Curse of Juventus Stadium continues for Roma

Il Corriere della Sera (Luca Valdiserri) 100 points in the calendar year from 38 games, the equivalent to an entire season. 25 consecutive league victories at the Juventus Stadium, the last time they failed to win was the 1-1 draw with Frosinone on 23rd September, 2015, and their last defeat was the 0-1 loss at home to Udinese a month before that. Winter champions with two games to spare, Roma trailing 7 points behind them, Milan 8 points back. All in all a perfect Saturday for them in order to plan ahead for the second half of the season and manage their squad when the Champions League returns. Meanwhile they inflicted yet another defeat on the Giallorossi, who have often been their only credible rivals for the title in the last few years – at least until it comes to the head to head match. Higuain won his duel with Dzeko, helped by the fact his team weren’t just trying to pick him out with a long, high ball, but also thanks to his dual ability to be lethal when he is close to goal and unselfish when he is playing as the second striker to Mandzukic, in that odd but effective attacking setup.

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Juve’s strength can be seen in the statistics: the match didn’t have too many moments of brilliance, but every clear chance that was created fell to the Bianconeri. Roma didn’t play badly, especially after the first half hour, but they lacked impetus up front due to the absence of Salah (who started on the bench), Perotti’s inability to shoot, and a bizarre choice made by Spalletti at the start of the match.

The big surprise was seeing Gerson in the starting line up. The Brazilian, born in 1997 and formerly of Fluminense, had only played 99 minutes in Serie A before yesterday. Roma battled gainly for 80 minutes to rescue a draw, but only went close a couple of times from scrambles following corner kicks. Too little for a Spalletti side. With a fit Salah – in the second half it was plain to see why he didn’t start – it could have been a different game. But the question has to be asked why El Shaarawy has been virtually completely dropped from the squad rotation.

Allegri got the most out of the Higuain-Mandzukic pairing, and found a surprising man of the match performance from Sturaro. All that was missing from the midfielder’s performance was a goal, and that was only because Szczesny made 2 extraordinary saves from him. Therein lies the real difference: Juve got into Roma’s penalty area by creating things in open play, Roma nearly always had to rely upon set pieces. I’ll say it again, they didn’t play badly, but the fact is that they almost never gave the impression they could find an equaliser.

Higuain’s goal was a rare moment of brilliance. It might have reminded people of an older generation of a goal scored by Nordahl, Gigi Riva, or Batistuta. To the youngsters of today, it was simply another typical Higuain goal. De Rossi tried to close him down but Pipita avoided his challenge, creating space for himself and running at goal. Mandzukic did well to make a run towards the area, taking Manolas and Fazio with him, and Rudiger wasn’t close enough to his man. Manolas realised the danger and tried to close down Higuain, but he simply dribbled round him and fired a fierce shot into the corner. Game over.

It was only the 14th minute and Roma had a lot of time to get themselves back into it, but the Juventus Stadium is a taboo for them: 7 defeats from 7 games, conceding 19 goals in the process and scoring just 3. That’s the sort of thing championships are decided on.

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