Juventus is the winter champion and already on the verge of waltzing off with a third straight Scudetto. Sunday’s game against Roma at Juventus Stadium should have been its toughest test yet, but the Bianconeri simply proved that substance will beat style every time.
A 10th successive league victory was always on the cards from the moment Arturo Vidal poked home a goal completely against the run of play, and was secured thanks to second-half goals from Leonardo Bonucci and Mirko Vucinic. That Roma’s two minutes of madness which saw it reduced to nine men finally ended the contest should not be used as evidence that Juve was anything but the better side. The truth is that the champions remain a step ahead of the rest.
Rudi Garcia’s men arrived in Turin with an unbeaten record to protect and the undisputed crown of Serie A’s most attractive passing outfit. They left with their tails between their legs, their invincible streak shattered and a selection headache to contend with ahead of next week’s clash against Genoa.
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Antonio Conte, on the other hand, could not have wished for more from his players. They opened up by allowing the Giallorossi all sorts of time on the ball, clearly learning from Roma’s recent inability to break down stubborn deep defenses and occasional vulnerability to the counterattack.
Since an Alessio Cerci-inspired Torino was the first team to deny the Lupi three points back in November, many teams have set up with a deep midfield to force Roma to break them down in numbers without allowing space between the lines. It just so happens that Juve is the team best equipped to handle that exact game-plan, and they carried it out to perfection.
Conte has been the focus of some criticism recently, with Juventus’ elimination from the Champions League forcing many to question his tactical qualities. But, when it comes to domestic matters, he is proving that he has what it takes to react to the strengths and weaknesses of opponents and adapt his men appropriately. Other than a lethargic display away to Inter and five minutes of madness in Florence, the Bianconeri have been near untouchable.
They now sit eight points clear of Rudi Garcia’s men and look nailed on for a 30th official Scudetto success, but Roma fans need not be entirely disappointed with their lot as they take stock after their first defeat since last May’s humiliating Coppa Italia final reverse to Lazio.
A title push looked likely to be the last thing on the Giallorossi’s agenda at the end of last summer. Having sold Marquinhos, Erik Lamela and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, questions were rightly asked of the club’s hopes of even challenging for Europa League football. Yet Garcia’s troops have performed tremendously thus far, and while the needless sendings-off of Daniele De Rossi and Leandro Castan in the space of 90 seconds on Sunday represent the low point of Roma's season, its performance in the first half in particular was far from shameful.
Roma remains on course for the Champions League as things stand and given another season or two – with key signings made up front, in goal and at left back – it could well make a concerted push for a Serie A title.
But what Sunday proved once and for all is that Juventus is too good for the rest of the league at the moment, leaving would-be challengers to plan early for a 2014-15 title push. For this term at least, Juve is not about to be caught.
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