Juventus v Roma
Serie A Week 18 – Saturday, 23rd December – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Juventus are coming off two pretty satisfying games against Bologna in Serie A and Genoa in Coppa Italia. At the Dall’Ara Stadium, other than an early attempt on a counter by Godfred Donsah, the Bianconeri asserted their will and things went swimmingly thanks to Antonio Mirante’s bad day, as the goalie was imperfect in both Pjanic’s free kick and Mandzukic’s sliding volley. We have seen some goalkeepers play hero against Juventus over the years, so this was a welcomed change of pace.
In the midweek tilt, Paulo Dybala was the main protagonist with a sweet goal and an assist. He looked spry and he was very involved: he was deployed as false-nine to give Gonzalo Higuain a little rest. The goal was one of his trademark lefty strikes after a nasty spin, while later on he assisted El Pipita to round up the score. Roma dropped the ball in the other round of 16 game, so we will face Torino in the next Coppa Italia appointment.
It looks like being benched allowed La Joya a little time to regroup and ultimately his issues are only temporary. What might not be temporary is that the squad is doing pretty well with a three-man midfield, in particular thanks to the dynamism of Blaise Matuidi, so that could become a staple. Claudio Marchisio looked decent in his return, so we definitely would not lack depth if we went that route. Miralem Pjanic, in particular, has benefited from not having to run around that much and being able to focus more on distributing.
Massimiliano Allegri confirmed in the pre-game presser that Gianluigi Buffon and Mattia De Sciglio will be sidelined in this one: the goalkeeper is still nursing a calf strain, while the defender has picked up a hamstring ailment in the penultimate game. Wojciech Szczesny will start against his former team. Stephan Lichtsteiner returned from injury against Bologna and he has the inside track to be the right back, but Andrea Barzagli and even Juan Cuadrado have a shot to play there. Medhi Benatia, Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro will complete the defence.
As for the Colombian, he has resumed practicing somewhat regularly after some groin soreness, so he could be in the squad list. However, Douglas Costa is the favourite to start. Mario Mandzukic needed several stitches for a wound on his calf: it is an unusual injury and he is questionable for this game. Their availability could play a part in the choice of the scheme as the coach admitted that he has not decided yet, but I would be a little surprised if it was not a 4-3-3 here. Obviously, he can always zag when the opponents expect him to zig, but the three-man midfield has been very effective, with the more offensive formation kept as an option if we need to score. Since Douglas Costa and Dybala are healthier, they are the front-runners to feature from the get-go upfront and we have this configuration work in the few minutes it was deployed against Bologna.
4-3-2-1: Szczesny; Lichtsteiner, Benatia, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala, Douglas Costa; Higuain.
Buffon (calf), De Sciglio (hamstring), Howedes (quad).
Roma are enjoying a darn good season with Eusebio Di Francesco at the helm. He was known for his proactive style and airy scheme at Sassuolo, but he has added a good dose of pragmatism in the Capital, which made his side a very worthy Scudetto contender. Right now, they are three points behind Juventus and four behind Napoli, but they have played one less game, against Sampdoria, which they will recover in late January.
Replacing Mo Salah is a challenging task and they have not found the one player who could do it yet. They have used a committee: as predictable, Stephan El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti has been the best combination of wingers, with one adapting to the other flank. Compared to last season, they play a little more inside the pitch and therefore they are bigger scoring threats. While El Pharaoh is more of finisher, El Monito is a true playmaker, who creates for himself and for the others. Gregoire Defrel has not met expectations, while Cengiz Under is too raw.
They obviously just now got Patrick Schick back from a slew of injuries and they plan to use him as right winger: it has not gone well in a very very limited sample, but we will see. They might be forced to change things up tactically to fit both him and Edin Dzeko, who can definitely play together, but I am not sure they can do that in the coach’s beloved and successful 4-3-3. The Czech striker probably bears a grudge against Juventus for what happened in the summer and that could give him some extra motivation. He is not expected to start, but has a history of being a lethal weapon off the bench.
Roma’s attack has actually sputtered a little bit and they have scored just one goal, or less, in basically half of their games. On the other hand, they defence has been great: Alisson has proven to be a reliable goalkeeper after a year as an understudy, Kostas Manolas continues to be one of the best centre-backs in the League and both Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus have been reliable. They use two very offensive fullbacks: Alessandro Florenzi has looked good in his return from a double ACL tear, while Aleksandar Kolarov has been balling all year long and has been one of the best summer acquisitions, considering that he was cheap. Their wing game is definitely strong.
They are very dangerous on set pieces, both direct and indirect as they have few tall and physical players. Their defensive stats are great, but not because they merely park the bus, but because they control the ball a lot. Edin Dzeko is a little less efficient than his previous magical season, but they do create a lot of chances, even though they have not scored that much.
4-3-3: Alisson; Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Nainggolan, De Rossi, Strootman; El Shaarawy, Dzeko, Perotti.