Juventus 1.5, the draw 3.9, Roma 6.75
Eventually, even Antonio Conte had to concede that his team were in with a shout of winning Serie A. “Right from the start I never said the word Scudetto because to me it sounded like madness,” reflected the Juventus manager earlier this month, after a win at Palermo propelled the unbeaten Bianconeri back to the top of the division. “Soon we shall see if we were indeed capable of achieving a quite magical objective.”
Conte has never lacked ambition for his team – indeed, he noted immediately after taking the job that being at Juventus meant having “a duty to win” – yet as recently as February he refused to even discuss the suggestion that they could be title contenders. With the team having experienced consecutive seventh-place finishes prior to his arrival, the notion that they could be ready to challenge this quickly seemed fantastical.
Reaching the Champions League was this season’s most important goal, but with six games still to play that is effectively already achieved. Victory over Roma on Sunday would mathematically guarantee Juventus a top-three finish – or even a top-two finish should Lazio fail to beat Lecce earlier on the same afternoon. It would also mean that they had cleared the biggest hurdle remaining between them and the title.
In recent weeks Gazzetta dello Sport have taken to listing Juventus and Milan’s remaining opponents on a daily basis – each fixture accompanied by a star rating to indicate its supposed difficulty. Juventus’s game against Roma is awarded three stars – the maximum available. Each of their subsequent matches gets just the one. Their next three opponents are the present bottom three in Serie A – even if Lecce’s form belies their position – while the last two, Cagliari and Atalanta are set in mid-table and should have little left to play for by the time they face Juve.
Roma, by contrast, are still very much in the running for a Champions League berth, four points behind third-placed Lazio with six games left to play. Their form is so erratic as to almost defy explanation – a 3-1 win over fellow European aspirants Udinese in their last game following hot on the heels of a 4-2 defeat at Lecce. Between Pablo Osvaldo, Fabio Borini, Erik Lamela, Bojan Krkic and Francesco Totti they have the weapons to damage any side, yet as a team they are just as capable of inflicting wounds upon themselves.
It will be a relief for Luis Enrique to have Juan back from injury, but it is indicative of the team’s defensive struggles that the Brazilian is likely to have Daniele De Rossi alongside him at centre-back on Sunday. Although De Rossi has performed well there when called upon to do so this season – including in the first meeting between these two back in November – his absence is felt in midfield.
As for Juventus, it remains to be seen whether Conte will opt for a 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 against these opponents, but either way Fabio Quagliarella should start after impressing during the wins over Palermo and Lazio. That said, Conte’s has rotated so regularly up front that bettors would be best advised to wait for the team-sheet before staking on a first scorer.
With Alessandro Del Piero set to leave Juventus when his contract expires at the end of this year, this could be the last time he lines up opposite Francesco Totti in Serie A, but any sentimental bet on him should be considered only as an in-play move – as he is likely to start on the bench. Instead consider a punt on over 2.5 goals at 1.75 – given the porous status of Roma’s defence – and perhaps also a bet on Juventus to win after having been level at half-time (4.6) – as they have done in each of their last four games.