Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Remember Us? Don't Count Juventus Out

By Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial)

Just over three months ago it looked all but certain that Juventus’ reign as champions of Italy would finally be coming to end. Sitting in 14th place after a defeat to Sassuolo, there were more questions than answers, but you know what they say? Heart of a champion.

Back from the brink of death, Juve came into Sunday night's game riding a 10-game winning streak. Roma, on the other hand, came in sputtering, recently sacking manager Rudi Garcia in an attempt to revive their title hopes. After all, it was this same Roma side that defeated Juventus on the opening day of the season, proclaiming themselves as the new sheriffs in town. Instead, they just tripped over their own heels, catching a case of “draw-itis” that saw them drop precious points, opening the door for their competitors.

This game presented an opportunity for a statement from the Giallorossi -- We’re down, but not out.

Through 77 minutes, the game more resembled a circus than soccer match. There were punches to the kidneys, De Rossi calling Mandzukic a (bleeping) gypsy, an uncalled handball and closing skills reminiscent of the class nerd. With Roma essentially content for a draw, Juventus pushed and pushed until the dam finally broke.

Deciding this match required a moment of brilliance, Juventus got it from its established stars, and one that's emerging. Patrice Evra did well to win back the ball, before playing it to Sami Khedira who pushed forward laying it off to a streaking Pogba. In Steph Curry fashion, Pogba no-looked a pass resulting in something we've seen so many times over the past three or four months — Paulo Dybala racing to a corner of the field to celebrate a goal he just buried.

Looking more like a high school freshman (welcome to the club, bro) than world class striker, Dybala has now scored eight goals in his last 10 league outings. Consider the following statistics...

Dybala with Palermo last season: 13 goals, and 10 assists.

Dybala with Juventus this season (Serie A only): 12 goals, 7 assists.

Not even the most ardent bianconeri fan could have envisioned Dybala being this far ahead of schedule in his development. Dybala has an eerie ability to find space and, once in position, to produce magic. The level of creativity and unpredictability he brings to the pitch counterbalances the style of Mario Mandzukic and, to a lesser degree, Alvaro Morata perfectly.

Placed together with the extraterrestrial skills of a Paul Pogba and you have yourself one of Europe’s most fearsome tandems, and one that was sorely needed with the departures of Carlos Tevez and Andrea Pirlo.

Victory also means Juve keep pace with Napoli and sit two points behind them again, while Roma remain fifth, having won just one of their previous nine league games. There’s not much time to celebrate though, as Juventus get Inter Milan next in the Coppa Nazionale on Wednesday, with Inter looking to rebound following Sunday's draw with Carpi.

They'll have a chance to close the gap on table leaders Napoli when the two sides clash on Feb. 13, and 10 days later is their highly anticipated Champions League fixture with Bayern Munich.

Although they’re not dominating the league as they did in years prior, Juventus possess a savvy and a non-panic mentality that all great teams have. Unseating the champs will take a herculean effort that, at the moment, Gonzalo Higuain and his league-leading 21 goals, seem to be up for.

The corpse of the old lady (a Juventus nickname, for all of you non-soccer aficionados) was slowly being lowered into the ground, shovels in hand. But once again, she has risen from the dead, jersey cleaner than ever.

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