POST-GAME REFLECTION & GAME RECAP
What a player we have on our hands, ladies and gentlemen. 19 years old, confident yet humble, cocky yet coachable, with a beautiful right foot and a knack for goal like some of the greatest midfielders of our generation. It's easy to get carried away after such two beautiful goals by Paul Pogba, the first one a screamer in the top far corner, the second one almost as equally as gorgeous - a shot from 25 meters in the bottom right corner.
It's not just his scoring though. At such a young age, Pogba has many qualities that some midfielders take years to acquire - and most never do. He guards the ball so well, he anticipates defenders movements, he plays at his own pace and is in control of every movement he makes. I cannot stress enough how important that is for a player in today's game dominated by high pressure, speed, stamina, and physicality. What makes him such a great prospect is that he is already so talented and capable - with so much room for growth and maturation. Juventus may not be the best team in the world at building talented players into world class footballers, but I am convinced the best thing Pogba can do in the next 2-4 years is put his head down, work, learn, and improve. The future is as bright for him as any other player in the world right now.
As for the team's performance overall, I would caution against getting carried away and overly celebrating this 4:0 victory. It's a convincing scoreline, sure, but in reality Juventus still struggled to put the ball in the net from a team effort for more than an hour.
In the first half, both our strikers couldn't get on the same wavelength and wasted a lot of passes and balls that could've led to an opening goal. Neither Giovinco nor Vucinic looked particularly dangerous and their first and second touch left plenty to be desired. It was Pogba's brilliance from distance that put us ahead and left us a bit more at ease going into the break. I'm not trying to be a negative Nancy here; we certainly looked more determined a team and more dangerous throughout the first 45 minutes, but once again lacked that final cohesion to finish a good team move.
Some of the same can be said for the second half as well, despite the fact that we scored 3 more goals. There were many instances where we'd attempt link up plays without any real connection between the players. Plenty of passess and through balls hoping the teammate would make the run or be there, rather then anticipating and looking up before playing the ball. That said, once Vucinic scored one and left some of the frustration out, his link up play with Matri and Giaccherini improved greatly. That pass for Matri's goal was deliciously timed.
In summary, there were plenty of positives after the horrendous Parma performance, and the scoreline reflects that, fittingly or not. We'd be wise to keep our feet on the ground and look to further improve our early-2013 form though. Let this game be a stepping stone, not a crazy celebration..
Games against Guidolin and Udinese are now a traditional 3-5-2 formation fight off. Udinese worked hard, but I was surprised with the amount of space our young, shuffled midfield was allowed by the Zebrette's 5-man middle-of-the-park line. They seemed a bit too content to sit back deep and defend, which despite Udinese's reputation as a fierce counter-attacking team was a mistake given how much high pressure from other teams has proved troublesome for Juventus this season.
In response, Juventus did a hell of a job moving the ball around quickly. There was never a lazy feel to any one of our players - each pass that was received was quickly turned around and the ball was moving on to another player. Caceres, Barzagli, and our whole midfield did great to move the ball from side to side with relative quickness. As great as Pirlo is, when he's on the pitch he hogs the ball at times looking for that perfect pass. In the situation we found ourselves today, instead of Pogba trying to emulate Pirlo the same way we united as a team and just moved the ball and let our strikers and wings move between Udinese's lines to get their defense moving and out of position. Conte looked well prepared and the whole team made up for the lack of Marchisio and Pirlo in midfield - the load did not fall on just one or two players.
Buffon: 7 - (tangent time) Not that any Juventus fan needed the official recognition, but Buffon was recently voted the best goalkeeper of the last 25 years. Since I'm turning 26 in a couple weeks, it was definitely a confirmation for me that all these years I have watched the best goalkeeper of my generation. In a recent discussion I had with a Casillas fan over this title, I realized one thing - not only has Buffon been an incredibly talented, skillful, and successful goalkeeper, but maybe most importantly he has been the most consistent keeper out of any in the last quarter of a century. That's the final piece of the puzzle that makes him the best of the best. (tangent over) How is that tied to his Udinese pagella? Well, since Udinese didn't trouble him much, he didn't have much to do as is the case in most games now. However, I wanted to reiterate and show appreciation for his consistency as a solid keeper despite the lack of services needed by him on a nightly basis. When he's called upon, he is always there. He never tries any shenanigans and is constantly focused on helping the team win. Today he did the same, as always. Grande Gigi, congrats on being the best keeper of the last 25 years! I feel honored to have watched you week after week my whole life knowing you are the best of the best.
Barzagli: 7 - More like himself against Udinese. Strong, solid, great positioning, and a couple great forward runs which Lichtsteiner couldn't turn into productive crosses
Bonucci: 7 - Strong performance from Leo, had some great interceptions that could've proved dangerous. Our defense never let a Udinese man slip behind them all night.
Caceres: 7 - Martin got up there today! He was physically dominant and played a few great passes to start our attack from the back.
Lichtsteiner: 6.5 - I rarely say this about Steiner, in fact I don't think I've ever said it, but Stephan looked lazy today. In the first half, he spent a lot of time forward in and around Udinese's box - even had a great shot on goal blocked - but was very slow getting back to cover his spot in defense/midfield. It may have been a coaching instruction, but he sure got an earful from Conte after Pogba scored the first goal afterwhich he played a more all-around game. Wish he would've done better to convert some of the crossing opportunities he had on the right into goal-scoring situations for our strikers.
Vidal: 7.5 - Despite Marchisio's absence in midfield, Vidal was on the attack a lot more today. Could've scored a lovely goal on 15 minutes if it wasn't for Padelli's save, and then had another great chance in the second half. I do wish he would be more cautious with his yellow cards at times. It's like a game cannot go by without him getting a yellow. I understand that it's natural given his way of defending, but today's yellow was a lazy trip from behind when he didn't even play the ball. He can do better than that.
Pogba: 9 - Carried us, plain and simple. When we couldn't score, he blasted a goal-of-the-season-contender to give us the lead before halftime. Then, when we couldn't put the game away, he did it single-handedly with another beautiful shot from distance. I said my piece on him early on so I won't be repeating myself. But we owe today's victory to Paul Pogba, the 19 year old wonderkid.
Giaccherini: 7.5 - A very positive performance from Giacco (totes just made that up). He ran a ton, was always there in both defense and attack, and had a couple good chances to score too. One instance that stood out the most was his hustle block on Pereyra which potentially saved an equalizing goal for Udinese early in the second half. He did everything Marchisio would've done on a good day. Well, except score.
De Ceglie: 7.5 - I seem to be feeling generous with the ratings today (plus I'm historically harsh on Paolino to begin with), but it's not like you can make much of a case against De Ceglie after his performance. Had what I thought was a great first half, always providing an option far up the left side of the field and linking up well with Giacco and Giovinco. Put in a few great low crosses across Udinese's box which were unfortunately not taken advantage of. In the second half, as Udinese opened up more, Basta was more of a threat on the left and De Ceglie worked hard to close him down and not let him slip by him. He was definitely tired by the time he got subbed out but he worked his butt off. Glad he got the start over Isla.
Giovinco: 6 - So much for being generous. Really though, a pretty poor first half from Giovinco. His touch wasn't there, his passes were off, and his shots weren't on target. I think he got injured at the end of the first half (thigh or hamstring) and requested to be substituted. Either way we needed a change. I hope he's not injured or at least won't be sitting out too long if he is.
Vucinic: 8 - Roller coaster game for Mirko. Was visibly frustrated for most of it and with reason - played poorly and failed to set up any good runs for himself or his teammates. Just one of those days, you know. His everything was off. But he kept fighting. A hustle play in the second half to win a corner, a bit of space in the box, great first touch to turn and shoot, and whoop de doo a goal. Even when he was gesturing towards his son Matia he couldn't laugh and did not look too pleased with himself. It surely brought his confidence back though and that pass to set up Matri for the goal was perfect. Only gets an 8 because he notched a goal and an assist. Needs to shake off both the frustration and that slight ankle sprain and return to his best - it looks like Juventus will be all too dependent on him for the rest of the season if Llorente isn't coming until July.
Matri: 7.5 - Another good game from the bench, and more goals. We all know it by now - Matri will never be the player to come in, razzle, and dazzle. But put him in a scoring opportunity and when his confidence is high he will put it away. That's what he did today and here's hoping to many more goals to come in the second half of this season!
Conte: 7.5 - For one reason or another, Udinese did not put up the usual fight we expect from the Zebrette. I won't let it take away from Conte's grade though - our team set up was great given all the injured/unavailable players we have and our ball movement in midfield made up for the lack of Andrea Pirlo. He does seem to be incapable of solving our problem up front from a team standpoint, but that's a separate piece all-together. Sent on Matri early to give him time to make a difference, then gave Vidal and De Ceglie a breather for a bit at the end.