The clash between Juventus and AS Roma at the Allianz Stadium in Turin on Saturday ended in a 1-1 draw, with Dusan Vlahovic blasting a fine free-kick in off the crossbar after less than two minutes and Tammy Abraham makng use of a skillful return ball from Paulo Dybala to head home from close range in the 69th.
It’s fair to say that this match, in terms of the quality of the football on display, didn’t really justify the title of the derby of the week, a few moments of individual bliss aside. Both teams played carefully, though Juventus could be said to have dominated up to a point in the first half, and maybe about 10 minutes after the break. After that, not that Roma rose the occasion, no; it was rather that the home side dropped their level too and there was little excitement one expects from a clash like this.
Juventus really pushed for the second goal following Vlahovic’s early opener. Alex Sandro came close with a long-range blast and Juan Cuadrado had a good chance after being set up nicely by Fabio Miretti. In the 25th minute, the home supporters went ecstatic believing their team had gone 2-0 up as Manuel Locatelli whipped a curled shot from range with such accuracy that Rui Patricio in the Roma goal had no chance whatsoever to anything but watch it hit the back of the net, but VAR stepped in and at closer inspection, it was obvious that Vlahovic had handled the ball in the buildup and the strike, as fine as it was, was disallowed.
However, the Juventus drop appeared to coincide with the exit of Adrien Rabiot from the game. The French midfielder was replaced by Denis Zakaria in the 58th minute, and a lot of fluidity seemed to have gone out of Juventus’ game from that point on. It should be said here that Old Lady are reportedly willing to allow Rabiot to leave and had agreed a transfer fee with Manchester United, only for Rabiot himself to fail to agree personal terms with the 20-time English champions.
It might be a bit worrying that the club is willing to sell a player whose influence on the pitch has been known to make a difference to the level of performance of the whole team. On the other hand, it should be said that Paul Pogba, who has rejoined the club as a free agent this summer, is expected to be the man who’ll be contributing even more in that role, once he recovers from injury.
The 4-2-3-1 shape coach Massimiliano Alegri deploys his team in depends a lot on the midfield pair and the dynamics the two players there establish. Rabiot and Locatelli worked excellently together, but Zakaria, a fine player himself, was unable to make that change seamless when Rabiot went off.
Known for his ability to set his team up in a way that efficiently disrupts the opposition play, Jose Mourinho chose a formation that in its essence was 3-4-2-1, but it could easily shift to 5-4-1 and close the gap between the lines to prevent any unwanted exploits of space. There was, of course, nothing any of his players could do to prevent Vlahovic from hitting that free-kick the way he did once Nemanja Matic committed the foul on Cuadrado, but aside from that, the Serbia international was kept under the close eye of Chris Smalling throughout.
Sensing the drop Juventus were exhibiting after the hour mark, Roma went forward a bit more bravely, seeking to do something that would get a potential equalizer into view. Mourinho had made two changes at the break, and the one where forward Stephan El Shaarawy came on to replace defender Gianluca Mancini signaled the real change in the approach.
However, it was a set-piece that eventually brought about the desired result and set what later turned out the final score. Lorenzo Pellegrini whipped a corner towards the far post where he found Dybala, and the former Juventus man hit it back through the six-yard box to find the head of Abraham. There was nothing Szczesny could do.
It was enough for Mourinho and eight minutes later, he pulled Dybala out and sent on Marash Kumbulla, a change which restored the original game-plan to action and from that point on, it was all about seeing the game off for the visitors.
Needless to say, it was an emotional evening for the man who spent seven years at the Allianz Stadium before leaving it for the Olimpico this summer. The reception he got from the stands was a mixed one, boos and whistles mixed with applause and standing ovations by some of the home supporters.
Mourinho spoke before the game about the need for Dybala to act professionally and put his understandable emotions under control, and for all appearances, the Argentina international did so, not getting involved in any controversy, but his influence on the game was missing very much before that 69th minute when he assisted Abraham’s equalizer.
Be that as it may, Roma have got themselves a top player, one for whom a moment of inspiration can be enough to turn a game around.
Another thing Mourinho was asked before the game was the appointment of Massimiliano Irrati as the referee. Known for his tendency to talk about officials, the Portuguese tactician refused to make any comments in advance, saying he would have an opinion after the final whistle.
All in all, Irrati did a fine job and it wasn’t always an easy one. He reacted tremendously well to an early tussle between Vlahovic and Smalling, verbally cautioning both the Serbian attacker and the English defender, and the issue seemed completely resolved from that point on. He also had no problem admitting his mistake and disallowing Locatelli’s goal.
The officials in the Serie A should be commended for the way they keep potentially problematic situations under control. One doesn’t need to go beyond the legendary Pierluigi Colina to realize that has always been the case, and the introduction of the VAR system took it to an even higher level.
By contrast, things are currently at an appalling level in England. Paul Tierney, for example, would do well to study the way Irrati deal with Vlahovic and Smalling carefully after he allowed the obvious problem between Darwin Nunez and Joachim Andersen at the 1-1 draw recently played between Liverpool and Crystal Palace to escalate to the point where he had no choice but to send the Liverpool striker off, even if the Palace defender did overreact to the former’s heatbut.
Tierney is, of course, not the only one lacking proper refereeing skill in England, and elsewhere for that matter. Italy should be an example for the whole Europe to follow, and if the overall standards do not improve soon, the international governing bodies, both UEFA and FIFA, should look closely into the problem.
For Juventus, there’s no hiding from the fact that the visitors are the team happier with the outcome of this match; there’s no shame in leaving the Allianz Stadium in Turin with a point in the bag for anyone in any competition. Quite apart from that, the result leaves Roma still two points ahead of Juventus in the Serie A table, with two wins and a draw, while it’s the other way around for Allegri’s men.
The Bianconeri are set to face Spezia on the last day of the month, again at home, and there will be no excuse for failing to win that match. With all due respect to Spezia, a team aspiring to win the Scudetto cannot be dropping points against them at home.
As for Roma, the season couldn’t have started better. With seven points, they’re fourth on goal-difference but on the same tally as all three teams above – AC Milan, Lazio and Torino. It obviously doesn’t mean much so early in the season, but a fine start is important from a psychological perspective. Confidence is a big, big asset in a competitive league.
A day before Juventus take on Spezia, Roma will be welcoming Monza to the Olimpico.
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