I remember it like it was yesterday. Last season's first game against Parma at our new stadium was not only the first game of the year, but also the start of a new-look and new-coach Juventus built on the old principals of defense, grinta, and perseverance. Juventus won, Lichtsteiner surprised everyone with the first Serie A goal in the new Bianconero shrine, and a (at the time) lesser-known midfielder impressed with a half-volley goal for an overall outstanding debut performance. In many ways, this year's opener felt like a positive deja vu. But it wasn't all roses either.
On a rainy night in
Stoke Torino, our Bianconeri had to quickly shake off the rust of the preseason to handle Parma's initial pace and pressing. I Crociati came out the gates motivated and played Juve far up the pitch, putting pressure on our defenders and marking Pirlo closely. With Storari in goal replacing the injured Buffon and Marrone getting the starting central defender position, our defense's ability to take the ball out was tested early and often.
As the first half progressed, so did our comfort level on the ball and in attack. Soon enough, Lichtsteiner was brought down in the penalty area by Mirante and Juve had a penalty. As is now expected, Vidal stepped up, but hardly placed the ball with a weak shot and Mirante easily saved our first penalty of the season. Since it turned out that Lichtsteiner was offside for the build up to the spot kick anyways, we can chalk this one off to Miss Karma. But still, we can't be missing penalties, no matter how they were acquired (/wipes off a tear for il Capitano).
In the second half, i Bianconeri came out with a lot more energy. Parma played a very physical match and it was time Juve matched that. Kwadwo Asamoah, Juve's best midfield signing of the mercato, stepped up big time in the second 45 minutes and started causing a bit of havoc down the left side. After Vucinic scuffed a great chance mere meters from Mirante's goal, Asamoah made his way on the left and put a great ball in the box for the cutting Lichtsteiner to connect on. 1-0 Juve.
As the pressure started dropping from our players' shoulders after the first goal, the second goal came off of a set piece. Andrea Pirlo, with his latest bearded + long-haired Chuck Norris impression, hit a free kick with power to just clear the goal line for 2-0. God bless those 5th referees by the goals as this goal would've likely not been given by the linesman. Nonetheless, it was a legitimate goal that helped Juve seal an important victory in the start of what should be a very entertaining 2012/2013 Serie A season.
Storari: 7 - Juventino bloggers often refer to Marco Storari as the best 2nd GK a team has in Europe and it is games like these where he gets the chance to show us just why that is true. Marco had a splendid game, fended off Parma's attacks and shots with great reflex saves and did excellent to keep a clean sheet, especially late in the game when Juve relaxed a bit too much.
Barzagli: 7 - Was asked to play on the ball a bit more when setting up the attack which I thought was great practice for him. Defensively, Andrea put in a very solid game and made it look standard. He can't keep up with the fastest strikers out there, but he sure can outsmart them.
Marrone: 7 - Wecome to the heart of Juve's defense! After a few encouraing showings in preseason in this new position for the former-midfielder, Marrone looked very confident as a central central defender (yes, the double word was on purpose). I still can't get used to Lucio in bianconero (probably never will) so his latest injury means Marrone gets more playing time. Win win.
Bonucci: 6.5 - Saved a clear goal with a block in the second half but other than looked a bit slower in anticipation than the rest of our defensive line. We all know he plays best with Chiellini by his side, so I'm going to wait to really criticize him until he gets a chance to show if he's gonna be a problem in such a line up as well this season.
Lichtsteiner: 7.5 - In the Berlusconi Cup, Padoin was given the right wing position and I noticed he did something our left midfielders/wing backs never do - he repeatedly cut in the middle to confuse the defenders and their marking. It worked great on a couple occasions against Milan - it gave us an extra man in the box when we attacked from the left. Looks like someone was taking notes on the sideline. After proclaiming his love for Juve and rejecting a PSG bid the week before, Lichtsteiner played a very spirited season debut which he got to cap off with the game's opening goal. My favorite part? He looks so dorky with his Nedved-like bow-legged jog and he even pointed to his last name on his jersey after scoring. Priceless.
Pirlo: 6.5 - He put the game away with his free kick but overall, this was not the performance we're used to from il Professore. In the first half, he was content with being marked out of the game and in the second, he stayed too deep and let Asamoah, Marchisio, and Vidal take the load of creating in front of the box. He did gain more control over the game in the second half and had a couple great passes (how can he not), but I'd personally like to see more from him. Unleash the beard!
Marchisio: 7 - Il capitano for the game, Marchisio was the quiet barometer of our team. Nothing flashy, but plenty of hard work, won balls, drop backs, and runs forward. You know, the usual. Mirko and Gio were selfish on a couple occasions and could've squared the ball to him in the box when he was open for a tap in.
Vidal: 6.5 - His work rate is impeccable, but he was careless with his tackling on many occasions on Saturday. Can count himself lucky a couple of Parma dives didn't get him sent off. I guess his tackles are always a bit risky - when they get the ball they look impressive, when they get the player they look bad. He did have a few sweet through balls, namely the one to Vucinic in the second half that the latter should've passed first time for a tap in.
Asamoah: 7.5 - Almost single-handedly revived Juve in the second half and in one game showed how much more dangerous we can be with a solid left wingback/midfielder. Loved his physicality and demeanor too.
Giovinco: 6.5 - One big difference between last year's game against Parma was that the Atomic Ant was wearing black and white this time around. I think he has the potential to be great for our team if he works as hard as Conte requires him to. Before he was loaned out to Parma, my issue with him was that he's lazy on defense. That won't fly under Conte. Saturday wasn't his day, but he must be itching to take advantage of his opportunity this year. Too bad he picked up a knock at the end of the game.
Vucinic: 6.5 - Not like it was Mirko's day either, but I actually liked his attitude a lot more than most of last season. He seemed to...care. Was visibly frustrated but tried working with our midfielders to better time his runs and their passes. Ran a shit ton as well - often he was the one chasing back surprising Parma players with a steal from behind while Giovinco was watching around center half. Once he learns how to play with Gio and calms down a bit, he will be a great striker to come off the bench.
THINGS I THINK I THINK
Striker dilemma - Did I just relegate Mirko to the bench prematurely? Why yes I did! If you follow this team and watch the games it is incredibly obvious how much we need a Cavani or a Falcao. Maybe even a Dzeko or a Llorente. Probably not a Jovetic. Still, at this point I'd take any one of those five. You would too. We need a starting striker, ideally a rock-solid prima punta. I'm preaching to the choir, I know.
Early candidate for Signing of the Season - It's premature, yes, but I had to throw it out there - Kwadwo Asamoah. In last year's season opener, Vidal shined and introduced himself to the Juve fans in the best way possible with a spirited performance and a lovely goal. He then went on to have a very successful season, becoming a favorite of many bianconeri across the globe. Asamoah has the chance to do the exact same thing this season. He's incredibly strong, yet fast and technically astute. He can outrun you and/or outmuscle you, both on offense and defense. He plays calmly, smartly, rarely wastes possession. Against Parma, he reminded all of us (or maybe just me) what it's like to have a left-midfielder for once. I don't think we've had that since Pavel Nedved retired. Now, is he wasted on the left as a wingback? Maybe, but he'll get his share in the midfield this season as well with all the games we have coming up. I'm just excited is all. Barring a Cavani-like purchase, he can be the signing of the season easy.