Scheduled for the initial round following the winter break - and given it was first versus second - there was much hype surrounding Juventus’ clash with Roma.
For the Bianconeri it was the chance to move clear of the chasing pack approaching the second half of the campaign. Rudi Garcia’s men could reignite their chase after a stuttering end to 2013. They were confident their fourth Juventus Stadium trip would prove more fruitful than the first three, all losses. Following 90 minutes of high-octane action, Roma’s 17-match unbeaten start to the season was brought to an abrupt end. It’s a new sensation for Garcia.
Not often has he struggled for answers during his short stint in Italian football. But in the face of a Juve side content to allow the visitors possession and territory - nullifying their counter-attacking threat - Garcia’s men were toothless in the final third. Roma played well, but could not break through the Bianconeri wall.
The Frenchman admitted his surprise at the tactic: “We played a very good first half and I had forgotten we were playing on the home turf of the Serie A leaders, who usually kept possession and pushed opponents back into their own half here.”
Roma were then hurt by the Turin club scoring immediately after the interval. Whatever was said at the break essentially went out the window. “It hurt to concede straight after the restart,” mused Garcia. His side were shell-shocked and offered little afterwards.
They then cracked before Garcia’s eyes. Daniele De Rossi was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Giorgio Chiellini with 15 minutes remaining. He barely had time to go down the tunnel when joined by Leandro Castan after a deliberate handball. “It’s difficult to end the game with nine men, that is true, but we did not lose because of that. When Daniele was sent off, it was already 2-0 for Juve,” Garcia conceded.
For the first time since arriving in the capital, Garcia tasted the bitterness of defeat. Under his leadership the Giallorossi enjoyed the best ever start to a Serie A season, and ahead of the second half of the campaign they sit second. He remains solidly behind the squad. “I am 100 per cent confident in my players. After a defeat we have to push forward and use the feelings of disappointment we have tonight in our future games.”
His task is to get the team back on their feet for the weekend visit of ninth-placed Genoa. Roma go into the game having won just twice in eight matches since that historic 10th win, against Chievo in late October.
There’s no reason to suggest Garcia cannot get the players up and functioning again. Think back to his arrival at Trigoria. He took over a despondent squad reeling from their Coppa Italia Final defeat at the hands of bitter rivals Lazio in May. For Federico Balzaretti, that moment was ‘rock bottom’. Garcia instilled belief.
The players responded immediately, starting with the opening day victory at Livorno. They’ve overcome difficult challenges since, like that of the Rome Derby, plus Inter, Napoli and Fiorentina. Roma may have fallen short at Juventus but it was their first setback. And they are not the only ones. Juve have taken 49 points from a possible 54. As director Walter Sabatini noted, they are more mature than the Giallorossi.
Garcia maintains their primary aspiration remains achievable. “There are another 60 points available, but the title is not our objective. Our objective is to get back into Europe, so we are now second and that is a good place to be in. After that, we’ll see what happens.”
Roma will learn from the Juventus Stadium setback. They can use the disappointment as added motivation. Like Garcia says, the capital club remain in a good position, but there is no time to sulk – Napoli are just two points behind. He’s lifted them before, so look for a Roman revival starting with the clash against the Grifoni.