It wasn’t the knock-down drag-out Scudetto showdown neutrals hoped for. For a long time it looked as if Roma had no answers to a Bianconeri wall determined to give captain Gianluigi Buffon a comfortable evening. As they entered the Stadio Olimpico for the top-of-the-table affair, Juventus enjoyed a nine-point cushion over the Giallorossi. Carlos Tevez temporarily pushed the advantage out to 12, but a late Seydou Keita header maintained slim Roman ambitions.
For Juventus the aim was not to lose. And for long periods they were in control of a game Roma needed to win. Weathering the late Lupi storm completed the job. Juve’s major victories on Monday were for tactical variation, versatility and squad depth.
Massimiliano Allegri’s initial reaction to the draw was one of anger. Understandable, given he had just seen his team relinquish maximum points against 10 men. “It is a step forward, but considering the way the game was going we really should’ve done better,” he stated. The Coach saw it as a missed opportunity to hammer home the margin between the clubs. It was a theme continued by his players, Tevez claiming Juventus “got it completely wrong after 70 fine minutes” and Claudio Marchisio regretting their inability to put the game to bed.
Another point of contention with the boss was dropping points on the road for a third successive match after Udinese and Cesena. Juventus have equalled in their last three away fixtures what was the season total on their travels beforehand – after Sassuolo, Genoa and Fiorentina.
But that shouldn’t take away from what was gained. The Turin club retained their advantage with a performance that should encourage rather than worry. They were measured in their approach, hinting at the style shown against Borussia Dortmund and one to possibly emerge in the second leg. Juve had just 35 per cent possession to half-time, but Buffon was rarely called into action. In reverting to a 3-5-2 from the start for just the second time in 2015, the Bianconeri hardly lost a step.
Allegri was forced into changes and got the maximum from those replacements. Martin Caceres did a fine job as the third defender. Midfield looked a problem area for the Old Lady in the lead-in and a re-shuffle was on the cards. Andrea Pirlo limped off against Dortmund and will even miss the second leg. Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal were day-to-day propositions and potential replacement Stefano Sturaro didn’t make the trip due to his own injury concern. The Chilean recovered just in time.
Marchisio stepped up as he has done prior in the absence of Pirlo and while offering a different interpretation of the role, Juventus still tick. Roberto Pereyra has been the first choice replacement for any midfield absentee, but normally in an advanced role. On Monday it was part of the midfield three and he too looked assured. Tevez took over free-kick duties and gave his best Pirlo impression to open the scoring. “I always try to copy Pirlo’s position and it’s important to watch him in training. Of course Andrea is still first choice!” Kingsley Coman’s pace gave Roma something to think about in the final moments.
That versatility and depth adds to Juve’s ominous presence. In losing two of their regular starting midfielders and altering the formation they did not fold, rather showed another facet of their game and remained in control of proceedings. Credit must go to Allegri for his preparations on both a tactical and personnel level. He’s shown flexibility and no matter who takes the field, has faith in the players to carry out the task.
With Roma remaining at arm’s length attention turns to the Coppa Italia tomorrow. Juventus host Fiorentina in the first leg of the semi-final as they fight on three fronts. Expect to see others get their chance to shine. The trip to Dortmund inches ever closer, but beforehand are domestic duties to tend to. Knowing they can perform even without key players makes the Bianconeri an even more frightening opponent.