Juventus vs Roma: La Vecchia Signora wary of the Lupi

Paulo Dybala vs. Seydou Keita - Juve - Roma
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A high-flying Juventus will be wary of a wounded Roma as they welcome the Giallorossi to Juventus Stadium this Sunday. It is shocking to even grasp what has transpired in Serie A so far this season, especially given how the Bianconeri started off their title defense in the worst possible way. An opening home game loss to Udinese – the first in their history – was followed up by a defeat to Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, and by matchday six, Juve had won just one game, leaving them mired in 15th.

By contrast, Roma were in sixth, but flash-forward four games and four wins, the Lupi were sitting on top of the table at the conclusion of round ten, with 23 points. La Vecchia Signora, on the other hand, had improved slightly – moving up to 12th – but had earned a measly 12 points. This would prove to be the turning point for these two sides: one would suddenly awaken from their slumber whilst the other would slip-up, appear to regain their footing, and then proceed to tumble and have yet to fully recover.

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On October 28th, Juventus were defeated 1-0 in round ten by “giant-killers” Sassuolo on the road. This would be the last time Massimiliano Allegri’s men would lose in the league, and ten straight games – all wins – have seem them rocket up the table from hovering above relegation, to mid-table obscurity, to chasing down the top four, and now are just two points behind Napoli. And despite the Partenopei enjoying their best ever season in decades – even being crowned “winter champions” – the Southern Italian side will still be looking over their shoulders warily at Juve’s recent renaissance and will be keen on keeping up their own good performances to hold off the Bianconeri for as long as they can.

Meanwhile, Roma’s troubles appear to be far from over. Since beating Lazio in the Derby della Capitale on November 8th, the Giallorossi have only won once in the league: a 2-0 defeat of Genoa in their final match of 2015. And the win over the Grifone was not enough to prevent Rudi Garcia from losing his job as they have resumed 2016 so far in the same disappointing vein of form that plagued them for the last two months of last year. Luciano Spaletti has now returned to the club and having drawn with bottom-feeders Hellas Verona in his first match, he will certainly have his work cut out for him if Roma are to somehow have any hope of catching up to Napoli, Juventus, and Inter in the top three.

Despite going up a goal, Roma’s defensive frailties were exposed yet again as they conceded a penalty to allow the Gialloblu – who have yet to win a match this season – snatch a point. Indeed, it will have felt like a defeat to the capital club, who have yet to win a game in 2016 and will be coming into this match on the back of three straight draws. Worryingly for fans is the fact that the Lupi had the lead in every single one of these matches and were unable to hang on to it, something that has cost them dearly as they have ended up dropping six points from a trio of matches they could have earned a full nine.

Juventus, who opted to rest some players for their midweek tie will definitely field their strongest line-up available, with Gianluigi Buffon returning to goal in lieu of Neto and preferred striking duo Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic taking the place of Simone Zaza and Alvaro Morata. The hosts will still be without the services of Roberto Pereyra and Mario Lemina; whilst Andrea Barzagli reportedly returned to training, his coach may opt not to risk him, especially with the team competing on three fronts this season. Meanwhile, Roma will be missing the services of Salih Ucan, Seydou Keita and Maicon all due to injury. Despite being available, veteran attacker Francesco Totti is not likely to be used in the starting XI. Rather, struggling striker Edin Dzeko will be supported by the likes of Mohamed Salah and Radja Nainggolan as the Bosnian international – who scored against Juve in August – and his team hope to improve their fortunes in Turin.

Will Juve make it 11 wins in 11? Should they win – and Napoli lose – they could find themselves top of the table for the first time all season. Or will Roma rebound and with a victory, give themselves – and their fans – the uptick in confidence they desperately need?

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Michelle Bonsu

Freelance football journalist based in New York. Primarily support AC Milan as well as the Ghanaian and Italian NT’s, but you’ll find me watching the Bundesliga and Premier League as well–enjoy a good game, regardless of where it’s being played. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of my favourite players.