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May 11, 2014

When scorelines matter less

A win is a win and every game matters equally, except when they don't. When Roma hosted Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, both sides knew that no matter what the outcome was, their destinies for this season have already been decided. Win this one by seven, lose the next by 14, win both, lose both, tie both... no matter the combination, Juventus would end the season in first and Roma in second.

- Report: Roma 0-1 Juventus

There were intriguing subplots, to be sure; the direct confrontation between the two best teams in Italy this season, with the home side looking for revenge over the 3-0 Juventus league win in January and the visitors looking to put one over the side that knocked them out of the Coppa Italia. Juve manager Antonio Conte's team had extra motivation, as well -- the desire to beat Inter's point record and try to finish the season with 100 points or more. A late strike from former Roma striker Pablo Daniel Osvaldo helped them to that massively.

Was the result fair? Perhaps. Roma dominated shots (17 total to eight, six on target vs. three) but both goalkeepers put on a clinic. Marco Storari was the busier of the two, with his own highlight being a superb save on Alessandro Florenzi, but Lukasz Skorupski had a very strong league debut for Roma. The 23-year-old hardly looked out of place behind a makeshift Roma defense, with Michel Bastos deputizing as a full-back in the absence of Douglas Maicon. If Roma boss Rudi Garcia truly wanted to win this game, he was thwarted in two intertwined ways. First, injuries forced his hand; Alessio Romagnoli was suspended, Morgan De Sanctis and Maicon not fully fit, so all three missed the match entirely. As the game went on, Daniele De Rossi and Mehdi Benatia both had to come off to what seemed relatively minor injuries, but ones that necessitated a precaution. It is perhaps less surprising to see that Roma conceded when a back line of Bastos-Leandro Castan -- Rafael Toloi -- Vasilis Torosidis was on the pitch; of the four, only one is arguably a starter. And to put three depth players against the strongest side in the league is risking much.

But that risk is the second reason why perhaps a win was not so important; there is no better time to judge if fringe players should be part of this Roma side next season than to see their performances in these final two matches. By the end, many were on the pitch: Bastos did little to help his cause and Toloi is still decent but not terribly encouraging. Radja Nainggolan has done more than enough in his time at Roma to demonstrate he has the mentality and ability to stay, and his signing at least seems a given, at least on co-ownership if not outright. It would have been interesting to see if Adem Ljajic would have come on if not for the injuries, but it's surely a moot point now.

A special consideration must go to Miralem Pjanic. Roma announced this morning that the Bosnian has extended his contract another three years to now expire in 2018. This does not preclude a summer exit, though his words after the match seemed genuine enough, suggesting he wants to stay at Roma and win because of how Garcia has changed the club.

That very same Garcia is now the focus of Roma's next renewal effort; for the time being, Pjanic's deal ensures at the very least that the club will get a fair price for him this summer instead of a cheap deal from a club knowing he could have walked away on a free in January.

For the home side, it's the first time all season that they've lost two games in a row. It's no coincidence that neither game mattered much in the end.