Straight from the dark heart of Italy
RESULTS Sat 29 Sep Juventus 4-1 AS Roma, Parma 1-1 AC Milan Sun 30 Sep Atalanta 1-5 Torino, Cagliari 1-2 Pescara, Inter 2-1 Fiorentina, Lazio 2-1 Siena, Palermo 4-1 Chievo, Sampdoria 0-1 Napoli, Udinese 0-0 Genoa
Rarely is a football match wrapped-up within the first quarter, but when Juventus striker Alessandro Matri was left completely free to blast his team's third goal past opposition keeper Maarten Stekelenburg in the 18th minute of their home fixture against AS Roma, it was effectively game over.
An eight-minute goal-blitz had all but put the defending champions out of sight. Andrea Pirlo opened the scoring with a free-kick, before Artur Vidal struck home a penalty to double the advantage. The home side even found time to hit the woodwork before Matri was wheeling away to celebrate making it 3-0. Few in attendance could believe what they were seeing.
Roma’s humiliation, and in particular that of coach Zdenek Zeman, was complete before they had even had the chance to offer a modicum of resistance in what had been touted as Juve’s first real test of the season. In reality, that had in fact come in midweek when they had laboured to a goalless draw at a revitalized Fiorentina.
This one-sided encounter was little more than a stroll on a damp Turin evening, and the perfect warm-up to the return of Champions League football to the city on Tuesday. But more than that, it was an absolute embarrassment for what was one of Europe’s biggest domestic matches of the season so far.
The hunched Zeman cut a despondent figure as the 65-year-old sloped away down the tunnel at the end of what had to be the darkest day of his coaching career. Roma had conceded four goals in the corresponding fixture last season, but at least they had the excuse of having played most of that match with only 10 men. This time around there was no defence for such a timid capitulation.
In fact, there was no defence at all, as the Bianconeri swept through the open spaces where the red shirts should have been and the flaws in the Zeman system were all too clear to see.
His teams have always played at a high tempo where the full-backs are encouraged to push as far up the pitch as possible – and even at the kick-off it has become a familiar sight for a Zeman side that has won the toss to line-up with eight players massed on the halfway line.
This game plan can only function when quantity and quality are employed in equal measure, and the latter was sorely missing. Even amongst die-hard Giallorossi there must be little faith that it will be restored any time soon, with the perception that the Romans could be considered title contenders already laid bare as an idle hope.
In short, it was carnage and had it not been for the unwritten rule in Italian football of not turning a heavy advantage into a complete rout - which this match already was in all but name - the scoreline could easily have been seven and no one would have batted an eyelid, with a torrent of shots rained in on the over-exposed Stekelenburg.
Pablo Osvaldo’s late strike was no consolation whatsoever after such a dispirited showing from the visitors, and the taunts were soon heading in the direction of the put-upon Zeman, whose ongoing war of words with Juventus over alleged doping in the 90s had overshadowed the build-up.
Having laid siege to the away goal in the first half, there was need for a pick-me-up after the interval, with Juve slipping back into cruise control. It wasn't until Sebastian Giovinco added the fourth that the carnival atmosphere returned.
In showing no mercy to their listless opponents, the Juventus players demonstrated that the competition for places has a particularly galvanizing effect - and when given their starting place no one wants to underperform.
Antonio Conte, once again watching from his lofty position in one of the executive suites as his assistant Massimo Carrera carried out the orders from the touchline, could afford to leave Fabio Quagliarella, Giovinco, Kwadwo Asamoah, Stephan Lichsteiner and Maurcio Isla on the bench.
Matri, who became Juve’s eighth different goalscorer this season, was drafted in along with Paolo De Ceglie and Martin Caceres, and all three answered the call in a manner which would leave any other coach with a selection headache.
Conte, of course, will mix things up for the visit of Shakhtar Donetsk well aware that the Ukrainins will not be swept aside so imperiously as Roma, but on Saturday’s performance, even taking away the dreadfulness of the opponents, the benchmark for the rest of the season has already been set.
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