An early season Serie A blockbuster between last season’s top two Juventus and Roma saw the capital city side record an invaluable 2-1 win on Sunday, suggesting a potential change in the balance of power in Italian football.
The Turin giants have been the dominant force in recent times, winning an enviable four consecutive Scudetti and have had the hex over the Stadio Olimpico outfit.
Under Rudi García the Giallorossi have been reinvigorated over the last 24 months and with some careful recruitment over the off-season it looks like Roma are potentially capable of going one step better than the second place they have finished in the last two seasons.
Following on from the game, here is the prognosis on Italian football’s top two teams.
The home starting XI that took to the field at the weekend featured five new players signed over the summer, which shows the extent to which Roma have strengthened ahead of the campaign.
At left-back, Lucas Digne has been reunited with former manager García and immediately looks like an upgrade on the capital city side’s existing options.
His debut was impressive from both a defensive and attacking perspective, with the full-back’s loan addition one of the shrewdest transfers in European football over recent months.
The gifted Bosnian centre forward, who scored some vital goals over the years for Manchester City, will look to play week-in, week-out, with the suggestion that Roma legend Francesco Totti may well finally have to play a back-up role this season.
On the wings, Iago Falque looked dangerous following a move from Genoa, while Mohamed Salah’s pace and incision from last term at Fiorentina was on show again for his new team.
With the likes of Messi-in-waiting Juan Iturbe and García favourite Gervinho on the bench, Roma’s attacking options are looking comprehensive.
A number of other facets of the team stood out.
Daniele De Rossi’s move to centre-half could well be permanent given the quality Roma possess in midfield and the experienced Italy international looked assured and comfortable in a sweeper role of sorts.
Miralem Pjanić again showed his immaculate technique, while Seydou Keita dominated the physical battles against a depleted Juventus midfield.
Finally, Radja Nainggolan has become accustomed to being the man to drive the Roma side forward in the absence of crocked Dutchman Kevin Strootman.
However, it now appears that the combustive Belgian is at the same level as the former PSV Eindhoven box-to-box man, with Nainggolan one of Italian football’s most impressive midfielders.
The balance of Roma’s side looks a lot better this season, while García has options all over the park to choose from; with Juventus stuttering, this could well be the Stadio Olimpico outfit’s best chance to become Italian champions since their last triumph in 2001.
Any suggestions that the Bianconeri had to merely turn up again this year to retain their Serie A crown have been blown out of the water in the first fortnight of the new campaign, with Max Allegri’s men losing both of their opening fixtures.
Although talk of crisis is massively premature, Juventus have been virtually unrecognisable from the team that powered their way to the Champions League final last term.
The loss of key players in the off-season has the potential to derail the Turin giants, with Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez being sorely missed on Sunday.
Last season Allegri opted to switch to a back four on frequent occasion to house four top-class midfielders, but the former AC Milan boss has started this term with a 3-5-2 formation – potentially to overcome the loss of key figures in midfield.
The major issue Juve had when in possession was a lack of link play between the lines.
While last season Pirlo would pick up possession between the team’s centre-halves; against Roma Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini had the ball on numerous occasions with no short option available.
In this respect, the return of the injured Claudio Marchisio will be essential for the Turin side to regain cohesion, while Paul Pogba will have to step up and play a more dominant role centrally.
Sami Khedira’s long-term injury could not have come at a worse time, while the fielding of Stefano Sturaro and Simone Padoin in the boiler room is a decision that will take justification over time.
Juve have clearly looked to address the sudden shortage, with a permanent deal for Inter’s Hernanes and a loan switch for Marseille’s Mario Lemina concluded before the transfer window closes.
In attack, Tevez’s role as the link between midfield and the forward line cannot be understated, while Vidal’s ability to burst forward from deep will be something that Allegri will have to replace.
With targetman Mario Mandžukić leading the line at the weekend, it appeared that the Bianconeri resorted to aimless crossing towards the Croat, which came to little, instead of the intricate play that has become common place in recent years.
Paulo Dybala is an immensely talented young player but has huge shoes to fill in the former of countryman Tevez, while the exit of the promising Kinglsey Coman to Bayern Munich this week makes very little sense from a footballing perspective.
The change in personnel and loss of some key figures has clearly impacted on Juventus’ cohesion in the early days of the new campaign.
Although it would be foolish to rule out the perennial heavyweights, the Bianconeri’s changing dynamic suggests that this season’s race for the Scudetto will be as tightly contested as any time in the recent memory.