement for Marchisio as regista. We have toiled, payed quite poor football and now we have recovered two key players for the side, in an area of the field which has been troubling us all season.
Our strength in depth has really come to the fore this season. For rather than worry of missing key players, others such as Mandzukic, Rugani and Sturaro have found the chance to stake a claim for regular first team action. It is also welcome to see the Swiss Locomotive happy and involved. I hope the club reconsiders his contractual situation in January, before he is free to sign on elsewhere for the Summer. Alves was not at all obviously superior at either end of the field before his injury and the side feels more balanced with Stephan.
“I was angry at the final whistle because we did not deal with our lead very well at all towards the end,”
“Roma are very physical and we ran a few too many risks on set plays. I was cross with myself, as we should not have given Roma those opportunities. It’s another victory, we have 42 points with two games to play before the midway stage of the season.
“It was important to win tonight, we have Roma seven points behind us, but there’s a long way to go this term.”
“I am not remotely interested in records, as they mean very little. I am interested in being top of the table at the end of the season.
“It was a good match, hard-fought and I compliment all 22 players who took the field. I kept Mario Mandzukic to the end so he could engage in the final battle.”
“Let us enjoy this success and then see what happens. It’s important to go into the Super Cup game against Milan with the right mentality. We lost to them in Serie A this season and this is a one-off game, we’ve got no second chance.
“Miralem Pjanic got a knock to the hip, hopefully he’ll be able to recover in time. Daniele Rugani had a great performance to keep Edin Dzeko quiet. Alex Sandro didn’t put a foot wrong when defending and can become extraordinary.
“Stefano Sturaro played in a very Arturo Vidal style fighting against the Roma midfield and winning many duels, which was not easy up against Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan.” (Allegri)
We have our best players returning to fitness and sharpness. The results remain fine and the performances are improving. Allegri has weathered the storm superbly and should be praised for his handling of yet another period where we have succumbed to constant injuries, precluding any chance of finding a settled system, gaining cohesion and form.
The 4-3-1-2 with these players is very strong. Yet what will Allegri do when Barzagli and Bonucci are both once again fit? It is not time to dispense completely with the 3-5-2. Though clearly we gain a more potent Pjanic with a 4-3-1-2. Considering we have Dybala, Pjaca, Barzagli and Bonucci to come back into the reckoning, and we may well bring in Witsel for January, our situation appears very promising indeed. I retain total confidence in Allegri to nourish our growth and lead the chase for our shared dreams.
Of late, we have convincingly dispensed with an impressive Atalanta, topped our group in Europe, won bragging rights in the derby della mole, extended our lead at the top of Serie A to 7 points and equalled our own record of 25 straight home victories in the league.
A job well done.
(NB. The Primavera crunched Pescara 0-3 over the weekend, taking us back to the top of the standings. Coccolo scored with a decent header early doors, some tidy footwork from Macek led to Kean scoring from close range and it was Kean who intelligently set up Clemenza for the third. Grosso’s young guns will face Ajax in the knock-out stages of the UEFA Youth League in February)