Juventus pursue a sixth straight victory on Saturday evening, as they host fellow Scudetto challengers Roma amid a daunting run of fixtures.
Their visitors have bounced back from suffering derby defeat and an embarrassing cup exit to post two consecutive Serie A successes in the past fortnight.
Renowned for their abundance of high-profile attacking talent, adding a greater sense of continuity and resilience in defence has been vital in starting 2021 on a bright note for Juventus. Their record is now the best in Serie A, with only 18 goals conceded so far at an average of 0.85 per match.
Now looking to keep three consecutive clean sheets in the league for the first time under Andrea Pirlo’s leadership, the Bianconeri appear an increasingly coherent unit, as they progress through a tough run of fixtures this month.
Having defeated Inter in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final tie – thanks to yet another well-taken brace from Cristiano Ronaldo – Pirlo’s men must host Roma this weekend before resuming hostilities with the Nerazzurri, then face Napoli and Champions League last-16 opponents Porto in quick succession.
Against the Giallorossi, Ronaldo – a man acutely aware of such individual records – will seek to avoid going four consecutive league games without scoring for the first time since November 2017, while at Real Madrid. In the improbable event he requires a shot of confidence, the Portuguese superstar will no doubt have fond memories of the clubs’ 2-2 draw in the autumn, in which his double strike rescued a point for Juve after Adrien Rabiot was sent off.
Federico Chiesa helped out in Ronaldo’s absence from the scoresheet against Sampdoria last week, with his sixth goal of the season coming in a 2-0 win. Also contributing four Serie A assists so far, the versatile Azzurri forward has emerged as a key foil for the Juventus front pair since signing and will surely threaten to pin back Roma’s attack-minded wide men on Saturday.
Currently third in the Serie A standings – one place and one point above Juventus, having played a game more – Roma managed to take care of awkward customers Verona last weekend – their second successive win since being thumped by city rivals Lazio and ignominiously ejected from the Coppa Italia due to a combination of shoddy defending and even shoddier administration.
A similarly messy situation has been partly resolved in the past week, as Edin Dzeko – star striker and team captain – failed to find another club in the January transfer window, despite being hotly tipped to swap places with Alexis Sanchez at Inter. The Bosnia international had a Papu Gomez-versus-Gian Piero Gasperini-style fallout with manager Paulo Fonseca and was subsequently dropped and stripped of the captain’s armband.
Though Real Madrid loanee Borja Mayoral is proving an adequate replacement so far, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for Dzeko to be fully reintegrated into the first team, with Fonseca under pressure to achieve new highs at home and in Europe.
Despite his side’s lofty league position, that pressure has yet to relent for two predominant reasons. Roma have yet to win against any of the top eight in the table, in a series of games in which they have claimed just four points from seven matches – chiefly as a result of their failings in defence. A terrible tally of 33 goals conceded (at 1.74 per game) makes the Giallorossi’s the worst defensive department of the top 11 teams in Serie A.
Nevertheless, the capital club travel to Turin knowing that they could be unbeaten in three consecutive league meetings against Juventus for the first time since 2002 and will well remember their first-ever victory at Allianz Stadium last season, following ten consecutive league and cup defeats.
On that occasion, however, the Bianconeri had already mathematically won the Scudetto and they are unlikely to be in such charitable mood this time around.