The old lady (Vecchia Signora) has one hand on the Scudetto after beating Roma last weekend. Juventus won 3-0 against their nearest challengers to go into the second half of the Serie A campaign with an eight point lead over the Giallorossi.
Eight points is a considerable advantage, equalling the lead Juve had over Lazio last season, but their 49 points is better than anyone has achieved in the past two decades. Juve have lost just once this season in Serie A and Roma’s 3-0 defeat was their first. But the psychological damage done to Roma’s title bid is huge. “Ciclone D’Inverno”, screamed La Gazetta Dello Sport (winter cyclone) and they were right, Juven swept Rudi Garcia’s men aside.
Roma lost their discipline in the Juventus Stadium after starting the game well. If Adem Ljajic had netted in the sixth minute, thwarted by Gianluigi Buffon, the shape of the game may have been different. When Juventus went ahead in the 16th minute, nice play by Carlos Tevez creating a chance for Arturo Vidal to shoot home, it was their first attack of note. By the interval, Juve were taking charge and Llorente almost added a second just before the interval.
Juventus did score early in the second period, however, and that’s where it really all went haywire for Roma. Andrea Pirlo’s superb free-kick to the far post was met by Leonardo Bonucci, who volleyed past Morgan De Sanctis from six yards. Game over, really.
From thereon, Roma’s composure went. Daniele De Rossi was red-carded for a cynical tackle and then Leandro Castan followed him to the dressing room when he punched the ball off the goalline. Mirko Vucinic made it 3-0 with the penalty to maintain Juve’s 100% home record. Prior to the game, Roma had conceded seven goals, which tells you how well-drilled they have been under Garcia, who suffered his first defeat as coach of the club.
For Juventus, Tevez, Vidal and Bonucci were all impressive, while Roma’s Miralem Pjanic never stopped running. Totti, who had tried to wind Juve up in the days leading up to the game, claiming the Bianconeri often “get a helping hand” in their pursuit of honours, looked every inch a 37 year-old as he left the field early, to a wave of jeering.
Can Roma still catch Juventus? Juventus coach Antonio Conte called the eight point lead “a stepping stone”. He told the media: “These eight points are important, but must not become an illusion because if they rob us of the concentration and desire we need, then we’ll be in real trouble. Anything could happen.”
Who is Conte kidding? Juve were dumped out of the UEFA Champions League and won’t be distracted by keeping pace with the Barcas and Bayerns of this world. And they can probably win the Europa League without deterring their pursuit of a third consecutive title. They look good to create a new points total in Serie A this season.
Roma, meanwhile, have signed Cagliari midfielder Radja Nainggolan in loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent deal. The Belgium declared straight away that Roma are still in the title race. But some see his arrival as a sign that Pjanic, a Paris St. Germain target, may be allowed to leave, but Rudi Garcia insists the Bosnian is not for sale.
Roma and Juventus will meet again in the penultimate league game of the season on May 11 in Stadio Olimpico. By then, the Scudetto will be firmly tucked in Juve’s shorts. Oh and they could both meet in the next stage of the Coppa Italia…