AS Roma v Juventus
Serie A Week 36 – Sunday, 14th May – 19:45 GMT – Stadio Olimpico
Mission accomplished: on Tuesday, Juventus resisted Monaco’s early attacks and punished them twice in the first half taking advantage of the prairies they left in the back because of their new but still unbalanced scheme. Dani Alves once again delivered magic with that beautiful lob to set up Mario Mandzukic for the first goal and then putting the ball in the net himself with a stunner. The Brazilian fullback has been much maligned by the fans when he first came because of his tactical anarchy, but boy oh boy, has he shown up in the final stages of Champions League.
In the Turin derby, Juventus were pretty lucky to escape with a point: The Granata wanted it more as the Bianconeri were distracted by the two Monaco tilts. The 33 home game winning streak came to an end, but at least Gonzalo Higuain has carried on the exquisite tradition of scoring heart-breaking goals extremely late in the derby. Roma won on Sunday night, so we would have not celebrated the Scudetto anyway.
The party will inevitably arrive, but it would be neat if we wrapped things up this Sunday at Olimpico against the Giallorossi. Juventus simply need to avoid losing, something they have managed to do in their last 16 Serie A matches. The perils are obvious: the opponent is tough and motivated, we come from a very draining game and on Wednesday we face Lazio with the Coppa Italia on the line. The squad has the chance to complete two parts of the treble within four days: the trifecta would be incredible, but I think I speak for most Juventini when I say that winning the Champions League is what truly matters.
Inevitably there will be some rotation. Sami Khedira left the Monaco bout early, but luckily escaped major muscular problems: he has a pulled hamstring and will not be available for a while, the hope is to have him for a game or two before the Cardiff final. Miralem Pjanic is suspended for the Lazio game, so he will start in this one. Claudio Marchisio surprisingly made the squad list despite dealing with some muscle fatigue: anyway he is very unlikely to play in this one and fielding him four times in two weeks did not look particularly adequate. Hopefully he can recover by Wednesday. Tomas Rincon or Mario Lemina will be in the starting lineup.
In the defence, Giorgio Chiellini is playing at an incredible level and I think he will be spared for Wednesday, with Medhi Benatia taking his place, fresh off the club picking up the option to acquire him. Leonardo Bonucci can take playing a few times in a row and unfortunately Daniele Rugani is injured: let’s see how the coaching handles him. There should be the usual rotation on the right flank, with Stephan Lichtsteiner and Juan Cuadrado returning to the XI and Andrea Barzagli and Alves on the bench, but Big Game Dani could be an interesting option for the attack. Kwadwo Asamoah has a chance to supplant Alex Sandro, but that duel is tight.
As for the offensive line, Mario Mandzukic could be due for some rest as both Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala got some time off in the last two games: Stefano Sturaro would take his place, or maybe the coach, who has hinted at resting one of the big four, will use both Asamoah and Sandro at the same time.
4-2-3-1: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Benatia, Bonucci, Asamoah; Rincon, Pjanic; Cuadrado, Dybala, Mandzukic; Higuain.
Khedira (hamstring), Rugani (tibia), Pjaca (knee).
Roma are having an excellent season, yet there is a cloud of sadness and disappointment hovering on their heads. The biggest problem is that once again they will not win anything: the nine-year drought is starting to weigh on them. They were eliminated in the Champions League playoffs and that ruined the whole season. Furthermore, Luciano Spalletti is a goner and has lived the whole year as a lame duck with contradicting and increasingly sibylline remarks. Finally, the management has basically forced Francesco Totti to retire: it was time, but they probably should have let the captain announce it on his terms.
They are fighting with Napoli for the second place, which would grant direct access to the group stage of the main European competition for the club. The only ray of sunshine for some in what is an inexplicably gloomy scenario is the arrival of the sporting director Monchi from Sevilla. A terrific hire, but when the dust settled and the smoke cleared, they did not achieve much the last time they treated an executive, who is now coordinating Inter and Jiangsu, like a superstar.
They arrive at this encounter pretty banged up. The Serie A leading scorer Edin Dzeko, who bounced back in a tremendous way after a down year, is out because of calf strain. Kevin Strootman is suspended for the ludicrous dive in the derby. Radja Nainggolan, who is probably pound for pound their most precious contributor, is battling an edema in the same muscle, while Diego Perotti, who becomes ultra-important because he is the prime false-nine candidate, is dealing with a sore ankle. They will both reportedly gut it out, but the midfielder is slightly more at risk.
The absences leave Spalletti with little choices. He has used 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1 this season: despite the absence of Dzeko, he should still deploy the first one. He still has some options concerning the defence and the flanks. Bruno Peres has dramatically fallen out of favour in the last few games: the coach even picked using Emerson Palmieri on the right and Juan Jesus as left fullback over fielding him in a key match like the Milan one. The Brazilian is best suited as a wing back and he would be the first alternative if one between Nainggolan and Perotti did not recover, prompting a tactical switch. Antonio Rudiger, Kostas Manolas, Federico Fazio and Emerson will form the back line.
Leandro Paredes has taken advantage of the recent playing time and has starting to show off his kicking skills, both from long range and set pieces. He will replace Strootman and partner with Daniele De Rossi. Mohamed Salah and Stephan El Shaarawy will start on the wings, with Nainggolan behind Perotti: they have used this exact scheme a lot last season when Dzeko was in a funk and the two Egyptians have thrived scoring wise and the Belgian ace emerged as an offensive weapon. It is a whole different challenge for the defence, because there is no reference point, they are extremely quick and have good chemistry. If something went wrong, El Shaarawy and Salah have both been used as false-nine, but they are not as effective as Perotti, who has great vision and passing skills. Clement Grenier has spent time as attacking midfielder. An out-of-the-box idea would be to start Francesco Totti in his last big game, but realistically the captain does not have more than a half in his legs.
4-2-3-1: Szczesny; Rudiger, Manolas, Fazio, Emerson; Paredes, De Rossi; Salah, Nainggolan, El Shaarawy; Perotti.
Dzeko (calf), Florenzi (knee).