Without an argument the most frustrating game of the season. I have no clue why - well actually I kinda have an idea - but we're talking about a half-season so far that saw us convincingly lose AT HOME against INTERMERDA . Yet, this strange "away" game at Parma against Cagliari definitely took the cake as the most infuriating Juventus game to watch so far this season, at least for me.
That said, here we are on Christmas Eve having broken the record for most points tallied in a calendar year (congrats to Conte for this feat with which he beats Capello's previous record) and going to a well deserved Natale break as winter champions.
To cap of the year, Cagliari decided to really fight us for 96 long minutes. Not only did they fight through their football, but also through their "physicality." Somehow, somewhere, we found a way to score in the second half to tie the game, and then grab the three points late in injury time. Oh, and yeah, Matri scored (and the world STILL didn't end). Twas a strange, maddening game, but we toughed it out. It's what champions do.
Two things really stood out for Cagliari. First, they adopted a bit of Inter's trident up top to keep the pressing on our defense and turn every counter attack in one with numbers. Secondly, they didn't hold back in their tackles. By the time the penalty was called, I was so mad about the way the referee was handling the game (which, btw, on a scale of 1-10 was a 0) that I stopped caring about points and tables and just wanted to see Cagliari lose just so they suffer and burn.
It is now very evident in Serie A that Juventus are the better team mentally, physically, and technically. One way in which you can unsettle a team like that is by hacking at their ankles and throwing cheap shot. As much as we may not like it, it is a form of strategy. A high risk one, of course, and Astori was rightly sent off about an hour too late in the game, but still - it threw our players off to play such a "physical" game right before Christmas.
On the Juventus side, Conte took out a center back to put a striker in late in the match for an attacking trio of Vucinic, Matri, and Giovinco. Baller!
Buffon: 6.5 - Couldn't do much on the penalty and for the rest of the game had very little to do. I'm sure he was filled with rage watching the proceedings from his end too though.
Caceres: 6 - With Chiellini injured for a few months, Caceres will need to step up in defense and try to replace Giorgio whenever he is given the confidence to do so. On Friday, he showed he is far from ready to do that right away. His movement among the back three was actually pretty decent; he's historically been the more venturing right back to begin with. Defensively though, he seemed a bit slow and lacked that warrior mentality at times that he's known for. He needs more playing time in that backline, and unless Marotta surprises us with a better center back this winter, he is going to get it.
Bonucci: 7 - Not sure about you guys, but I was sure glad to have Leonardo back. It made me realize how much I now miss him when he's not back there in the middle of defense. I feel a lot safer with him on the pitch - certainly a testament to his consistency this year. Performance-wise, he had a solid game actually. Looked very comfortable in defense as well as on the ball offensively. Had some great passes through the middle and out wide when our central midfielders were well marked.
Barzagli: 6.5 - Moved to Chiellini's left-side position in defense, Andrea did his best not to allow the change affect his game. Solid defensively, he also couldn't be expected to be as effective pushing up the field on that side yet. No doubt he can handle playing on that left side though, just needs a bit of adjustment. Loved his spirit of forcing players forward in the end trying to find that winning goal.
Lichtsteiner: 6.5 - Had a few decent cut-in runs, and a couple more that weren't noticed by Pirlo and co in midfield. Was eventually moved to center back for a brief while, then taken off for another striker.
Vidal: 5 - Gave up one penalty, then missed an opportunity to redeem himself from the spot as well. Not only that, he was also largely ineffective in midfield and often went for the wrong decision - shot when he should've passed and vice versa. Not a memorable showing for the Chilean.
Pirlo: 7 - Coming off a marvelous performance against Atalanta, il Professore was once again incisive. His passing largely improved as the game went on and he saw more space in the middle of the pitch. Set up Vucinic whose rebound Matri pounced on for the equalizer. He'll be happy to get a break from all the recent madness though.
Marchisio: 6.5 - Was up for this game as much as the next guy, though he didn't do anything worth mentioning offensively (at least not much I can remember). Had a couple of timid shots I believe. Was a rock in midfield defensively, as usual.
Asamoah: 6 - What I thought would be the signing of the season capped off a very forgetful few weeks with another unimaginative performance. Found himself in the right place at the right time on a couple occasions and really had a chance to score but was fouled on one header and then missed another close one. Plus, how about that save from Agazzi on what surely was going to be match winner? If anyone needs a good break to re-focus, it's this guy. He can be monumental for us in the new year.
Quagliarella: 5 - His inferiority to Vucinic as a striker in the 3-5-2 was evident from minute one against Cagliari. Couldn't hold his ground for the life of him and was often out-muscled (or, to his credit fouled) out of position. Did very little to set up others around him too.
Giovinco: 7 - Interestingly enough, the smallest player on the field was the toughest one to take out of the match by Cagliari's dirty tactics. He ran around a lot and slotted well between Cagliari's wide lines. Earned the penalty that Vidal missed, then had one going in until Vucinic tapped it in to be "better safe than sorry." He's picking up his game at the right time - he is getting comfortable with anyone alongside him and can really make a difference in 2013.
Matri: 8 - Hey, yeah, you read that right - Matri came on as a sub, scored 2 goals, and won us the game. Neither of the goals were anything special - simply running on rebounds and lucky bounces, but you can't ignore the man's striker's instinct. Is he back? Time will tell, though I certainly hold plenty skepticism still. It was damn good to see his celebration once again though - I know he must be very relieved and happy to be back on that scoring sheet. Hope it does wonders for his confidence, and if he actually stays past January 30, wish him all the best in rediscovering the Matri of last Winter. We could certainly use it.
Vucinic: 7 - Should've definitely started the game as Quagliarella showed absolutely nothing. As soon as he came on he started taking more shots on goal and was more of a threat than anyone else really. Some of those long shots were ill-advised but he changed the tempo of the game a bit. His shots/involvement was what set up Matri for the two tap-in goals too.
Conte: 6 - In many ways, Conte got a bit outcoached on Friday. Cagliari came out with a real plan - play dirty, with numbers in their counter attacks and high pressing which led to an early goal and a lead they held for most of the game. Conte was slow to adjust, and Vucinic should've been in at halftime for Quagliarella. It was a strange game though, so he just went with the punches and kept bringing more offensive players on. Somehow, it worked in the end.