Jan 5, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Serie A’s match of the year was anything but, even if it did leave little doubt as to the state of Juventus’s reign. With goals from Arturo Vidal, Leonardo Bonucci, and Mirko Vucinic, the two-time defending champions handed Roma their first loss of the season, eliminating what little hope onlookers had for a title race with a 3-0 result in Turin. Now on a nine-game winning streak that’s carried them eight points clear of the second place Giallorossi, Juventus seems fated to claim a third straight scudetto.
The win, however, came in a somewhat uncharacteristic way, with Antonio Conte setting up his normally ball-controlling team (57.4 percent for the year) to descend into its own half, giving Roma most of the game’s possession. Rudi Garcia’s team would end up with 59 percent of the ball, yet almost none of their four shots on goal gave Juve keeper Gianluigi Buffon any problems. Maintaining a well-organized back five in their defensive phase, Juventus were able to keep Roma at arm’s length, with only two of Roma’s eight shots coming from inside the 18-yard box.
Juventus, on the other hand, made the most of their chances, the first coming in the 17th minute through Carlos Tévez. The Argentine was able to get Daniele de Rossi on his heals in the right of the penalty area, holding the ball at 10 yards out before playing behind the line for an oncoming Vidal. The Chilean international beat Morgan de Sanctis to give the home side first blood.
Following intermission, after blunting Roma for the first period’s final half hour, Juve doubled their lead, a pristine restart from Andrea Pirlo allowing Bonucci to make it 2-0. Sixteen yards from the line along the left flank, Pirlo curved a perfectly driven restart just inside the six-yard box at the far post. Unable to get out quick enough, de Sanctis was helpless on Bonucci’s shot, a goal that seemed to eliminate any question Juventus would take full points.
If that status was in doubt, it was settled over a three-minute stretch beginning with de Rossi’s 75th minute red card. After a reckless challenge that saw the Italian international slide through Giorgio Chiellini’s legs, referee Nicola Rizzoli produced a red card, momentarily leaving Roma with 10 men. When, one minute later, Leandro Castán intentionally handled a ball on the Roma line, the visitors were reduced to nine, with Mirko Vucinic’s ensuing penalty kick giving Juventus their 3-0 victory.
That the game ended with a three-goal margin may have exaggerated the teams’ gap in quality, but there was no doubt which was the superior side. Juventus gave Roma the ball and dared Garcia’s side to beat them, yet from the moment Pirlo took the ball off Fernando Totti in the opening minutes to the Roma captain’s solemn descent from the stands at the final whistle, the Giallorossi proved impotent. Silenced, the likes of Totti, Gervinho, Adem Ljajic and Miralem Pjanic were unable to reproduce Roman’s potent attack in Turin, a failure that leaves the team closer to fourth than first.
Over the course of 90 minutes, the difference between Juventus and the rest of Italy was made crystal clear. An undefeated team that came into the game averaging over two goals per game was handed a 3-0 loss, pushing them eight points back of first in the process. They’d only allowed seven goals on the season, but on Sunday, Roma’s previous exploits were rendered irrelevant. All that mattered was their inability to match up with Juve.
Barring some unpredictable change of course, Serie A’s title race is over – assuming there was ever one to being with.
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