Juventus v Roma: Nainggolan meets Pjanic in huge Scudetto race showdown
Saturday could represent a pivotal moment in the Serie A title race as leaders Juventus host second-place Roma in Turin.
With four points separating them after 15 matches and only one round to go afterwards before the winter break, the showdown represents a crucial time for Luciano Spalletti's side to show the champions that they really do mean business.
The Scudetto has eluded the capital club since 2001 and runner-up finishes in two of the last three campaigns have only increased frustrations at their inability to lead from the front throughout the title race.
Add to that a five-game losing streak at Juventus Stadium, and the bitter resentment over Miralem Pjanic's move to Turin in June, and it's fair to say that Roma are travelling north this weekend with a point to prove.
Radja Nainggolan - who has scored in back-to-back Serie A games for the first time - claimed he would stop speaking to Pjanic if he defected to Juve, but there should plenty to discuss when the duo go head-to-head.
Both have enjoyed strong runs of form at the heart of their teams and the result of their personal battle could be key in determining whether Roma will snap their losing streak in Turin or if Juve will set a new league record of 25 consecutive home wins.
A defensive improvement has helped Spalletti's side to claim eight wins in their last 10, with four clean sheets in their last six emphasising a solidity to the team behind attackers Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah, who have benefited from some decisive direct approach play in recent weeks.
That back line will be sorely tested on Saturday, though, now that Gonzalo Higuain has rediscovered his golden touch and Paulo Dybala - who has scored in each of his last three league appearances against the Giallorossi - is fit once more.
44 - Edin Dzeko has received 44 passes from Wojciech Szczesny, more than from any other teammate in Serie A this season. Long. pic.twitter.com/uLZemAZqFr-- OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) December 13, 2016
THE NUMBERS GAME
Juventus have lost only three of their last 22 Serie A encounters against Roma (W14 D5).
The champions have scored at least one goal in 21 of their last 22 Serie A meetings against the Giallorossi, failing to score only in February 2013 (0-1).
Roma have fired in the second-most shots on target (99), while Juventus have faced the fewest shots on target so far (39).
PJANIC V NAINGGOLAN
Pjanic has contributed nine goals (five goals, four assists) in 12 league games this season. Nainggolan has provided three goals and one assist.
The Bosnia-Herzegovina international has a far better pass completion rate (86 per cent) and shooting accuracy (67 per cent) than his old team-mate ( who boasts rates of 77 per cent and 29 per cent).
However, Nainggolan has a better tackle success rate (92 per cent to 78 per cent) and has won nearly double the duels (73 to 39) compared to Pjanic.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri: "An immediate weapon, a weapon for afterwards, or a weapon from the bench, no, Pjanic plays.
"A draw is not good because it is an important game, for us it would be important to win, but these are direct conflicts.
"At the moment we have not yet drawn at home, so it would be nice to continue with a victory.
"Also because we have two games before Christmas, a league match and the first opportunity for a trophy in the season and there will be no chance of revenge."
Roma coach Luciano Spalletti: "Pjanic already came to see us against Torino and had a meal with us.
"Every time he talks to one of the players they put me on the phone. I made him feel important, gave him the keys to Roma by putting him deeper than [Daniele] De Rossi.
"In the time he was here he gave us a lot, because he's a true champion. We've shared a joke, because there's mutual respect between us."