By Michael Ottolenghi
Winning streak ended and party postponed. That is the result of Juve’s 1-1 come from behind draw in last Saturday’s Turin derby. For a while it looked like Torino were on for an historic win at the Juventus Stadium, but then, as so often in recent derbies, Juve conjured up a goal deep into injury time through Gonzalo Higuain.
Coupled with Roma’s 4-1 win against Milan at San Siro, that result means Juve are not yet mathematically assured of their sixth consecutive Serie A title. While manager Max Allegri will not be particularly happy that his team’s home winning streak has ended after 33 league games, he now faces the prospect of winning the league title win in Rome.
And that is surely the likeliest outcome of Sunday’s game between Juventus and Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. With a seven point lead over Roma and eight over Napoli, Juve just need a draw to win the title and remain on course for a historic treble. So while the title showdown many hoped for when the Serie A calendar came out is not on the cards, there are a number of intriguing subplots to this game. Many of those involve personalities who may or may not be in the twilight of their careers with both clubs, giving this game a end of an era feel.
The main personality will of course be Francesco Totti, who finally confirmed he will retire from football at the end of this season and has been playing out a long goodbye not free of controversy. Since his announcement a few weeks ago, every Roma game has been treated like a stop on the Totti farewell tour, with fans of all teams getting in on the action. Last Sunday, for example, the Milan ultras displayed banners in honour of Totti and chanted his name – and then after their 4-1 home defeat they seemed more angry at Roma manager Luciano Spalletti for not bringing Totti on from the substitutes bench than at their team’s performance.
Will Spalletti play Totti against Juve? The answer to that question will reveal a lot about Spalletti and his future, as the tuscan manager has been visibly unhappy by how he has been treated by the club and fans in his second spell in charge of Roma. The issue came to a head in the aftermath of the win at San Siro last Sunday, with Spalletti telling the media he would not have come to manage Roma if asked to do it again. All of which won’t make for a particularly calm atmosphere on Sunday, with rumours that Spalletti could be on his way to becoming the manager of either Inter or Milan next season.
Roma are certainly in more turmoil than Juventus, as the Turin club pursue their ambitions of a treble in an all-conquering season. But there are a few question marks over Juve’s key players as well. Gigi Buffon has had a superlative season at age 39 and refuses to discuss retirement, but surely even he cannot go on forever. And while Juve may still win the Champions League, their star players will surely be tempted by the attraction of La Liga or even the Premier League, with Paolo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic in particular being linked with big money moves in the summer.
Another strange atmosphere is likely in Bergamo on Saturday, as Milan travel to face Atalanta. With a 1-1 draw against Udinese last weekend, Giampiero Gasperini’s Atalanta secured Europa League football for next season and confirmed their status as the surprise of the season. Atalanta have little left to play for, and both the fans and the manager know that most of the talented youngsters who made Atalanta’s season so remarkable will be leaving in the summer. One of the most prominent of those players is Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessie, who has been linked with clubs across Europe but is now being heavily linked with Milan, so he will have an extra incentive to deliver a strong performance. Vincenzo Montella will for his part want to deliver at least one win to his new Chinese owners in the hope of saving his job.