Like many before, this game was dangerously headed for a 0-0 draw and a slew of "Juve rusty again after international break" headlines. Except not this year. With Juventus finally addressing the lack of clinical-finishing attackers in the summer, cases like these will be a lot rarer. Sprinkle that pot with a creative burst of energy from a 20-year old kid playing like he's led teams for ages, and you have a winning formula for such afternoons like the one in Livorno on Sunday.
Speaking of Livorno, this team to me are just the scum of Italian football. Rolling around after every small push like they lost a limb, yelling and gesturing at the ref every 5 minutes, going in unnecessarily hard and aggressive then faking fair play....ugh, they disgust me. I couldn't be happier that we beat them on their own ground while keeping a clean sheet.
Looking back at the actual gameplay, the opening 45 minutes had little to show for in terms of goal scoring opportunities on either side. Granted, Juventus dominated possession as expected and worked their slow build up mostly along the right hand side through Pirlo, Padoin, and Pogba, but it rarely ended up troubling Bardi.
Tevez saw very little of the ball in dangerous situations, bar one through pass by Pirlo that allowed him a blocked shot from a tight corner. Most of the "chances" were crosses towards Llorente, who admittedly had one great opportunity to open the scoring early on, but he himself was just getting warmed up for the game. The only time play switched to the left, Asamoah got rid of a defender and directed a powerful shot on goal which was punched away.
The second half was when the true Juventus came alive, led by our emerging young leader Paul Pogba. Livorno's tight and hard-working 10-man defense started tiring and going for broke, which allowed Juventus a lot more space. Asamoah saw a lot more of the ball in the second half which tactically was a great adjustment by Conte.
After an hour of play, the Ghanaian made a nifty run forward, passed it to Pogba in space who directed an almost no-look cross in Llorente's path, setting up the Spaniard for a great volley and the 1-0 lead. It was a swift, beautifully executed attack in which team cohesion and individual brilliance combined for the perfect opening goal.
Soon after, Llorente controlled another ball in Livorno's box, patiently drew defenders on, then laid it over to Tevez for the one-time shot in the low left corner and the 2-0 lead.
Livorno kept trying to 1) bitch to the referee for all fouls and potential set pieces/penalties, and 2) hit Juventus on the counter attack but both were fruitless efforts. In the end, Juventus continued their assured stride towards the top of the table with the temporary number 1 spot until Roma's game on Monday takes it away/makes it official.
Buffon: 7- I think we were all happy to see him go back to a boring 90 minutes after the game against Napoli.
Caceres: 7 - A very steady game despite being flanked by Vidal and Padoin, to which I'm sure he wasn't accustomed. I realized I didn't know the answer to this halfway through the game - how does he get those super high socks? Or does he have some sort of liner socks that go above his knees? I know that's his staple wear, but I have no idea how that works.
Vidal: 7.5 - Playing his first game for Juventus as a center back, Arturo was a worthy replacement for Bonucci in the center of our defense. Had a few errant passes in the beginning, but found his rhythm as the game went on. It was quite refreshing to have a technically gifted defender. I was rarely worried he would turn the ball over or that his pass would be way off the mark (like I sometimes am with all of our defenders). On a couple occasions, especially early on, he was caught pushing too high after set pieces which left us very vulnerable on the counter attack. That said, can you imagine how hard it must have been for him not to surge forward every time he had possession?
Chiellini: 7.5 - Had a really good game. Shut down counter attacks, was the physical presence we needed with Bonucci and Barzagli absent, and had some good passes in attack as well.
Padoin: 7 - He doesn't have the skill nor the pace to play that right winger position, but he certainly has the determination and stamina to compete. As usual, he was up for every challenge and had some good passes/crosses in Livorno's box.
Pogba: 8.5 - The first of what I hope will be many all-around performances by the young Frenchman. Not only did he inspire our team going forward in the second half with his energy, passing, and leadership, he fought for every ball on defense and hustled on every possession. He cannot be in a better position on any other team right now for his development. He has all the skill in the world, but Conte's coaching style and system will instill in him the discipline necessary to succeed on the higher stage. He is obviously not only a fan favorite, but a team favorite. You can see our players love playing with him. Keep it going kid!
Pirlo: 7.5 - Despite Livorno's physicality, Pirlo was able to routinely get away from their pressing. Andrea pushed the play through the right side in the first half, but glad we adjusted play in the second. As always, had some great balls forward over the midfield and defense.
Marchisio: 7 - Like most of the team, was better in the second half than the first. I didn't even see how many times he touched the ball in the first 45 minutes, it couldn't have been more than a handful. In the second, he found a lot more space on the left side as he was overlapping with Asamoah. An improvement over previous games for sure, I still believe he can get back to being 100% fit and effective for Juventus, but he'll need to work hard at it.
Asamoah: 8 - The rating may be generous, but I thought he had a great second half. In the first, he seemed a bit ostracized on that left flank, but once he started seeing more of the ball he surely made the most of it. Started the beautiful run for our opening goal, had a couple good shots on target, and overall gave the Livorno defense plenty of confusion with his movement. On defense he was as hard-working as ever too.
Tevez: 7.5 - Llorente saw a lot more of the ball-hold up play which was actually pretty effective for us. He gave another spirited performance, and took his goal well from close range. His understanding with Llorente is becoming better each game, which is so encouraging to see. The beauty and the beast finally working well together!
Llorente: 8.5 - Definite man of match, even though I was a bit tempted to give it Pogba. His volley for the goal was fantastic, and served as a reminder that he's not only a one-dimensional player that scores headers. His hold up play was excellent, and he did very well to set up Tevez for the second goal. The goal celebrations warmed my heart as all the other, short players came in for a hug from big papa. So adorable.
Quagliarella: sv - pass the ball Fabio! Pogba could've had a goal of his own had you passed him the ball right in front of goal after that near own-goal header by Livorno!
Conte: 7.5 - It's not the easiest thing to motivate your squad after an international break for a game in Livorno. The way Conte's built this team though, Juve don't need any additional motivation. The Vidal as center back was an interesting choice that went our way for sure. Glad we won't have to do it again anytime soon. Not sure if this was his recognition or not, but I was very happy we used the whole field in the second half for attack rather than just the right flank.