The swivel was Messi-esque, the nutmeg that completely sold Luiz Felipe was marvellous and the newfound Christian Vieri-like strength was mesmerising. As Paulo Dybala’s scooped effort landed in the top corner of Lazio’s net, a collective groan could be heard around not just Italy, but indeed the world. Here they go again, typical Juve.
And they weren’t wrong, Saturday’s win in Rome was, indeed, typical Juve, in fact if there was ever a result that epitomised the very essence of Juve’s attitude to the stylistic virtues of the game, this was it. A performance that on the whole, scarcely merited a single point, but somehow they managed to collect all three. We’ve seen it countless times, over endless years.
Make no mistake about it, their performance was such that it would be overly generous to give any positives. Dybala’s goal was the only shot on target the Bianconeri managed in the game. Both teams were clearly feeling the affects of their exploits in the Coppa Italia. This, coupled with Juve’s line-up suggesting they had their minds on Tottenham Hotspur and Lazio’s refusal to attack the champions at any point during the game, led to a poor spectacle.
Yet when we look back on the season in May, it could be this weekend - this most tragic of weekends – that the pendulum swung towards Juve. The Dybala goal could prove to be the season’s defining moment.
That feeling was only reinforced when you consider what happened in Naples a few hours later. Napoli’s capitulation to Roma has resurfaced many who believe that Maurizio Sarri’s simply lack the mentality needed to win Serie A.
In the cold light of day, the 4-2 defeat was incredibly harsh. Lorenzo Insigne’s battle with Alisson was as thrilling to watch as it must’ve been frustrating for the forward, who was repeatedly denied by the Brazilian, far and away the best goalkeeper in the League this season.
What the result exposed again, however, was the Partenopei’s lack of squad depth. This is particularly pertinent, given their intoxicating yet physically demanding style of play. To steal and modify an infamous line from Alan Hansen: you’ll never win anything with Raul Albiol and Mario Rui in your starting XI.
Decent players they are, but neither inspire confidence in the most high profile of games. Albiol has never been viewed as an exceptional centre-back, less so now that he’s 32. He was at fault for Edin Dzeko’s beautifully-arched header in the first half, momentarily losing track of the Bosnian before getting hopelessly out-jumped for the goal that set Roma on their way.
Mario meanwhile, was nothing short of disastrous, his insipid display encapsulated by his insane attempt at backheeling the ball from a Aleksandr Kolarov cross – in his own penalty box no less – into the path of Diego Perotti.
You can only camouflage such players for a period of time; eventually there will come a time when they get found out. Sarri famously doesn’t care for the transfer market, preferring instead to coach the players at his disposal. This may be a President’s dream, and it’s admirably romantic on Sarri’s part, but sometimes you just need an upgrade.
Juve, by contrast, rested Alex Sandro, Giorgio Chiellini and Douglas Costa - not to mention leaving Gonzalo Higuain at home - and returned from the capital with a win against a team who have already beat them twice. That in itself is a reminder not just of the level Napoli are up against, but a reminder that sustaining a title challenge goes beyond the starting XI. Of Napoli’s front three, only Insigne has missed a League game, with Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon playing in all 27. It’s mind-boggling, but that ultimately comes at a price and surely can’t continue.
How Napoli react to the Roma defeat will reveal more of their mindset as we creep towards the business end of the season. However, the computer hasn’t been kind to them; they travel north to play an Inter side who will have had their batteries recharged, with no game in two weeks.
If Juve, home to Udinese earlier in the day, win and Napoli slip up once more, that just might be the title race over. If indeed that’s the case, Dybala’s strike at the Olimpico will go down as the goal that changed a campaign, and with it, offering little hope of any team seemingly capable of breaking Juve’s hegemony in Serie A in the foreseeable future.
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