Crisis, what crisis? Italian football delivered a defiant message to its detractors on Wednesday night, as Napoli's victory over Villarreal ensured that Serie A would have more representatives in the Champions League knockout stages than any other nation. This after it was confirmed that Serie A will have to cede one of its four places in the competition to Germany next year on account of a dwindling Uefa coefficient.
And yet this weekend it will not be Napoli, Internazionale or Milan taking centre stage but rather two teams who are not involved in European competition at all. Roma's Europa League campaign came to an early and ignominious close with defeat to Slovan Bratislava in the qualifying round and Juventus, having finished seventh in Serie A, never even got that far. Nevertheless, it is a safe bet that all eyes will be on the Stadio Olimpico when the two teams meet on Monday.
Since 1981, when the disallowing of a Maurizio Turone goal denied Roma the opportunity to leapfrog Juventus into first place with just two games of the season remaining, these sides have developed a compelling rivalry. The Giallorossi president, Dino Viola, would protest after another decision went against his team two years later that "with Juve it is always a question of centimetres". His Juventus counterpart, Giampiero Boniperti, responded by sending him a ruler in the post.
On it went into the 1990s, with Zdenek Zeman when he was the Roma manager sparking a lengthy doping investigation by remarking upon the "mysterious muscles" of Gianluca Vialli and Alessandro Del Piero. The then Juventus director Luciano Moggi did his bit to enrage the Giallorossi by signing players such as Paulo Sousa from under their noses. Roma fans continued to accuse referees of favouring Juventus, and would celebrate the Old Lady's relegation in 2006 following the Calciopoli scandal as vindication of their claims.
But while such long-standing enmity adds spice, present circumstances are what make this fixture truly compelling. For much of the past year these two teams had been following similar paths: from disappointing 2010-11 campaigns – Roma finished just one spot above Juventus – to managerial changes and significant turnover of playing staff over the summer. Since then, however, there has been a drastic divergence.
For Juventus it has been a case of success beyond their wildest dreams – Antonio Conte's team unbeaten after 13 games for the first time since 1997-98. A group who lost at home to teams such as Parma and Bologna last year have already beaten Milan, Inter and Lazio this term, as well as drawing away to Napoli. The lack of European competition has helped, allowing the team to focus all of their energies on the league, but so, crucially, have new arrivals such as Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal.
The former, in particular, looks like a man reborn following his switch from Milan – having already started as many games (12) this season as he did in the entire 2010-11 campaign. His creativity has been essential for a team heavy on graft but sometimes light on guile. "I believe that signing a player of his level and worth for free has been the deal of the century," said the Juventus goalkeeper Gigi Buffon shortly after Pirlo arrived. "When I watched him play, I thought: 'There is a God.'"
A neat contrast with Roma, then, where Luis Enrique was greeted at one early training session by the former Milan manager Arrigo Sacchi, now in charge of the national team's youth setup, joking: "Welcome to hell." So it has proved for the coach, heckled by his own club's fans last week after a defeat to Fiorentina in which three Roma players were dismissed. The buildup to the game had already been overshadowed by stories of in-fighting, with the striker Daniel Pablo Osvaldo suspended by the club for hitting team-mate Erik Lamela after a loss to Udinese.
Osvaldo, Roma's leading scorer this season, returns for the game against Juventus – but Enrique's defence remains decimated by injuries and suspension, with all of his top three centre-backs unavailable. They take on Juventus as heavy underdogs, but as the Champions League has already taught us this week: sometimes that isn't such a bad place to be.