STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome): The football purists queueing up to see an epic anti-football battle between Jose Mourinho and Massimiliano Allegri weren’t left disappointed in the first half of Serie A Matchday 25’s big Sunday night fixture. The opening 45 minutes of Roma’s clash with Juventus was everything you would expect from one between the two ultra-pragmatists: patient, congested, physical.
Defences were on top as barely any chances of note were created until Rui Patricio produced a fine save to deny Adrien Rabiot from close range just before the break.
After the interval, though, it was a different story. A compelling game of football broke out, settled by a laser-guided strike from Gianluca Mancini that was about as fine a way to end a 728-day goal drought as you can imagine.
Juve ended the game feeling frustrated and out of luck after hitting the woodwork three times, being denied by Patricio several times and having Moise Kean stupidly sent off within 40 seconds of his introduction late on.
But the statistics suggest there was no luck about it. Mourinho’s men have made the Stadio Olimpico a fortress in 2023 and no matter who lays siege to the home of the Giallorossi, they almost always come out on top.
Mou’s demon defence
Roma’s home form in Serie A since the turn of the year has been superb.
In 2023, Mourinho’s side have won all five of their league games at the Olimpico without conceding a single goal.
Overall this season, their total of five league goals conceded at home in 12 league games is second only to Barcelona in Europe’s top five leagues – the La Liga side having shipped just one.
Victory over Juventus heralded Roma’s first five-match Serie A home winning run in a single season since 2017, and their first run of five clean sheets at home in the league since 2014.
Mourinho insisted after the game that it “wasn’t the tactical organisation that won it, but the attitude of the players”.
In truth, it was both. But another raucous, sold-out crowd at the Olimpico – a hallmark of the Mourinho era – helped the team get over the line and record their sixth 1-0 win of the season – a total only matched by, you guessed it, Allegri’s Juventus.
If Roma are going to come out on top in this neck-and-neck race for Champions League spots, the backing of their home support will have to play a big part.
With 13 rounds remaining, the Giallorossi are in fourth place but only on goal difference, with AC Milan right behind them and Atalanta five points further back.
Lazio are one point ahead in third, and the Rome Derby on Matchday 27 time is already looking like a decisive moment for both clubs’ seasons.
Clearly, there are issues for Mourinho to resolve on the road. After the Juve win he said he was “still struggling to accept” his team’s shock defeat at Cremonese earlier in the week.
They were the first team to lose to the Cremona club in Serie A all season, and the shock result continued a poor run of one win in their last six away games in the league.
Spilling points away to Sassuolo, Milan, Napoli, Lecce and Cremonese in recent months could have left them struggling to compete for a top-four spot, were it not for their rivals having similar issues with consistency.
A crucial period is coming up for Roma, who also face Real Sociedad over two legs in the Europa League last 16, but the fixture calendar in Serie A provides cause for Romanista optimism.
Their only ‘away’ game of the three Serie A fixtures coming up in the next month is against Lazio, and Roma only have to travel once for domestic duties between now and late April – a trip to Torino on 8 April.
If the Olimpico remains a fortress for Roma in that period, they could find soon find themselves in the driving seat for a Champions League spot.