In the past, the early lunchtime kickoff has given Juventus problems. For whatever reason, it's been a struggle, a situation where nobody is all that optimistic whatsoever. And when you throw in the fact that Sunday's lunchtime fixture was against Chievo — a team Juve have had its completely separate amount of struggles against in recent years — the vibe wasn't all that spectacular even before kickoff.
But then they kicked off, and things were looking pretty okay. In fact, for the first 45 minutes, Juventus looked like they were on their way to a very one-sided victory.
But, for the final 45 minutes, Juventus looked like they were hanging on for dear life at times.
"We struggled a bit in the second half and could have handled things a little better after the restart. We're still top of the league, but we know we'll need to remain alert because Napoli are a great side, as are Lazio and Inter." - Stephan Lichtsteiner
Indeed, the second half was a bit of a mess at times — especially after Cyril Thereau cut Juve's lead in half to 2-1 with his goal in the 52nd minute. There were certainly shaky moments — not exactly the kind of thing that should be happening when your lead could disappear in an instant.
But I guess that was the main difference between Juve's games in January and the first one in the month of February. How many times did we see Juventus get the lead only to give it up as the game really got into crunch time? Even though the defending was a nerve-wrecking at times, holding onto the lead proved vital with the offense not creating as much as it did in the first half.
And with Napoli temporarily giving Juve some company at the top of the Serie A table, getting back to winning was the thing that mattered most. Then again, it's Juventus and that's the only thing that matters, right? Thought so.
Buffon - 6: It was pretty surprising that with the amount of chances Chievo had in the second half, not very many of them ended in a shot on goal. San Gigi only had to make two saves on the day, and neither of them were all that difficult. Buffon could do nothing on the goal — and that was pretty evident by how he chewed out the defense in the subsequent moments after Chievo made it 2-1.
Barzagli - 6: It was more of a solid performance rather than a classic colossus one from Barzagli. He had a few rough moments, but did well to hold things down more often than not. It was a consistent theme from all three members of the Juve defense, really.
Marrone - 6.5: A few misplaced passes from young Luca had me worried early on, but he settled in nicely in his return to the center of Juventus' defense. When 83 percent is the worst pass completion rate from your three defenders, I guess there isn't too much to complain about on the offensive side of things.
Caceres - 6: Although he was the closest one to Thereau on the goal, you could see all three of Juve's defenders just standing around as the ball was just about to be shot. But if that was Caceres' only "downfall," then the rest of the shift he put in shouldn't be forgotten. I thought he had pretty much the same kind of day as Barzagli did. Things weren't great, but they weren't terrible, either.
Lichtsteiner - 7: This was a vintage Swiss Express performance. Scored a goal — with his weaker left foot, no less — and bombed up and down the right flank like it was going out of style.
Vidal - 7.5: When I went to WhoScored after the match and saw that King Arturo only had one tackle, I was almost shocked beyond all belief. I could have sworn he had a few tackles in a 20-second span, let alone one in the entire 90-plus minutes he was on the field. Either way, the importance Vidal played was a massive one.
Pirlo - 7: Andrea had a great first half, really dictating things in the midfield and providing some really incredible passes to the wingers and strikers. Things weren't as great in the second half, though. The switch to play Pirlo up the field and move Pogba back didn't have the same effect on the former than it did the latter. It can't always work out perfectly, but so it goes. Having Pirlo back in the lineup on a regular basis is the most important thing.
Pogba - 5.5: While his two compatriots in the center of Juve's midfield were on from the opening kickoff, it took the young Frenchman quite a long time to get involved in the match. And it's pretty clear to see that when Pogba got more involved in things is when he was moved deeper into the midfield where he had been playing while Pirlo was out. It allowed him to get more time and touches on the ball and play more centrally rather than drifting out into a somewhat wide position like he did in the first half.
De Ceglie - 6: "Good but a bit 'rough." is how La Stampa described Paolino's performance — and I wholeheartedly agree with. His contributions on offense were very good, with his crossing being a breath of fresh air after some of the balls we've seen played from the left flank this year. The only reason he didn't get a higher grade was due to the fact he easily let Hetemaj lay off the ball to Thereau on Chievo's goal.
Giovinco - 6: Yes, his finishing was his usual ineffective mess. And yes, that could have been the difference between one point and three points. But I don't think he played as bad as some think he did. As I noted in the preview on Saturday, he's starting to get a good understanding with Matri, probably the most seconda punta-prima punta combination that Juventus currently have. And let's not forget that his assist on Lichtsteiner's eventual game-winner was a thing of beauty.
Matri - 7.5: Just an all-around fantastic game for the player who got Juve's opening goal. And it wasn't just the great finish that made his afternoon so outstanding, either. Matri worked his absolute tail off from opening whistle to the time he came off for Mauricio Isla in the 89th minute. His contribution on Lichtsteiner's goal allowed Giovinco to get involved as well. Along with Vidal, Matri is the Man of the Match for me.
Quagliarella - 6: Quags brought some life to the Juve attack when he first stepped on the field, but nothing materialized because of it.
Padoin - s/v
THINGS I THINK I THINK
1. Does Gigi Buffon have the best goal celebrations ever?
I mean, come on. How could you not love seeing him go nuts after every single Juventus goal? It just doesn't seem possible.
2. Could Alessandro Matri be rounding into some kind of form? First, a stat for you:
2 - Matri's goal vs Chievo means he has scored in consecutive games for the first time since October 2011. Return.— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 3, 2013
Obviously it's an incredibly small sample size to evaluate a player on, but it's worth nothing — especially how much Matri has struggled in front of goal since his big first half last season. But, without a doubt, it's a good thing to see from a player who has the potential to be a very good goal-scoring option.
3.The left side of the defense continues to leak goals. You could once Chievo started to figure out the left flank of Juventus' defense was the right one to attack, that's when they were at their most dangerous. Thereau's goal was obviously the biggest sticking point in what is becoming a real trend since Giorgio Chiellini has been sidelined. I'm not saying Caceres and De Ceglie had bad overall games, but it's gonna have to change quick with Juve facing tougher competition the next few weeks.
4. It's not on the topic of Juventus, but I want to pose a question: Is a mid-week friendly where Italy has two weeks to train together all that necessary? I know it's against a very good team in the Netherlands, but do you really think people are going to be interested in the game, or just hoping their teams' respective players don't get hurt. I know which one I will be doing the whole 90 minutes.
5. Why did the 49ers not keep giving Frank Gore the ball inside the 10-yard line? (That's my one Super Bowl post. I'll end it right then and there.)