Why Roma are the team to rival Juventus in Serie A

Tuttosport (Sergio Baldini) There are calm skies over Juventus as the 2017 scudetto shines down like the sun for Massimiliano Allegri andd his players. At least, that was the forecast at the start of the season. Distant forecasts can always be difficult to predict, and that is how it’s proved as a cloud is forming on the Bianconeri’s horizon. Their chase for a sixth successive scudetto won’t be a one-horse race, as many might have thought after the demonstration of their superiority last season was reinforced by major signings in the summer, some of which came at the expense of their rivals (Higuain and Pjanic were signed from Napoli and Roma respectively).

The cloud in question is a yellow and red one – Spalletti’s Roma. They were on the Bianconeri’s horizon last year as well after the Tuscan coach replaced Rudi Garcia, although that time they were too far behind to trouble a Juventus side who were racing towards their fifth title in a row. In the last 15 games though, the Giallorossi were actually keeping pace with them as they took 39 points (compared to the Bianconeri’s 40).

That excellent finish to the season was built on a fast-paced game that brought the best out of the team’s wingers and attacking midfielders. Since then, Spalletti has rediscovered the real Dzeko, adding a true striker’s presence and goalscoring instinct to his team. This has meant the Giallorossi can count on an exceptional attack, both in its quality and its variety. It has scudetto potential, making Roma into a true rival for Juventus. Napoli, however, are in the shadows due to their sterility in front of goal, caused by Higuain’s departure and Milik’s injury.

It’s certainly not a new rivalry: the Giallorossi actaully finished second behind Juventus twice during their five-season winning streak, while their rivalry during the 1980s was legendary, with battles on the pitch between Platini and Falcao and off it between Boniperti and Viola. The controversies of that time have even had an effect on the more recent meetings betwene the two sides, which the Bianconeri have enjoyed much the better of: 6 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats in the last 5 years.

Juventus and Roma haven’t yet played each other this season, but they will do so on Saturday 17th December at 7.45 at the Juventus Stadium. Since it’s the first half of the season it can’t be called a decisive match, but its importance – particularly psychological – remains high: a Bianconeri victory could frustrate the Giallorossi’s ambitions, while a Roma win would give Spalletti’s side huge motivation and sense of belief.

What’s more, the match will be the last in a cycle of 4 difficult games for both teams. Perhaps slightly more so for Roma: the Giallorossi face Lazio in the derby on 4th December, while Juventus host the season’s surprise team Atalanta. Midweek, the Bianconeri are at home again against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League, while Roma go to Bucharest to play Astra in the Europa League. After returning from Romania, the Giallorossi host Milan at the Olimpico on Monday 12th December, the day after the Turin derby.

Before this mini-cycle of games, both teams will face Pescara at home (the Bianconeri immediately after the international break and the Giallorossi the following week), and both have a dangerous away match to face (Roma go to Bergamo in their next game, Juventus go to Genoa the following week). On paper, Allegri’s side have the slightly easier finish to the first half of the season: an away game at Crotone on matchday 18 and Bologna at home on matchday 19, while Roma face Chievo at home and Genoa at the Marassi.

The start of the second half of the season will coincide with the African Cup of Nations, another factor that could have an effect on the rivalry between the two teams. The Bianconeri will be numerically worse off, given that they will lose Asamoah, Benatia and Lemina, while Spalletti will only have to say goodbye to Salah. However, his influence on the Giallorossi’s results so far has been greater than that of the 3 Bianconeri players: none of them would get in the first team if everyone is fit, while the Egyptian is – together with Dzeko – the one who has been leading Roma forward. Considering that the African Cup of Nations final takes place on 5th February though, both Allegri and Spalletti will have all their players back for the long title run in.

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