By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
We saw nothing from Francesco Totti on Saturday night that we hadn’t seen from him before. We’ve witnessed the mastery, the delicacy of touch, the finishing, the leadership and the controversy in spades over the years, but this time he made the earth move for more than just Roma fans.
For not only did his winning goal against Juventus provide a first league victory of 2013 for the Giallorossi, but the tremors were felt as far away as Naples, where Napoli fans now harbour genuine belief that they are in a true title race.
The Richter scale measured Saturday night’s earthquake near Frosinone, which was felt in both Rome and Naples, at a magnitude of 4.8, but the real strength of Totti’s strike might not be discovered until the Serie A season ends on May 19. While Juve remain big favourites, there is no doubting that Napoli are in with a real chance since they now know their destiny is no longer dependent on the Bianconeri.
Antonio Conte and his players would obviously have been disappointed with a 1-0 defeat in any circumstances, but the fact that Totti should have been been sent off long before his thunderous second-half strike made the loss even harder to take.
The talismanic No.10’s high challenge on Andrea Pirlo ended in a fortunate scenario for both men. Totti only saw yellow for a ‘tackle’ which connected with his former Italy team-mate’s knee, while Pirlo came out of it with his ligaments intact.
Whether it was deliberate or not is known only to Totti himself, but the tackle was a wild one at best, and had Pirlo’s leg been straight rather than bent and motioning forward, severe damage would have been very likely. What made it all the more surprising that Totti didn’t receive his marching orders was the referee was Gianluca Rocchi, who has never been shy about revealing his red card at the first possible opportunity.
That said, Juventus didn’t help themselves in the outcome of the match. Whereas they have often pummeled Roma out of games under Conte’s leadership, this time there was no real venom about their performance. Long spells spent in the final third have become second nature to the Old Lady, but they were much more fleeting at the Stadio Olimpico. A Pirlo free-kick which was superbly kept out by the excellent Maarten Stekelenburg and a Mirko Vucinic volley wide of the target were about all they had to show for their efforts before Totti struck.
|THE TOP OF SERIE A
Whatever the whys and wherefores of the 36-year-old’s extra life, to leave him free on the edge of the box was criminal on the Turin side’s part. His response was to hammer an unstoppable effort past Gianluigi Buffon to settle the game and give the home faithful a winning feeling they hadn’t experienced in the league for eight weeks.
For the champions, it was an outcome that has become a bit too familiar of late. From an unbeaten run of 49 games, they have now gone down to four defeats in 15 in Serie A. It is hardly crisis time, but the regularity with which points are being dropped by Juve is giving Neapolitans reason to believe.
Roma did well to exploit the Bianconeri at the back regularly, and while the visitors struggled to create clear-cut chances after falling behind, the capital club could have increased the agony, with Miralem Pjanic and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo both spurning good positions. Conte will be worried that his side are not making enough of their dominance on the ball, but the sometimes ragged appearance of his defence must also be a concern. Giorgio Chiellini’s return will go some way to addressing that, but collective responsibility must be the name of the day.
Tuesday night’s 3-0 away victory over Celtic set down a real marker in the Champions League, but if they slip up again when they visit Napoli on Friday week then they may well entertain the Bhoys without the title of league leaders under their belt.
Much will doubtless be said in the days and weeks to come about the Totti tackle, but his goal may yet cause the greatest damage if Juve don’t shake themselves out of their funk. It once looked like one of Serie A’s most non-existent title races, but the battle may just be about to start.