Dave Taylor believes the Juventus-Roma result rests on the winner of the battle between Carlos Tevez and Mehdi Benatia.
What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Who knows? But we may find part of the answer to this paradox after the Juventus and Roma clash. Although not quite the Hulk Hogan v Andre the Giant duels of the 80s,both clubs will be fielding their strongest sides and as they are pretty much equal in everything, it’s a tough call.
In general terms Juve are the irresistible force while Roma are the immovable object. The champions are top scorers, have won their last nine Serie A games and have not been beaten at home. Visitors Roma meanwhile have the best defence and haven’t lost for 19 rounds, home or away.
The game will probably revolve around two of the peninsula’s most accomplished players: Juve’s Carlos Tevez and Roma’s Mehdi Benatia. One is Serie A’s most dangerous and in-form striker, the other its most redoubtable defender, so something has to give. A head-to-head between this pair should be a fascinating sight. Tevez is the feisty tango-fuelled irresistible force, trying to thwart the Sirocco-charged immovable object that is Benatia. Hypothetically, it promises to be a classic as neither seems ready to be dislodged from their perches in a heavyweight clash that could help determine the eventual champions.
Both players obviously have different characteristics and it should prove a pretty even contest. Despite Tevez measuring just 1.73m to Benatia’s 1.91m and weighing 13kg less, he is a little player who consistently delivers a big workload.
Back to the teams, relatively speaking Roma’s immovable object is her consistency. The back four has rarely changed this season, enabling the defence to build up an understanding which has made them difficult to break down. In Benatia, Leandro Castan and Douglas Maicon, they have arguably got the best two centre-halves and right back in Italy, which gives them a formidable base to work from.
On the other hand Juve’s irresistible force has seen Coach Antonio Conte produce a team that has scorers all over the pitch. Whatsmore on this season’s evidence, even after two Scudetto wins they are still hungry and ambitious. There is no doubt that Tevez has added much needed energy to this ambition and so far this season he has had the most shots on target in Serie A with 29. All told the Argentinean has scored 11 goals with just one of them a penalty and when compared to the three players Roma needed to score the same amount, it shows how important he is to Juventus.
Stats of course can be employed any way you want them, but what is concrete is that Tevez is a real danger and with his energy, control, pace and bull-like ability to burst out of tight situations, he will take some controlling. Yet if there is anyone who can do it, then it’s Benatia. Roma’s former Udinese defender has a similar burst of pace like Tevez, but he also has a height that he uses for the benefit of the team. Apart from winning almost 80% of his headed duels this season, which is exceptionally good, that extra height would be of no use without his determination and spatial awareness.He uses this effectively and exploits it to attack his opponents’ space. He is also unafraid to do the dirty work while also possessing the intelligence to read the game perfectly, which added together might just give him an advantage over Tevez.
So far in this campaign his average 3.1 interceptions and 5.8 clearances per match illustrate his ability to disrupt his opponents’ attacks before they develop into anything dangerous. Factor in that he is a natural ball player seen by his completion of a superb 88.3% of his passes and it’s obvious why he has been crucial to Serie A’s best defence.
His eye for goal has also made him an integral part of Roma’s attack and three of his four have come from his daunting John Charles-like presence at set pieces. “I trained as a striker when I was a kid and every Sunday my father placed me in front of the goal to train me and my cousins on specific exercises,” he said recently. “He prepared me to be a hitman. Who would’ve thought I would go on to become a defender? I didn’t!” And neither did most and certainly Tevez will be just that little more aware this Sunday – he will need to be.