It seems a long time since the international break, with Juventus only taking a single point from two straightforward games. The draw with Sassuolo came with caveats: it was Pirlo's first game back, the first game after an international break where Juve players were crisscrossing the globe and Sassuolo's squad holed up in training. But then came Olympiacos. The Greek champions have a good side, especially at home, but Juventus is, man for man, simply better and should be winning these games. Anyway, on to Palermo.
Last year's Serie B champion, the pink-and-black side began their top-division return shipping goals by the bucketful. Talented young Argentines Paulo Dybala and Franco Vázquez have continued the growth that began in the second tier, with "El Mudo" Vázquez even leading the Capocannoniere standings at one point. For all their good work however, Palermo began the season rooted to the foot of the table, with Beppe Iachini feeling the heat as the defense was torn through time and again. A 2-1 win at Cesena, sealed with an injury-time header by Costa Rican CB Giancarlo González, finally brought the club their first win last week.
Much of the blame for recent setbacks has gone to Juventus' attack, with Carlos Tévez cooling down and his strike-partner Fernando Llorente yet to get off his mark and even seeing his place in the team under threat. Palermo's weak defending proved the perfect remedy, as sloppy passing and poor set-piece defense gifted Juventus a 2-0 lead which they were never likely to relinquish.
Juve took the kickoff in their blue second kit, but weren't able to control the game initially. Sloppy passing and an energetic Palermo prevented much of the patient passing that Allegri's Juve has been built on, and with Andrea Pirlo struggling to impose himself Palermo began the match fairly comfortably. The two sides' different interpretations of the 3-5-2 formation were very clear, with Palermo stuck in a bank of 5 with an overworked midfield barely covering the gaps, while Juventus wing-backs pushed high, took players on, and put balls into the strikers. Roberto Pereyra and Kwadwo Asamoah were very effective in this role, with the formation often resembling a 4-4-2 as the near side wing-back came upfield and the defensive line shifted across. After Bonucci and Ogbonna switched roles around the 18th minute, Andrea Pirlo began to grow into the game. Ogbonna had often found himself taking up some of Pirlo's favored positions, and with Bonucci's superior understanding of Pirlo's movements the veteran became more influential.
Palermo almost immediately abandoned any kind of attacking buildup in favor of hopeful balls into an outnumbered Dybala and Vázquez. Perhaps this was a deliberate tactic, as one of the few times the Sicilians tried to pass the ball around was their undoing. Pereyra hassled Rigoni and Feddal and won the ball with Palermo's defensive line out of position, feeding Tévez who took on the back 3 and waited for support. Arturo Vidal arrived on cue, having been switched over to the left early on, to neatly sidefoot home. Following the goal Palermo were still unable to break out of their shell, with Juventus continuing to dominate and create half-chances, often through Pereyra, Asamoah, and Tévez.
The second half started with Palermo finally trying to press high, and continuing to try and feed Dybala. But the visitors' high press was ineffective as their defensive line stayed deep, leaving the midfielders overworked and easily bypassed. Palermo began to get frustrated and Barreto became the first man booked on 51'. From a counter following the free kick Palermo finally found Dybala behind the defense, but his cross only found Bonucci for a good clearing header.
After the 55th minute, as substitutes came on and the game slowed down, Palermo lost their will to press and Juventus' midfield runners began to lose their markers. Vidal and Marchisio had chances to grab Juventus' second. In the 63rd minute a nice bit of combination play between Llorente and Tévez was barely dealt with, but from the resulting corner Juventus found the goal. Palermo have a dreadful record defending set pieces, and so it proved again with Pirlo's near-post cross finding Llorente for an excellent header into the bottom corner. The big Basque has had a rough start to the season, but with this goal his luck might be changing.
As the clock ticked down and Giovinco was brought on for Tévez, Juventus continued to create the best chances. Marchisio and Giovinco could have added to the scoreline, with the Atomic Ant repeatedly troubling the Palermo defense. There was a worrying moment late in the game as Leonardo Bonucci injured himself clearing the ball, but after treatment the defender was able to return and finish the game.
The game finished 2-0, a fair description of the difference between the sides. Juventus were never troubled by the Sicilians, who backed off early and lacked ability in possession and set-piece defense. For Juventus' part the defense continued to look solid, although the passive gameplan from Palermo let the Old Lady comfortably into her stride. Andrea Pirlo began to look himself again after Ogbonna was told to get out of his way, while Marchisio and Vidal repeatedly threatened the opposition's penalty box. There will be bigger games to come for both teams, but the result was a reassuring return to form for Massimiliano Allegri's Juventus.
Buffon: 6. Another day in the office for Gigi Buffon, rarely called into action but always attentive. A Dybala snapshot from range could have caught out many keepers, but not San Gigi.
Ogbonna: 6. The Nigerian-Italian stopper has continued his strong start to the season and played a big role in keeping Dybala in check, although in the early part of the game he often found himself in Andrea Pirlo's way, which is never good.
Bonucci: 6.5. Asked to play as the right-sided center back for most of the game, Bonucci read the game well. An excellent defensive header in the 50th minute helped maintain the clean sheet. Injured himself late, but hopefully nothing serious.
Chiellini: 6. Always leading by example, the Juventus hardman put in a typical hard-as-nails performance on the left of the back three.
Pereyra: 6.5. A vital contribution to the first goal, Pereyra showed he can play on the wing as well. Not troubled defensively by Feddal.
Vidal: 6.5. The Chilean is back on the scoresheet, finding the net with an excellent left-footed finish. A good performance, but not quite his all-action best.
Pirlo: 6. A slow start to the game brought up memories of Sassuolo and Juventus, but the playmaker seems to be finding his feet in Alleri's team. With several pinpoint passes and the cross for Llorente's goal he made a telling impact.
Marchisio: 6. The versatile midfielder showed some of his best aspects today, repeatedly getting into scoring positions and perhaps unlucky to not grab a goal himself. Another hard-working performance from the Italian international.
Asamoah: 6. Up and down his flank, comfortable crossing or cutting inside, and always attentive in defense, the Ghanaian showed why he should start ahead of Patrice Evra.
Tévez: 7. The workhorse striker was all over the pitch today, providing a dangerous outlet whether running at or behind the Palermo defense. Assisted Vidal's goal and was constantly threatening.
Llorente: 6.5. A goal! Finally the Basque striker is off his duck for the season, heading a Pirlo corner into the net. His holdup play was as reliable as ever, and the goal could be the first of many.
Lichtsteiner: 6. Filled in comfortably on the right-side, offered running and strength but not the same creative presence as Pereyra.
Pogba: 6. Brought on for Pirlo, the French midfielder played within himself and kept the game under control.
Giovinco: 6.5. Only on for 10 minutes, the Italian striker ran toyed with the Sicilian backline and repeatedly threatened Sorrentino, seeing one shot denied by the post.
Allegri: 6.5. Under some pressure following the Olympiacos loss, Allegri responded by moving parts to get a resilient Juventus performance and a better Pirlo. Using two very attacking wing-backs and changing roles in midfield and defense kept Palermo out of the game and played a role in the comfortable win.
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