Gonzalo Higuain all that separates Roma and Juventus

Il Tempo (Alessandro Austini) There’s nothing you can do. That was the refrain once more after the clash between the title challengers at the Juventus Stadium: Juventus won, as they have for the last 6 years here, but this time they weren’t at their best. In fact, Roma may have deserved a little more out of the game for their courage and domination of the ball, having got through a terrible start to face the countless challenges of the game head on. In the end, Higuain was the difference – the €94m man who is performing when it matters most: he decided the match against Napoli, the derby, and now yesterday’s game. As a result, Juve moved to +7 and are already winter champions, and can now focus on the Supercoppa against Milan and make preparations for when Serie A returns in 2017.

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There was a surprise at the start of the game as Gerson lined up on the right hand side of the Giallorossi’s front 3, a courageous choice from Spalletti given that he had always previously used him as a regista. The experiment proved to have failed after just 45 minutes though, as Salah came out for the second half instead of the Brazilian. Allegri played it safe with his team: a 4-man defence, an excellent Sturaro who gave substance to the midfield, and Pjanic behind Mandzukic and Higuain, with Dybala kept in reserve together with Cuadrado and Barzagli on the bench.

The years go by and the players change, but Roma always have a nightmare start to their matches in the Juventus Stadium. Juve started at 100mph, the Giallorossi were tense, and De Rossi was booked for a foul on Pjanic. A goal wasn’t long in coming: DDR couldn’t stop Higuain and Manolas was late in closing him down; despite how good the finish was, Pipita’s goal was handed to him on a silver platter.

With not even 14 minutes on the clock, this seemed to finally wake Roma up and, led by Nainggolan, they started to get into the game. Ninja had a chance, Manolas had a golden opportunity following a corner, and there was cause for optimism as the teams went in for half time. The Giallorossi had much the better of the second half than the Bianconeri, even though Spalletti lost one player after another as both De Rossi and Manolas went off injured – ditto Pjanic for Juve – and although Nainggolan completed the 90 minutes he was limping by the end.

As the game went on Roma’s confidence was increasing as they gained territory, and Allegri first turned to Cuadrado off the bench before belatedly putting on Dybala at the end, but only Spalletti’s team were really trying to create anything. The game remained in the balance until the 94th minute, partly thanks to 2 superb saves from Szczesny from Sturaro (it says everything that he, together with Higuain, was the home side’s best player) in what were the only real chances for the Bianconeri in the second half, which themselves only came on the break as Roma were forced to commit players forward.

At the other end Buffon had cause to be nervous on a few occasions: Fazio couldn’t turn home a loose ball, Perotti shot weakly, Manolas was just too late in trying to reach the ball, El Shaarawy – on for De Rossi – shot wide. At the end even Bruno Peres tried to equalise, but it was in vain and Roma lost their 7th game out of 7 in this accursed stadium. It was a hard blow to take, but it was the first time they had given the impression that they were at the league leaders’ level. 7 points is a lot, but at this stage not too many. And Milan are still behind them.

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