Soccer is a game of moments, and all true fans know that a good moment for their team can turn bad in a flash. This cruel aspect of soccer was on display during Week 18 of the Italian Serie A when Juventus FC hosted AS Roma at the Juventus Stadium in Turin, Italy.
In a match that pitted first place and defending champions Juventus against a previously undefeated Roma side sitting in second place, the stakes were high even before kickoff. To make it even more interesting, the hype machine that is the Italian media dubbed this match a title decider, and for good reason. A win for Juventus would put them eight points clear of their Roman rivals at the top, while a win for Roma would close the gap to a much more manageable two points going into the second half of the season.
Juventus isn’t the reigning champions of Italy by accident, and with their 3-0 win, Roma’s dream of lifting their fourth Serie A title hangs in the balance. Their moment in the sun has suddenly become cloudy.
Beating Juventus at home was never going to be an easy task for Roma manager Rudi Garcia‘s men, and it would have taken something special for Roma to stop Juventus from extending their year long, unbeaten home streak. But even the most optimistic Roma fans hoped captain Francesco Totti could come up with a moment of brilliance to topple a Juventus side in scintillating form. Although Roma started the game well, it wasn’t their day.
Down by two goals mere minutes into the second half, any idea of a Roma comeback was thoroughly put to rest when Roma and Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi was shown a straight red card for a hard slide tackle on Juventus’ Giorgio Chiellini in the 75th minute. It seemed to be a very harsh decision by referee Nicola Rizzoli, but it certainly didn’t help that De Rossi has a reputation for making rash challenges.
Losing by two goals and down to 10 men, Roma’s misery was compounded even more when the resulting free kick was punched off of the goal line by defender Leandro Castan. Another red card, another goal, as goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis could not save Juventus forward Mirko Vucinic‘s penalty.
The Roman gods clearly did not favor Roma on this day.
Coming into the match, Roma should have been full of confidence. They had already rewritten the record books by winning their first 10 games in a row, a Serie A record, and were the only undefeated side left in Europe’s top leagues. Combine that with a steadfast defense that had only allowed seven goals against all season, and Roma had every right to believe that they could sneak a win or draw in Turin.
So, what happened? The answer is Juventus’ superior chemistry.
When manager Antonio Conte took the reins in May 2011, Juventus had just finished the season in a dismal seventh place. Two years and two Scudetto titles later, Conte has restored Juventus to their former glory by assembling a team that is equipped to score goals at will and defend as a unit.
Roma, on the other hand, has been a team in transition, and has finished outside of the top five for three years in a row. Titles mold teams, and although Juventus may not be superior to Roma in terms of quality, they are a much more unified team.
That being said, with the coaching philosophy of Garcia, and the addition of players like Gervinho, Mehdi Benatia, Kevin Strootman, Adem Ljiajic and recently acquired Radja Nainggolan, Roma has a renewed sense of confidence that I have not seen in years past. With winnable games at home against Genoa and Livorno on the horizon, things may not be as bad as they seem.
If Roma is able to bounce back with a win, strengthen their team, and hold onto their stars during the January transfer window, the title may not be a foregone conclusion after all.