After the first international break of the season reminded us how boring life is without European club football, Bianconeri fans were itching to get the Genoa game under way. But it wasn't the prospect of seeing young prodigy Immobile and old stache-bearing stud Borriello line up in attack against us. Rather, everyone wanted to get closer to the return of the Old Lady in the esteemed competition that is the Champions League this Wednesday against current holders Chelsea.
And while fans and media were reminiscing of past Champions League glory moments, Genoa prepared and almost perfectly executed a plan to take all 3 points from the 42-games undefeated champs. Fortunately, Mirko Vucinic and Kwado Asamoah had other plans on the day.
That Juventus could struggle on the day was apparent before the game had even started. Antonio Conte, encouraged by the additional depth of the squad this season, tried rotating players in order to rest some stars for the midweek Chelsea match. Four key players were rested (Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Asamoah, and Vucinic) for Caceres, De Ceglie, Giaccherini, and Matri.
From minute one, Genoa came out and played some very fast-paced football. Their transition from defense to attack was seamless and Borriello and Immobile needed no time to start linking up and causing Juve's defense lots of problems. Genoa's speed and width annulled our usual style of possession football with a high defensive line and on just 9 minutes Ciro had a great one-on-one opportunity with Buffon which he amateurly squandered wide. The young striker kept working, however, and in the 18th minute put Genoa up by one with a neat finish in Buffon's right corner.
But the rossoblu did not stop there. They continued to dominate proceedings and with swift attacks reminded everyone why they were one of only three teams to remain unbeaten against Juventus last season. At the same time, our three-man defense was repeatedly caught stretched out and too high up our out of position to stay with Genoa's pace. Bertolacci did an amazing job man-marking Pirlo and taking him out of the game. For those paying attention, Genoa's blueprint of man-marking Pirlo, fast, wide attacks, and balls over the top of Juve's defense proved to be one of the best ways of beating the Bianconeri. For as long as you can sustain the pace, that is.
After the halftime break, things were different. Genoa seemed a bit tired and couldn't quite keep up with their style of play from the first 45 minutes. In the meantime, Juve came out with a lot more energy and pushed Genoa's midfield and defense deeper into their own half.
La Forma Atomica announced Juve's return in this match with a great run through the Genoa defense only to hit the far post. This woke up Genoa who almost scored through Borriello who also hit the woodwork.
Finally, the turning point in the match came in the 60th minute - Bertolacci had a golden opportunity to put the game away but was outwitted by Buffon who made a great reaction save. Mere seconds later, Vucinic, who had come on along with Awesomoah early in the second half, set up Giaccherini for the equalizing goal to give Juventus hope that this game was still very much in the balance.
Afterwards, Mirko and Kwado took over the game. Asamoah's pace down the left earned Juventus a penalty which Vucinic converted, and the two exchanged roles later on when Mirko's pass was tapped in by Asamoah on the far post. Just like that, Juventus had escaped a very tricky situation and took home all 3 point from a team that deserved a lot more than a heart-breaking home loss.
Buffon: 8 - It's been a while since he's been tested continuously throughout the game and it almost looked like he was finally having fun being a keeper again. Handled every shot/cross/pass with utmost concentration, quick reflexes, and made some excellent yet quick decisions. The timing of his saves was superb too - that moment that changed the game was sparked by his save on Bertolacci's shot. I have a feeling he'll be called upon a lot more this season, but there's not a man alive more fit for the job.
Barzagli: 5 - The worst game in a Juventus jersey since I can remember. Never seemed to get the positioning right and was always caught behind by Immobile. He'll have to bounce back immediately as Sturridge and Hazard are A LOT faster than Ciro. His lack of headers won was also a bit of a concern. He lost his man during a couple set-pieces and overall lacked energy over Genoa's attackers.
Bonucci: 5.5 - Other than a goal-saving block and a couple decent tackles, Leonardo had a pretty miserable game as well. He did win a few aerial duels but his positioning in the offside trap was off.
Chiellini: 5.5 - If he was consistent in anything, it was performing on the level of his fellow defenders. At first I thought he would've been better off on the bench getting more rest after his injuries and international play, but if he played this bad I am not sure how Marrone would've fared. Just a day to forget (and learn from) for our defense in general.
Caceres: 6 - Lichtsteiner had played so well in this campaign so far that it was always going to be hard for Caceres to adequately replace him in his first game in over a month. Given Genoa's attacking display, he was forced to play a bit deeper and rarely made timely runs forward to be of any danger. The few crosses he did get in looked offly Molinaro-like. He needs time but most of all, he needs games. Excited to see how he does in this tight schedule ahead, unless Isla is given a chance instead of him too.
Pirlo: 6 - Allowed Bertolacci to completely take him out of the game in the first half. The couple times he did get the ball on his feet for more than a second, he gave the ball away and gave our confused defense even more cause for trouble. As we gained more of the possession in the second half he came into his own, but really only affected the game in the last half hour. Hopefully he didn't tire too much standing around for 60 minutes.
Marchisio: 6.5 - With Pirlo out of the game for a long period and Vidal on the bench, I expected Claudio to step up and help create more offense. While he wasn't able to do so, he did put in a lot of the grunt work necessary in midfield. These are the games in which he'll have to assert himself more if he wants to continue improving.
Giaccherini: 6.5 - Had a couple good runs in the first half and set up Matri brilliantly for the worst point-blank shot of all time. Did disappear for a good amount in between though. Definitely woke up after he scored (what was a beautiful) equalizing curler. Given his speed and technique, he had to pick up the slack on offense when Pirlo was so visibly taken out of the game and Matri couldn't hold up the ball worth of squat. I'm sure he'll be hearing that from Conte, too.
De Ceglie: 6 - Provided some great width in the first half but couldn't use it to his advantage. He cannot beat the man in front of him and his crosses never reached anyone in particular. Pretty typical De Ceglie performance - when the team does well he does too and vice versa, but never one to impact proceedings by himself or change the game with a play.
Giovinco: 7 - Thank GOD Conte didn't rest Gio in tandem with Vucinic from the start. Despite his lack of size and physicality, he was the ONLY one through whom any attacks happened in the first 55 minutes. Schooled Matri on how to fight for position and play as a target man, which btw can be very useful for Juventus now that our midfielders are good enough to play with direct, to-feet passing. Apparently let Mirko take the penalty (even though it looked to me like Mirko had to convince him to give it up) and was unlucky not to score in the beginning of the second half.
Matri: 4 - In the words of the esteemed Sir Charles Barkley, that was one TURRIBLE performance by Mitra Matri. Absolutely invisible for most of his 55 minutes on the pitch, and even when he got his one chance he embarrassed himself further. It has to be said - this was a vintage late-in-his-Juventus-career Amauri performance. He'll have to recover his touch if he's to be effective in this technically solid Juventus side. Heck, I'd choose Bendtner over him at the moment.
Vucinic: 8 - Man of match for me, with Buffon a close second. In 35 minutes completely turned the game around with a goal and two assists. Not only that, but forced Genoa to defend not one but two attackers which drew their midfield deeper and gave our midfielders more room to work with. He's started this season on such a high level, it will be difficult to expect anything different from him now. Hope he doesn't give us a reason to.
Asamoah: 7.5 - I stole this from Twitter, but his nickname HAS to be Awesomoah from now on. He is just, awesome. Provides so much strength, pace, and unpredictability on the left flank that it took him no time at all to show how effective a wing back can be if he possesses all those qualities.
Conte/Carrera: 6.5 - It was ballsy of Conte to rest both Vidal AND Asamoah, as along with Marchisio they are the true warriors on the field around which our grinta style is centered. Turned out Vucinic was the one we missed the most, and Matri made sure that was more than obvious. It wasn't too hard for Carrera to notice which players were needed in the second half, but props to him for doing it early rather than in the 75th minute. In many ways, the game against Chelsea will be Conte's first test in a while against a team/coach he doesn't know much about. Speaking of which...
THINGS I THINK I THINK
The Champiooooooooooons... - Oh how I long to hear that song echo while Juventus players are introduced on the screen. There will be one thing glaringly missing on Wednesday - il nostro Capitano. He deserved to stay on and represent the black and white in Champions one last time. Did you hear that Agnelli hasn't even talked to him since he banished him from the team earlier this year? (Okay, maybe not banished him, but pretty effing close). Alright, cool off here Ivo.
Chelsea - We cannot not show these guys too much respect. They have a great collection of players and are the current holders of the Champions League, but other than a couple guys like Hazard who's in great form they are all on Juventus' level form-wise. We have to play like we belong at Stamford Bridge, not like we're there to find out if we do. If we play with focus, grinta, and pride, we can play to win. Forza Ragazzi!