Make or break for Ferrara as Juve face Roma
While most eyes will be fixed on the Derby Della Madonna at the San Siro on Sunday night, one of the most intriguing prospects of this weekend in Italy will be the return of Claudio Ranieri to his former employers, Juventus.
Roma make the journey north to Turin on Saturday in what may be the prologue to the main event, but it nevertheless bears the utmost importance for the two biggest clubs in Italy excluding the Milan pair.
The contrasting fortunes of Juventus and Roma this season is quite remarkable.
Claudio Ranieri was sacked as coach of the Old Lady in the summer and was replaced by the inexperienced Ciro Ferrara. The hierarchy at the Turin club provided their novice manager with the funds to invest heavily in the playing staff.
The highly-rated Diego arrived from Germany for the hefty sum of €24.5m followed by the arrival of Felipe Melo, who was purchased from Fiorentina for the exuberant cost of €20.5m.
Initially Ferrara’s baptism to management went swimmingly as his side went unbeaten in their first six games including a spectacular 3-1 demolition of Roma at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. However a 2-0 defeat to Palermo signalled the beginning of Juventus’ demise, slumping to seven defeats in 14 games.
The club slipped down the table and now linger in fifth place with Roma and Napoli leap-frogging the club into the vacated Champions League spots.
Ranieri has masterminded a revival in Rome. He enjoyed a mixed start with the nadir coming in mid-October when the club succumbed to three successive league defeats. However since the 2-1 reversal against Udinese, I Giallorossi have remained unbeaten both domestically and in Europe.
The turnaround in form has seen them rise to the lofty heights of third place. The arrival of Luca Toni has been a welcome boost to the club with Ranieri now able avail of further attacking options.
The striker arrived from Munich where he had been frozen out of the side, and now aims to ensure he is part of the Azzurri travelling to South Africa in the summer. He helped Roma overcome Genoa when he grabbed a brace.
Francesco Totti is expected to feature in the match and should partner either Vucinic or Toni upfront. ‘To-To’ is the nickname that the passionate Roma fans have christened the potential partnership between their captain and their new signing.
It does remain to be seen whether the Tinkerman will plump for To-To or instead opt for the established To-Vu partnership. La Gazzetta dello Sport predicts the Italian manager will choose the latter to face Juventus on Saturday.
Ranieri has insisted he is not preoccupied with Juve’s poor form and will not be seeking to avenge his unceremonious sacking.
“We took different paths, but now I am happily on the Roma bench,” said the Roma coach. “I do not need to take revenge for anything. I know that I worked well at Juve and now I am in my city with the club I have always supported.”
Indeed the ailing fortunes of Juventus, who were in a much better position under his management, will have presumably provided the former Chelsea boss with adequate solace.
Meanwhile, Giorgio Chiellini has described the match as the decisive moment in the Old Lady’s season. Should they fail to seal three points, he predicts the club will ‘sink without a trace’ this season.
Cira Ferrara has spoken out ahead of the game, issuing a rallying call to his beleaguered players. Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the young manager remarked: “It is a difficult period but we have the quality to get out of this.”
Juventus v Roma is live on ESPN tomorrow. Kick-off: 7.45pm UK.