Plans to introduce a ban on smoking in Italian football stadiums were announced this week. Thankfully for Zdenek Zeman, it won’t come into effect until next season. If ever there was a time when he might be inclined to raise his quota, this would be it; 14 years on from his infamous insinuations about the "muscular explosion" of certain players at Juventus, he now returns to face them as manager of Roma once again.
Zeman’s words sparked an investigation which concluded with Juventus being cleared but the club’s doctor, Riccardo Agricola, receiving a suspended sentence. He too would eventually be absolved on appeal. When Zeman lost his job at Roma just a year after making his comments, there were claims that the move was ‘politically’ motivated – that the club had been warned they would never be allowed to win with him at the helm.
Much water has passed under the bridge since then. Zeman would subsequently embark on a nomadic period in which he coached mostly abroad or in Italy’s lower divisions. Juventus enjoyed great success in the early 2000s but subsequently were implicated in the Calciopoli scandal and had two of their Serie A titles revoked.
When Zeman returned to Roma this summer, it did not take long for old hostilities to resume. Asked whether Juventus should be allowed to add a third star to their club badge commemorating 30 titles won – a figure that would ignore the Calciopoli judgements – Zeman replied: "reading certain statements and books I think they should not even have 28."
Zeman also argued that the Juventus manager Antonio Conte should not be permitted to train his team during a 10-month touchline ban for alleged involvement in match-fixing. When Juventus won the preseason SuperCup with Massimo Carrera filling in for Conte, Juventus patron John Elkann quipped that the former had won more in a single match than Zeman had in his career.
On Wednesday, Zeman’s Roma faced a Sampdoria team coached by the former Juventus player Ciro Ferrara. The pair did not shake hands before or after their 1-1 draw. Zeman said that it had been incumbent on Ferrara, as the younger man, to approach his elder but the Samp manager pointed out that his team were guests, not hosts, at Roma’s Stadio Olimpico.
This has all provided a perfectly acrimonious build-up to Saturday’s game, although each team’s manager might be more troubled by their mid-week performances than what goes on off the field. This was Roma’s third consecutive home game without a win, with defensive lapses to the fore on each occasion. Juventus, meanwhile, dropped their first points of the season in a goalless draw with Fiorentina.
For the latter, unbeaten now in 44 games, the result was not so concerning as the performance; Fiorentina dictated play in a manner that few have managed against the Bianconeri over the last 12 months. In midfield, Andrea Pirlo looks tired. Some reports have even suggested he will be rested against Roma, with Paul Pogba stepping in so that Pirlo can be fresh to face Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Roma’s commitment to attacking football under Zeman guarantees an open match whoever plays, but there is no value to be found in the goals market with over 2.5 priced as low as 1.45. With the Giallorossi having scored first in three of their four matches to date, it might be worth backing them to do so again at 2.45. And though I personally expect Juventus to win, Roma in the double chance market at 2.16 represent better value than any bet I can see on the home side.
Score prediction: Juventus 3-1 Roma