Football is often a matter of crossroads and turning points, of sliding doors and butterfly effects. Juventus beat Roma 1-0 in the last match of Serie A Round 18 last night, thanks to the outstanding performances of two who used to wear a Giallorossi jersey in the past – Mehdi Benatia and Wojciech Szczesny. Patrick Schick on the other hand, was supposed to be playing for the Bianconeri by now, but a troubled summer rather brought him on the Tiber river bank. His shooting mistake during extra time denied Roma an equaliser, possibly writing an important page in the race for Scudetto.
Thanks to these pre-Christmas three points, Juventus remains on the trail of Napoli, one point behind the leading Partenopei. Massimiliano Allegri can rejoice at his side maintaining a clean sheet for the eighth game in a row, and once again versus a top contender for the league title. Madama’s rise is a movie seen six times already in the last six seasons: Rock-solid defense, sudden counterattacks, and much much cynicism and effectiveness on the pitch. With the friendly participation of players who used to play for Roma in a not too distant past.
The decisive goal originated from Mehdi Benatia’s foot, but the Moroccan center back did more than scoring, excelling at what he was exactly supposed to do: Defending. A late-time blunder that put Schick in condition to shot was the only flaw in his perfect match, for someone who is progressively taking control of the Old Lady’s defensive line.
Roma’s former goalie Wojciech Szczesny collected his cap number eight for Juve this season. The Pole locked his goal in at least two fundamental occasions, proving that the choice of investing into him as monument Gianluigi Buffon’s successor is bearing fruit already.
Crossroads again: On the other side of the pitch, Roma’s goal last night was guarded by Alisson Becker. The Brazilian had to watch the past season from the bench to leave room precisely to Szczesny. With the Polish National team player moving to Juventus, the time was right for him to reclaim the Giallorossi’s goalkeeper spot. Alisson kept his side afloat as he could: It took three shots to strike him down in occasion of the Bianconeri’s only goal.
When the clock was striking minute 18, Miralem Pjanic – another one with a Giallorossi past – delivered a corner kick from the left side, for Giorgio Chiellini to test Alisson’s reflexes with a powerful header. As the ball bounced back on Benatia’s foot, the Moroccan gave Alisson another chance to shine, but was then fast enough to tap it for the 1-0 after the Brazilian had deflected his first shot.
Roma’s reaction concretized into a counterattack on the left flank by Diego Perotti. The winger served Stephan El Shaarawy, with the Pharaoh failing to impact the ball correctly. Szczesny did his part with parrying back the shot, but was helped by El Sharaawy failing to hit with full force.
With Edin Dzeko concerningly out of play, Roma relied on a couple of perfectly-timed defensive closures by Federico Fazio to stay in the match, and heaved a sigh of relief when referee Paolo Tagliavento overlooked Alisson crashing into Gonzalo Higuain in the box. A penalty kick would not have sounded totally unfair.
Eusebio Di Francesco’s added weapon was supposed to be a recovering Patrick Shick, whom the Roma coach sent in the second half to replace Stephan El Shaarawy. Massimiliano Allegri’s answer bore the name of Federico Bernardeschi substituting Juan Cuadrado. No trace again of Paulo Dybala, who was missing from the starting lineup for the third time in a row, and ended up watching the full game from the bench.
Lorenzo Pellegrini then replaced Kevin Strootman from Roma, but the Giallorossi’s most dangerous chance came when Alessandro Florenzi believed in a long-range cross by Daniele De Rossi, and corrected it to hit Szczesny’s woodwork. Di Francesco‘s third move was pulling out De Rossi to send in winger Cengiz Under, and switching to a 4-2-4 formation for the final assault.
But after the Turkish new joiner saw a tight angle shot of his deflected by Szczesny, Roma’s furious offences left them vulnerable to Juventus’ lethal counterattacks. Miralem Pjanic intercepted a pass on the midfield line, and galloped towards the opponent goal. His violent shot made the crossbar rattle, before replays evidenced a decisive deflection once again by Alisson.
The thrilling five minutes of extra time produced the clearest goal chances for the Wolves, as a missed clearance by Benatia resulted in Patrick Shick free to run alone with the ball at his feet towards the Bianconeri goal. That was the sliding doors moment of the match, with the man who was supposed to play for Juventus ready to punish them, on the contrary. Wojciech Szczesny said no and stopped his shot, but it’s fairer to talk about a goal mangiato by the Czech young star (literally, an “eaten goal” – you “eat a goal” in Italy when you miss an easy chance to score and, of course, it could not have been but a food-related metaphor…)
Roma did not give up until the end, with a corner kick gained at the very last second, but Juve maintained their temper to pull the game to a successful end for their side. The Panettone – a traditional Italian Christmas cake – will be a sweet one for Massimiliano Allegri and his club to enjoy during these Christmas festivities.
December 23, 2017 – Serie A 2017-18 Round 18
SCORER: 19’ Benatia (J)
|JUVENTUS (4-3-3): Szczesny; Barzagli, Benatia, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi (78′ Marchisio), Cuadrado (76′ Bernardeschi) Higuain, Mandzukic (Pinsoglio, Loria, Rugani, Lichtsteiner, Marchisio, Bentancur, Asamoah, Sturaro, Bernardeschi, Douglas Costa, Dybala, Pjaca) Coach: Allegri|
|ROMA (4-3-3): Alisson; Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Nainggolan, De Rossi (85′ Under), Strootman (70’ Pellegrini); El Shaarawy (66’ Schick), Dzeko, Perotti (Lobont, Skorupski, Juan Jesus, Moreno, Bruno Peres, Castan, Emerson, Gonalons, Gerson) Coach: Di Francesco|
REFEREE: Mr. Tagliavento from Terni
NOTES: Attendance: 41.100; Yellow Cards: Cuadrado, Alex Sandro (J), De Rossi, Pellegrini (R); Extra Time: 1st Half 0′, 2nd Half 5′