When the Serie A fixture list was revealed back in the summer, Juventus supporters were rightly concerned about their run of games during December. As the 2017-18 campaign got underway, their fears about facing Napoli, Inter and Roma during the final month of the year grew greater still, the three clubs emerging as genuine threats to the Old Lady’s dominance of Italian football.
Indeed, after six years of marching to the title almost unchallenged, the quartet remain in contention. Yet rather than struggling, the Bianconeri have used those head-to-head clashes to underline their superiority, with a narrow 1-0 win over Roma on Saturday evening meaning they had taken seven points from those encounters.
And they did so in perhaps the most painful possible manner. A trip to the cauldron of the Stadio San Paolo came first and, after being showered with vitriol from the same fans who once worshiped him, Gonzalo Higuain bagged the decisive goal. Celebrating with gusto, the Argentinian has since been criticised by former team-mate Lorenzo Insigne for showing just how much he enjoyed netting against the Partenopei.
Yet while Insigne believed Higuain’s celebration was “disrespectful,” for Juve and their big No. 9 it was simply taking care of business. A 0-0 draw with Inter followed, the result failing to show just how poorly the Milanese side fared, and that brought us to the clash with Roma, which Alessandro Florenzi insisted would “tell us a lot” about the quality of the Giallorossi.
Once again, Max Allegri’s men would suck the life out of the game, nullifying the visitors and limiting their chances to score. When they did find a sight of goal, it was ironic that it would be Wojciech Szczesny – who left the Stadio Olimpico to join the Turin giants this summer – who stood tall to deny them.
The Polish goalkeeper made some outstanding stops, his late save when one-on-one with Patrik Schick preserving a lead given to them by another former Roma star. Medhi Benatia needed two attempts to break the deadlock following a first half corner, but just like Higuain, he clearly relished putting his old club to the sword.
Throw in another excellent midfield performance from Miralem Pjanic and the travelling supporters tucked away in the far corner of Juventus Stadium could be forgiven for feeling as if the Ghost of Christmas Past had visited them three times in one night.
Yet much like their fellow Scudetto hopefuls, it will be in the coming weeks when we see Roma’s true colours. Napoli followed up their loss to the Bianconeri by dropping points against Fiorentina, while Inter have lost to both Udinese and Sassuolo since facing the Old Lady, not to mention needing a penalty shoot-out to see off third tier Pordenone in the Coppa Italia.
There remain many questions for Juve of course, not least of which Allegri’s overly conservative team selection. While the result justifies his choices, it is unthinkable that this defensive approach is sustainable or to imagine playing another six months with Federico Bernardeschi, Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala sat on the sidelines instead of being in the starting XI.
But for now, all that matters is that Juventus secured yet another win. Or, perhaps more importantly, inflicted a defeat on a title rival and turned what looked like a difficult December into a showcase of their superiority.