Three minutes separated Udinese from a valuable point against the two-time reigning champion.
89 minutes into an eventful but goalless game on Sunday, Udinese had executed their game plan to near perfection. Their style away from home against strong teams is no secret after all - congested, 10-man defending with Antonio Di Natale playing his lifetime free role roaming at the half, salivating over a counter attack opportunity.
Possession, momentum, and overall quality were all on Juventus side for the majority of the game, but that has rarely stopped Udinese from collecting points. The only thing missing from Udinese's game was a goal, and they would have Gigi Buffon's stellar goalkeeping to "thank" for that.
Juventus, the champions that they are, never stopped trying. They came as close as ever in the 88th minute, when a Vidal corner found Llorente's
beautiful head for a shot on goal that was cleared on the line. Little did we know faith would bring the ball back in Llorente's vicinity for him to instinctively head the winner in injury time just a couple minutes later.
It was an odd, freezing night at Juventus stadium that saw more than 12,000 screaming children fill up the banned seats of our fortress. Even more strange was seeing our conductor, Andrea Pirlo, limp off with a knee injury just 15 minutes in.
At the end of 90 minutes, however, what is now a typical outcome followed. Juve notched its 6th straight Serie A win, its 6th straight clean sheet, before a week break and two very important games against Bologna and Galatasaray away from home.
Buffon: 8 - It's easy to take San Gigi for granted throughout the season, especially when he sees the ball only a few times in games we absolutely dominate. Being the world class goalkeeper that he is though, he is always prepared and can always be counted on. In freezing temperatures in Torino, Gigi kept alert at all times and prevented Di Natale and Mazzari from scoring on a couple great occasions for Udinese. Without him, Juventus would've hardly won any points. A difficult game for Buffon, but an easy man of match decision for all of us.
Barzagli: 7 - It was so good to see Barzagli back in defense. There's a certain level of comfort I feel whenever I see him on that right hand side in the back three. He closed up his side of the field pretty good, and in fact most of the attacks came from the left side. Good 90 minutes under his belt after the injury, should help his fitness for the next few games.
Bonucci: 6.5 - A bit shakier than usual, he made a couple mistakes and let Di Natale roam a bit through the middle.
Chiellini: 7 - Had another solid game, but he did allow Di Natale more room than desired on a couple occasions. The whole defense played pretty far up in search of a goal, but Chiellini managed to remind us that quantity doesn't always mean quality in attack.
Padoin: 6.5 - Another very average game for Padoin, was happy to see Lichtsteiner back in for him in the second half.
Vidal: 7 - Shot down a few potentially dangerous counter attacks and was very lively on offense. Not quite the display of midweek against Kobenhavn but certainly a decent game for Vidal.
Pirlo: sv - By the time I got comfortable on the couch, he was being replaced because of an injury.
Marchisio: 7 - It's becoming such a crapshoot rating il Principino for the sheer division he creates among Juventus fans. For some, he is still the world class midfielder that carried us a couple years ago from midfield, for others he has been relegated to a bench warmer that should be used to rest our new starting MVP. Against Udinese, I thought he showed flashes of his spirit and forward runs, and you can kind of give him a hockey assist on the goal. Honestly, if his touch served him better in the first half he would've had a couple good goal-scoring opportunities. Regardless, we will have to "suffer" with him in the line up now that Pirlo is injured for 45 days. You never know, it could be just what the doctor ordered. I certainly hope so.
De Ceglie: 7 - Provided an option on the left in attack often, though I would've liked to see him hug the line a bit more just because of Udinese's congested last line. Had a couple decent crosses in the box.
Tevez: 7 - Conte certainly involved Tevez in a lot more build up play which I believe helped integrate him in the flow of the game from the get go. His touch seemed to betray him on more than one occasion, but he never stopped fighting. Had a couple great shots on or towards goal. He can do a lot better, as he showed us earlier in the season.
Llorente: 8 - Always in the thick of things, always receiving the ball well, setting up others, being the anchor we need in attack. He has found his role and is also scoring goals that decide games for us. His header goal was pure goal-scorer instinct, a vital goal for three points. If Tevez was the first to hit the rennaisance of the two this season, Llorente is certainly claiming the last few weeks as his coming. I, for one, welcome our beautiful tall Spanish overlord.
Pogba: 6.5 - I may be harsh, but he was very ineffective in the regista role. Maybe he recognized that the whole team was pushing really high up that he didn't want to narrowly join the onslaught, or maybe Conte instructed him so. Either way, I wish he did more especially with how much more time he had off the bench. No matter how Conte uses him in the next month and a half, I really expect him to continue on making the difference for us.
Lichtsteiner: sv - Bentornato Stephan!
Quagliarella: sv -
Conte: 7 - Honestly, I can't really dedicate much of this victory to Conte's brilliance. It all happened somewhat fortuitously for Juventus. It will be interesting to see him adapt to losing Pirlo for 45 days.