Roma’s Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic is good but even he cannot walk on water, quipped Gazzetta Dello Sport this morning, in relation to Saturday’s 2-2 draw between Bologna and Roma. The point is that Saturday’s game was played under a ferocious, insistent downpour which made the pitch almost unplayable and which should probably have seen the game suspended.
That was certainly the viewpoint of Roma’s French coach Rudi Garcia who complained afterwards that the game had been “a parody of football…water polo played with your feet”. In the end, Garcia consoled himself with the thought that no one had been injured, something which, in the circumstances, represented “good news”, he claimed.
Roma’s unedifying “splash around” in Bologna came at the start of another crucial Champions League week for them. If the weather Gods chose to inflict a downpour on them in Bologna, what are the chances that the sporting Gods will do the same tomorrow night when they are away to the currently all rampant Barcelona in a Group E Champions League tie.
By a freak of the fixture list, both Italy and Spain played their “clasico” last Saturday night, with Juventus beating Milan 1-0 in Turin just after Barcelona had inflicted that 4-0 drubbing on Real Madrid. Perhaps, however, it is verging on the blasphemous to call the Juventus v Milan game a “clasico”.
No one who watched both games, one after the other, could deny that there was a major gulf in class, quality and footballing inspiration. For instance, the Juventus Stadium saw nothing that could remotely be compared to Barcelona’s first goal, scored by Uruguyan Luis Suarez at the end of 40-pass move that lasted for just under two minutes.
However, the Old Lady will be more than happy to take the result, recording her third consecutive win (Torino and Empoli were the others) against a one-time power house of Italian soccer, to move up the table to sixth place, nine points behind leaders Inter. The problem, of course, is that Milan were very definitely looking like a “one-time” glory on Saturday.
Even if Paul Pogba continues to make mistakes for Juventus, even if defender Patrice Evra had to go off because of injury, even if Croat striker Mario Mandzukic still looks like the classic “fish out of water” and even if the disappointing Brazilian schemer Hernanes had to be substituted at half time (by defender Leonardo Bonucci), Juventus still won this game, almost without breaking sweat. Not for nothing, Gigi Buffon was almost totally unemployed in the Juventus goal.
For Juventus, the winning result was not the only good news. Argentine Paolo Dybala and Brazilian Alex Sandro combined brilliantly down the left flank to set up Dybala’s 65th minute goal with a move which suggests that both players will see a lot more first team football as the season progresses.
With the injured Evra doubtful, Alex Sandro may well start at left back against Manchester City in Juve’s vital Group D Champions League tie, at home to Manchester City on Wednesday night. Dybala, who continues to be used with parsimony by coach Massimiliano Allegri, may initially be sacrificed to make way for a front line of Colombian Juan Cuadrado, Croat Mandzukic and Spaniard Alvaro Morata.
Whatever the line-up, there is little doubt that Juventus see this tie as offering an opportunity to wrap up their qualification, even if they come into the match one point behind the Premiership side in second place:
“Yeah, we want to wrap up the whole business with the Manchester City game, let’s get stuck into this match as soon as possible”, commented Allegri in the immediate aftermath of Saturday night’s win.
If a home win against City is on the Juventus mind, Roma’s ambitions against the pyro-technical Barcelona will inevitably be much more modest. There are even those who advise Roma not to risk both their “yellow card” players – Daniele De Rossi and Belgian Radja Naingolan – lest one of them pick another yellow card which would rule them out of Roma’s final, probably all decisive group game, at home to Bielarus side, Bate Borisov.
Inevitably, the result of Bate’s home game against Bayer Leverkusen could greatly influence Roma’s prospects. Ideally, a draw in this one would best suit Roma who come into the game in this tight group in second place, just one point clear of Bayer and two points clear of Bate Borisov.
Against Barca in the 1-1 first leg draw in Rome, coach Garcia adopted a very “realistic” and untypically defensive approach. Could well be that he will use that approach again tomorrow night (Tuesday), recalling experienced hands such as Brazilian Maicon at right back. After watching the “clasico”, one could hardly blame him.
At least, the weather forecast suggests that the pitch will be dry…However, right now it is probably easier to walk on water than to beat Barca at home.