Roma vs Juventus | Sunday 30 August | Stadio Olimpico | 18:00
The Italian Serie A kicked off in unlikely style last weekend with title favourites Juventus and Roma both failing to get three points on the board. Gameweek Two serves up a titanic clash as champions Juventus travel to Rome to face last season’s runners-up. As far as Roma are concerned, hosting the team they have finished second to for the past two seasons in their first home match is not ideal. But manager Rudi Garcia may welcome the chance to get one over their main rivals as they will defend their title without some of the big names that boosted Juventus to their recent successes. This is a crucial match for both sides as the outcome could have a huge bearing on the title race.
To Win (90mins)
Roma made a stuttering start in their bid to dethrone Juventus as they were held to a 1-1 draw away to Hellas Verona in their opening game. Having finished second last term and after several notable signings during the offseason, Garcia's men are widely expected to be among the frontrunners again. But they were made to work hard for their point by a pacy and industrious Verona side. A starting line-up containing former English Premier League stars Wojciech Szczesny, Edin Dzeko, Mohamed Salah and Gervinho all featured for Roma. Verona opened the scoring in the 61st minute but Alessandro Florenzi levelled for the visitors five minutes later. Roma then had Szczesny to thank for keeping them in the game as the on-loan Arsenal goalkeeper pulled off a number of crucial saves for the visitors to escape with a point. Having claimed a record points tally in the 2013-14 season and booking their return to the UEFA Champions League, Roma were expected to pose a bigger threat to Juventus last season, but instead finished seventeen points behind them and rescued second spot by just a point. However, in his third season Garcia looks better prepared to oust the champions after a number of positive attacking signings.
Dzeko joined from Manchester City, Salah from Chelsea – who excelled on loan at Fiorentina last season - and Iago Falque from Genoa as they look to add more goals to a side that scored the least out of the top four last term. In Dzeko, Roma finally have an undisputed number nine capable of pushing them to the Serie A title. The Bosnian has the size, tactical understanding and finishing ability to not only get on the end of a cross, but to link up with attacking midfielders Miralem Pjanic and Francesco Totti with great effect. It may take a while for Roma's new toys to settle in, but Salah, Dzeko and Gervinho could prove to be a deadly striking trio this season. Their defence has been bolstered by the arrivals of Szczesny as well as centre-back Antonio Rudiger from Stuttgart. Roma legend Totti was an unused substitute against Verona but his experience will be relied upon in clashes of this magnitude this season. Right-back Maicon has been hard at work in order to reach full fitness after suffering an injury and will return for his side’s first home game of the season. Right-sided midfielder Florenzi took the Brazilian’s place last weekend, but the former Inter man is expected to make his first start here.
Serie A and Coppa Italia champions as well as beaten Champions League finalists last season, Juventus' bid for a record-equalling fifth scudetto was kept in check by a shocking 1-0 defeat at home to Udinese on Sunday. Massimiliano Allegri's men had dominated throughout a one-sided encounter in Turin but paid the price for a string of missed chances when Udinese netted a 78th minute winner. It was Juve's first ever opening day loss at home. After claiming the league title by seventeen points last season, the Old Lady are once again favourites to make it five triumphs in a row, but the Italian giants will have to go through a transitional period during the opening months of the season. While much of their uncompromising defence remains, the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez have all departed the club, leaving huge shoes needing to be filled. While they have been replaced, it may take time for the new arrivals to adapt to Italian football and playing for such an illustrious club.
Paulo Dybala (from Palermo) and Simone Zaza (Sassuolo) are no strangers to the rigours of the league, but Mario Mandzukic (Atletico Madrid), Alex Sandro (Porto) and, when fit, Sami Khedira (Real Madrid) may require a settling-in period to fully justify their place in the team. That said, they are all established names in European football and will be aware of the job that awaits them. Juventus's fourth straight league trophy last season was complemented by their first Cup triumph in twenty years and their first appearance in the final of the Champions League since 2003. With the outflow of three huge stars, this is Paul Pogba's season to truly establish himself as one of the best players in the world. He needs to be as outstanding as he has been in his Juventus career to date, as well as taking his game to another level. The French midfielder is capable of it, that's for sure. Worryingly Pogba’s midfield partner Claudio Marchisio looks unlikely to return and joins an injury list featuring Khedira, Alvaro Morata and Kwadwo Asamoah.
VERDICT: Roma 18/10
Roma have held their own at home against Italy’s best in recent head-to-heads, losing only once at the Stadio Olimpico in the last five games against Juventus, winning twice. Juventus face an uphill task of defending their title this season and this match could show their vulnerabilities. They were inconsistent on the road last season, relying mainly on their home form to win their fourth consecutive title. They won only half of their sixteen travels, losing three times. Roma lost just once at home last season – against Juventus – and should inflict revenge here by claiming a win.