Mourinho, Lukaku and Dybala set for different receptions when Roma visits Juventus in Serie A

AP , Thursday 28 Dec 2023

Three people will get a special welcome when Roma visits Juventus in Serie A on Saturday.

Roma s Belgian forward #90 Romelu Lukaku (L) reacts during the Italian Serie A football match between AS Roma and SSC Napoli at the Olympic stadium in Rome, on December 23, 2023. AFP


Roma coach José Mourinho and forward Romelu Lukaku will likely face a hostile reception in Turin while there will be a much warmer welcome for former Juventus striker Paulo Dybala — if the Argentina international is fit enough to make the trip.

Mourinho led Juve’s bitter rival Inter Milan to the treble of the Serie A title, Italian Cup and Champions League trophy in 2010 and the often controversial coach has reacted on previous occasions to being baited by the Bianconeri fans by holding up three fingers in reference to that haul.

Lukaku, meanwhile, was subjected to racist chants by a section of Juventus fans when he was playing for Inter during the Italian Cup semifinals in April and he was shown a second yellow card and sent off for his reaction toward the home support after scoring a stoppage-time penalty — prompting a scuffle between the two teams.

Nevertheless, Lukaku — surprisingly — almost joined Juventus in the offseason but a proposed cash plus player deal to his parent club Chelsea fell through when Bianconeri forward Dušan Vlahović opted to remain in Turin.

All that is set to increase the tension in what is already expected to be a heated match on Saturday. Second-placed Juventus is battling hard for the Serie A title and is four points below Inter, which visits Genoa on Friday.

Roma has recovered from a difficult start to the season and last week’s 2-0 win over defending champion Napoli left it three points below fourth-placed Bologna. Mourinho’s side is 16 below Inter.

“It’s not a criticism but we have a group of players with complicated injury histories,” Mourinho said. “If we had everyone available for every game I’d have no problems coming out and saying that we can fight with everyone — not for the title but for the top four.

“Without (Chris) Smalling, without Renato (Sanches), without Dybala, we don’t have an excellent squad. With those three, we do. We also have a good coach.”

The often-injured Dybala’s latest woe is a thigh problem sustained in Roma’s 1-1 draw against Fiorentina on Dec. 10 and the 30-year-old was expected to be unavailable until the new year. However, he returned to training this week and could be able to play some part in Sunday’s match — although he is highly unlikely to start.

If Dybala makes the trip to Turin, he is likely to once again be applauded by his former fans — as he was last season.

Dybala spent seven years at Juventus and contributed 115 goals and 48 assists in nearly 300 matches. He also helped the Bianconeri to 12 trophies, including five Serie A titles.

However, he fell out of favor under coach Massimiliano Allegri after Juventus signed Vlahović in January 2022. Dybala left the Turin club when his contract ran out a few months later, joining Roma in July.

Vlahović started from the bench last week after just one goal in his previous 10 appearances for Juventus but he came on to score a late winner in a 2-1 victory at Frosinone.

“It’s not easy for a striker when you don’t score consistently, but I work at my best every day and I’m confident I can lend a hand to the group,” the 23-year-old said. “I’m always on track and focused, with the help of the team and the coach, but the match is already over and I’m thinking about the next challenge.

“I know that the team needs me and my goals, it’s a moment in which I score less. Eventually the goals will come.”

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