While winning in the Champions League is absolutely fantastic, there's a new-found trend for Juventus that is happening in the game following said victory: A not-so pretty aftermath in the following game.
We saw it first against Milan two Sundays ago, and the post-European game hangover — or whatever you wish to call it — was ever present on Sunday in the 1-0 win over Palermo. The physical exertion and quick turnaround isn't easy, let alone in Juve's system that demands so much out of the its out-field players.
Luckily for us, Antonio Conte was back on the sidelines to make sure the performance of the first 45 minutes wasn't going to replicated after halftime. While Juventus started to wake up before the intermission, it was after the break where Conte's men really took control of the match. The possession stats don't exactly reflect it — Juventus 53 percent, Palermo at 47 percent — but it's not like the home side was creating a whole lot when they had the ball. Juventus weren't able to put things away, sure, but it never really evolved into a match where Juve were going to run away with it.
Yes, there weren't a whole lot of style points outside of Mirko Vucinic's assist to Stephan Lichtsteiner for the game's only goal, but that's okay. Not every game will be glorious. Not every game will be pretty. Sometimes you gotta grit your teeth and win ugly. Juventus did that, in terrible conditions no less, as their leader returned to the bench.
I'll take the tree points and a four-point advantage over the second-place team who shall not be named.
Buffon: s/v - San Gigi had to make one save — and it wasn't all that difficult at that. The benefit of the second half improvements on Juventus' part was that Buffon just had to stand there in the rain and try to figure out a way to stay warm.
Barzagli: 7.5 - Just an absolutely sound, Barzagli-like kind of game. Didn't have to make many tackles, but they all seemed to be important ones. Not all that surprising the way he is playing right now, but it really just goes to show what kind of player he's become. Returned to the place where he made his name, put in his usual badass-self performance, and didn't have all too much go wrong.
Bonucci: 6 - Leo gets half a point off for that thing he called a dive (more on that later). More importantly, though, it was another game where he was a complete rock in the center of the defense. He'll be missed against Atalanta next weekend, especially if Luca Marrone or Martin Caceres are still bothered with their respective injury woes.
Chiellini: 6.5 - One of these days, Chiellini is going to need a serious game off. But, until then, he's going to keep scaring the hell out of all of us as he seemingly picks up a knock every time out on the pitch. Maybe a game off will do Chiello some good. You'd have to think it would.
Lichtsteiner: 8 - How would you have liked to try and play in the sloshpit known as the right flank at the Renzo Barbera? It was nasty, yet the Swiss Express didn't give one damn about it. Lichtsteiner bombed up and down the right flank, essentially giving the poor conditions the middle finger in the process. Got the game-winning goal to boot. This was a vintage Lichtsteiner performance.
Vidal: 7 - Until he came off injured — which, by the way, didn't look pretty at all when it happened live — Vidal was having a very good all-around game. He was doing his usual business in the center of the park before he was taken off after 54 minutes with an apparent thigh injury. He probably should've come off right away because when Vidal can barely move around on the pitch, you know something just isn't right.
Pirlo: 6.5 - He didn't command the game, but Pirlo was still effective. And on the defensive side of things, too. It's amazing how Conte has continued to turn Pirlo into a midfielder that presses and tackles more. I mean, how much money would you bet on Pirlo having as many tackles as Chiellini? Exactly.
Marchisio: 6.5 - This was the kind of game where Marchisio's impact was felt more on the defensive side of things than on offense. Had an effort at goal nicely saved by Ujkani in the first half, but had to focus more on the dirty work in the midfield after the break due to Vidal's absence. Principino certainly did that, finishing the match with a game-high seven tackles.
Asamoah: 5.5 - The stats say he played a solid game, but my eyes say otherwise. It wasn't the birthday boy's best game, but it wasn't terrible, either. With the absolute war Juve had mid-week to qualify for the knockout stages, you had to think Kojo was a little gassed going into the Palermo game, right?
Vucinic: 7.5 - The Vucinic Effect was in full force. Had two shots go off the upright and his assist to Lichtsteiner was absolutely fantastic. For all the crap I give him, this is the kind of game where he truly shows he can change the game. Obviously he will never become the consistent force he can be mainly because he's 29 years old and at his peak, but he's certainly a player Juve need on top form the next couple of months.
Matri: 5.5 - Did a few things well, did a few other things not so well. His confidence is shot. We all can see that. The problem is, though, just when you think he's going to get a goal or two to bring some of that confidence back, he can't convert. That's what happened against Palermo and, like so many times before, he's still searching for any kind of positive run of form. Just watch his reaction after his close-range effort was saved by Ujkani in the first half. He's completely bewildered as to what he has to do to score a goal at this point. And, to be honest, I am, too.
Pogba: 6.5 - I knew Pogba got involved immediately after coming on for Vidal, but then I made my way and looked at his stats: 37 minutes played, six tackles, 37 touches. That's....damn good.
Padoin: 5.5 - Didn't screw up after he came on for Lichtsteiner. Good. That's all that was needed.
Bendtner: s/v - Other than his first touch of the game going just wide on goal, this was his best contribution on Sunday:
who shot bonucci? ;) haha— Nicklas Bendtner (@bendtnerb52) December 9, 2012
Conte: 6.5 - The biggest thing, of course, was that he returned from his four-month touchline ban. It was definitely noticeable in the second half when Juventus took complete control of the game. And that's one of the biggest things that having Conte back will allow this team to do — if they struggle in the first 45 minutes, it's pretty much known that Juve will come out a different team. Whether it's motivation, changing tactics, whatever, being able to have Conte back on the sidelines is one of the best things to happn this season.
THINGS I THINK I THINK
1. Antonio Conte looks funny in a hat. It's almost like he should be playing little league baseball or something. But, regardless of what he has on his head to protect his not-so-natural hair, Conte's back on the touchline. Oh yes.
2. Leonardo Bonucci should be happy he's good at this football thing because he'd be a terrible actor. That flop — what was that? I mean, what the hell was that? I think that's all I can say about it. It was bad, he got carded, and now he won't play next weekend because of it.
3. Is it time for another #FreeQuagliarella movement? I ask this on top of the original question: Remember when we thought Quags would just be slapped with a fine and that's it? Hey, wha happen? Eta Beta hasn't seen the field since his not-so-nice words for Angelo Alessio, a clear sign that it's more than just some squad rotation going on. Quagliarella was on good form when he suddenly found the bench and now all of the sudden he's not playing at all. This is just fishy.
4. Should there have been more squad rotation? The Shakhtar game will likely go down as one of the most intense and physically demanding of the season. There was a lot of running, a lot of pressing on the part of Juventus. And for a good portion of Sunday's game against Palermo, Juve looked to be showing the aftereffects of the mid-week European contest. Obviously the injury troubles to Caceres and Marrone and Sebastian Giovinco's suspension limited Conte as to what he could have done lineup-wise, but I'm pretty confident in saying a couple of players needed a weekend off just to recover.
5. The field. The complete mess of a field. You saw it. If not, watch the video. How Palermo continuously gets away with that place being so poorly maintained is beyond me.