The Giallorossi put in another apathetic display to turn next week’s Juventus showdown into a sideshow
At around 14:30 CET on Sunday, Parma’s disillusioned fans were congregated outside the Ennio Tardini stadium which had been due to host a home fixture with Udinese that afternoon.
The club’s mounting debt had forced the match to be postponed, sending the supporters on to the streets to make their feelings known about the impending extinction of Parma, one of Italian football’s pillars.
On the locked gates they hung signs saying ‘Chiuso per rapina’ – Closed due to robbery.
A few hours later, Roma hung a similar sign on the Serie A table. Their 1-1 draw at Verona was a sixth stalemate in seven fixtures and left them nine points adrift of leaders Juventus.
When the Giallorossi went to Juventus Stadium in October, the two sides were level-pegging and served up a fascinating end-to-end contest. It appeared that Italy had found its new table-topping rivalry.
But when they welcome the Bianconeri to the Stadio Olimpico next Monday they do so having already given up on this season’s Scudetto. A win on Sunday and victory against Juve would have given calcio fans a glimmer of hope. A four-point gap could have teed up a twist in the tale.
Instead, Juventus will arrive in the capital with a nine-point cushion that looks likely to widen rather than narrow. With every week that passes, Roma deliver another death-knell to the once burgeoning title race. They have robbed the Italian season of the crescendo it deserved.
Roma’s string of apathetic performances has given the standings an unmerited lop-sidedness. From second to 19th spots, the league has a true competitive edge. There are no gimmes when 18 of the top flight’s 20 clubs come together.
Yet just as Parma have been shorn of their dignity at the bottom of the league, Juventus have been shorn of serious opposition at the top. The champions need to be pushed harder for everybody’s sakes, including their own.
Bayern Munich found it tough to raise their game for the Champions League semi-final clashes with Real Madrid last season, having coasted through far too much of the Bundesliga campaign. Juve could find themselves in a similar situation when the going gets tough in Europe.
Roma were meant to put them under pressure until round 38. Rudi Garcia’s side had shown enough promise in 2013-14 to suggest that they had what it would take to ask greater questions of the Old Lady. Instead, we have a one-horse race before February is out.
Even if the Trigoria outfit come out on top at the Olimpico next week, the resulting six-point gap will still remain too large for Italian football enthusiasts to convince themselves that there is still life in the season.
When Francesco Totti fired them ahead in Verona, there was momentary hope. But Bosko Jankovic soon levelled, and were it not for Vassilis Torosidis’ last-ditch double-block in the second half things would only have got worse.
“Of course, we are going through a difficult moment,” conceded Garcia during the week. “We are much stronger if the players feel the belief around them. I want everyone to make their criticism constructive.”
But nobody has any belief in Roma anymore. They may even find their second spot under threat before long.
Serie A deserves more than this. It is a hugely competitive league, but not in the place where it really matters.
Juventus will win the league again this year. The rest of the world will nod sagely and go about its business. Italian football’s reputation as a one-team shadow of its former self will be enhanced still further.
But for Roma’s recent decline, it could all have been so different.