AS Roma hosted Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico in the round before last of the 2017/18 Serie A season. The game had been set to bear far more importance for the home side than for the visitors, with Juventus’ seventh consecutive league title all but confirmed and Roma fighting to take part in next season’s Champions League, but Inter’s defeat to Sassuolo at home changed everything. The Nerazzurri lost all chances of finishing above Roma and took all the pressure off the shoulders of the Romans. Juventus, however, still needed to get something in Rome in order for their triumph to be mathematically certain.
Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco had a few injury problems in his team for this game. The hero of the recent Champions League quarterfinal against Barcelona Kostas Manolas suffered a thigh strain, Diego Perotti was still recovering from a sprained ankle, and Kevin Strootman was fighting against a rib injury, but they were all named on the bench.
Alisson Becker was in goal, Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus flanked by Alessandro Florenzi and Aleksandar Kolarov were ahead of him. Radja Nainggolan, Daniele De Rossi and Lorenzo Pellegrini formed the engine in the middle, while Stephan El Shaarawy and Cengiz Under supported Edin Džeko up front.
Massimiliano Allegri on the other hand had no injury problems apart from Giorgio Chiellini.
Wojciech Szczesny stood between the posts. The back four in front of him consisted of Mattia De Sciglio, Andrea Barzagli, Daniele Rugani and Alex Sandro. Blaise Matuidi, Miralem Pjanić and Federico Bernardeschi formed the midfield, and Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandžukić and Gonzalo Higuain played in attack.
The First Half – Roma’s Fruitless Dominance
Roma started the duel slightly better. They arrived near and into Juventus’ box continuously and with ease, but they weren’t able to cause any real danger until the 8th minute when Džeko’s poor shot from a good position ruined some very good work by Pellegrini. Two minutes later Nainggolan suddenly stole the ball off Pjanić and charged forward. He had Džeko free on his left but opted to end the move himself. His shot from the edge of the box went high over the bar.
Juventus fought back in the 15th minute when a great pass by Pjanić almost found Dybala free inside the box, but Alisson was quick off his line and dealt with the danger.
Cengiz, Pellegrini, El Shaarawy, Džeko, and even Kolarov down the left flank gave the Juventus defence a lot more work than Mandžukić, Dybala and Higuain managed to do at the other end, but there were no goals or clear-cut chances. Juventus players would occasionally produce a hopeful attempt – Dybala had one from range after 33 minutes and Bernardeschi also tried two minutes later, but not one of them troubled Alisson at all. And whenever they went forward in numbers, Roma quickly found ways to expose them at the other end. Pjanić and Sandro both got booked for using forbidden ways to stop those counterattacks; foul on Pellegrini and Cengiz, respectively.
But they couldn’t make their domination count.
The Second Half – Of Balance and Controversy
Only two minutes after the break, a great cross by Bernardeschi found Dybala behind Roma’s back four and the Argentine put the ball expertly into the net, but the linesman’s flag was raised for offside.
The home team tried immediately to continue where they left off, but Juventus now played more sharply, with more desire and endeavour, making things much harder for Roma than they were in the first half. In the 55th minute, De Rossi was forced to produce a superbly accurate tackle from behind on Higuain in order to stop the Argentine from going one-on-one with Alisson, but less than a minute later Szczesny had to come out and deal with the onrush of Džeko. The game seemed for a while like it was becoming more exciting, but soon it became more patient and balanced. Roma did come relatively close in the 65th minute when a shot by Kolarov got awkwardly deflected and went slightly over the bar.
Two minutes later, Allegri pulled Bernardeschi out and brought Douglas Costa on.
Just a minute later, a controversial decision by referee Paolo Tagliavento. He rather harshly showed a second yellow card to Nainggolan for a tackle on Dybala only five minutes after the first. On second glance, it looked as if the Belgian’s tackle was clean, but the referee’s decision wouldn’t be changed.
Pellegrini was sacrificed by Di Francesco four minutes later in order to re-establish his team’s balance. Maxime Gonalons came on.
Juventus took control of the game at this point, and they played very patiently, slowing the game down as much as possible. Needing just one point to secure the title, they seemed reluctant to go forward and take advantage of the fact they outnumbered their opponents on the pitch.
With ten minutes remaining, Cengiz, De Rossi and Mandžukić went off the pitch, making way for Patrik Schick, Kevin Strootman and Rodrigo Bentacur as both managers decided to introduce some fresh legs into the game.
Five minutes later, Dybala went down theatrically after a slight push from Jesus but the referee wasn’t interested.
The rest of the game, including the two minutes of stoppage time, passed without excitement.
The game turned out to be unexpectedly tame. Even before the game, Roma were already where they wanted to be – among the top four, while Juventus won the point they needed to confirm the seventh consecutive title. It is likely the players of both teams will now turn their attentions to their respective national teams and the matter of taking part in the upcoming World Cup, rather than the last round of the Serie A next week.
ROMA: Alisson 6, Florenzi 6.5, Fazio 7, Jesus 7, Kolarov 7, De Rossi 7.5 (81’ Strootman N/A), Nainggolan 7.5, Pellegrini 8 (73’ Gonalons N/A), El Shaarawy 6, Cengiz 7.5 (81’ Schick N/A), Džeko 6.5.
JUVENTUS: Szczesny 6.5, De Sciglio 7, Barzagli 7.5, Rugani 7.5, Sandro 6.5, Matuidi 6.5, Pjanić 6.5, Bernardeschi 7.5 (67’ D. Costa 7), Dybala 7, Mandžukić 6 (81’ Bentacur N/A), Higuain 7.
YELLOW CARDS: Pjanić 32’, Sandro 34’, Nainggolan 63’ & 68
RED CARDS: Nainggolan (two yellow cards) 68’.
REFEREE: Paolo Tagliavento.
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