To say a lot is riding on this game is a complete understatement, because everything hangs on this clash between two of Serie A’s most intermittently beguiling and frustrating teams. If either club loses this key encounter, they can pretty much wave goodbye to their highest ambitions for the season.
A win for Juventus will keep the pressure on an Inter team not looking entirely coherent at the moment. In fact, this game against the Giallorossi sets in motion a series of encounters that, should the Bianconeri defeat Roma, Genoa and Chievo in the games ahead – could make their match against the Nerazzurri on Week 32 a mouthwatering prospect.
Juventus won the reverse fixture earlier in the season and should have too much for Roma’s beleaguered troops. Currently on a roll in Serie A, their last five games have brought them 13 points after four wins and a draw. If Claudio Ranieri can keep a steady ship, he can surely take advantage of his opponent’s inconsistency. But that may not be so easy, as Juventus have serious defensive problems at the moment with Nicola Legrottaglie and Giorgio Chiellini on the sidelines. They will sorely miss the experience and brawn of the two centre backs, shifting a lot of responsibility onto Olof Mellberg’s broad shoulders, to take control of the makeshift back line.
However, defensive frailties may be counterbalanced by the energy the returning Hasan Salihamidzic brings to the side – offering plenty of protection as he buzzes through the midfield. Rather underrated within the Juventus ranks, Sali is an industrious busy body who might find particular success against a Roma midfield lacking some key players. Tiago Mendes should keep things ticking over, following his excellent displays against his former employers, Chelsea (in both legs). A much improved player, he’s finally showing what he’s made of, following a solid run in the team.
Of course, recent headline inches have been taken up reporting the spat between Ranieri and David Trezeguet with the playground behaviour looks set to continue. In truth, Italian Coaches are usually pleased to see players leaving the field looking disgruntled, but on this occasion Trez has rather broken the tradition by speaking out so immaturely against his Boss. It’s not clear whether Ranieri will play Trezagol or freeze him out for a while, but at present, Juventus don’t really need his goals. That’s not to say his experience and knack wouldn’t be extremely useful – especially when the season comes to a head.
If Alessandro Del Piero and Sebastian Giovinco can continue to forge the beginnings of a beautiful partnership, this game will be Juve’s to lose. Although Atomic Ant would be better played in a more central role, his pace and imagination tends to send him to wherever he’s most affective anyway. It’s not time to pile pressure on him just yet – let this season be another learning experience. Besides, Del Piero can shoulder the responsibility of slamming in the goals for the time being.
Roma, on the other hand, seem to be physically crumbling, with very few prospects coming through to boost the energy and confidence of the team. Their paper thin squad has to be addressed in close season, otherwise the Giallorossi could soon become a mid-table outfit. With injuries to key players such as Juan, Cicinho, Marco Cassetti and Rodrigo Taddei, the replacements on hand are simply not adequate. Simone Loria is an absolutely abysmal defender who would look more at place in Serie C – so out of step is he with the pace and technique of top flight football. I Lupi should not have to field a player like him, but their relative poverty tragically forces them to do so.
Going forward, Alberto Aquilani, Mirko Vucinic and Francesco Totti are all just back from injury. In fairness, Totti should be rested for the remainder of the season as the sight of him hobbling around is surely more dispiriting than inspirational. Against le Zebra’s rather brawny defence and midfield, it’s going to be hard for the trio to pass their way to success. With Daniele De Rossi still suspended, it’s hard to see where the muscle is going to come from. Matteo Brighi will need to play the game of his life to make any impact in midfield.
Given his size and potential pace Julio Baptista should offer a physical threat, but his marshmallow soft centre tends to keep him away from the action rather than in the thick of it. His brace against Sampdoria was an anomaly that salvaged a game they deserved to lose and Luciano Spalletti would be wiser to let Vincenzo Montella get some games under his belt, as he still possesses the killer touch.
Having drawn three and lost two of the last five games (excluding their demoralizing defeat at the hands of Arsenal), this is a must win for Roma or they could find themselves slipping out of contention for fourth spot – especially as Genoa and Fiorentina both play winnable games at home against Udinese and Siena respectively. Fall behind now and their season could be in tatters. So, despite his dodgy knee and lack of fitness, the Roma faithful will once again be looking to their crocked Captain to pull one more brilliant performance from the depths of crisis.
Unfortunately, Totti will find himself facing a confident Juventus team who still believe they can win the Scudetto and in Del Piero a Captain brimming with confidence – gunning for a place in the national team yet again. The two superstars are a dying breed – two of the last remaining practitioners in the art of invention. It will be fascinating to watch these protagonists battle to claim the headlines, as they’ve done so often throughout their comparably illustrious and enthralling careers. At the moment each man reflects the club he has given his heart to. Totti, injured and somewhat in decline – Del Piero, resurgent and still dancing in the twilight. Let’s hope inspiration, rather than form, grips this potential classic.