Juventus travelled to Sardinia on Thursday, taking on a Cagliari side that can finally host fans in their own stadium after the Is Arenas fiasco. With the Italian Supercoppa set for Monday in Doha, Qatar, Juve and Napoli had their games moved forward while the rest of Serie A will play a normal weekend schedule. Juve took the field with the desire to end a run of three consecutive draws, two in Serie A, which have allowed Roma to climb within one point of the Bianconeri at the top of the table.
Old nemesis Zdeněk Zeman is in charge at Cagliari this season, and the Czech tactician surprised everyone with his starting lineup. Stuck in the relegation zone and having failed to score in its last three Serie A games, Zeman sent out a shockingly defensive side by his standards. Fullbacks Antonio Balzano and Danilo Avelar were pushed up into midfield, with central defenders Marco Capuano and Simone Benedetti slotting into the back line.
On Juventus' side of the team sheet, Fernando Llorente was back in the starting lineup, with Giorgio Chiellini returning for the suspended Leonrdo Bonucci, moving Angelo Ogbonna over to right-sided center back. Paul Pogba was rested in this one, with Andrea Pirlo returning to the base of midfield.
For all the defensive intent from the home side it only took 3 minutes for Juventus to take the lead, as Carlos Tévez was quickest to react to Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno's mistake. Twelve minutes later the game was all but finished as a contest when Arturo Vidal latched onto a poor clearance and curled a beautiful shot into the far corner from distance. Albin Ekdal tried his best to bring Cagliari back into the game, but Juventus' defense was alert and got bodies in the way.
The second half saw a goal from each side as Llorente got back on the scorers sheet and Luca Rossettini found a consolation goal for the Islanders by heading in an Andrea Cossu free kick.
Cagliari was perhaps the perfect opponent for a Juventus side which has struggled to score goals and kill off games of late, with the Sardinians porous defense having allowed 26 goals in the 15 games before hosting the defending champions. Fernando Llorente and Arturo Vidal are back in the goals, with the Chilean producing perhaps his best game of the season to date. It was an important performance and result for Juventus ahead of the Supercoppa and winter break, with the three points crowning the Old Lady Winter Champion, and the three goals hopefully signaling a return to attacking form.
Juventus controlled possession from the opening kickoff, with Zeman's side shockingly happy to get two lines of four behind the ball. The Bianconeri pressed high, and in the third minute created the first chances of the game. Tévez won the ball back in the Cagliari half and Claudio Marchisio found Llorente, whose header was tipped around the post. The resulting corner was played short, where eventually Vidal sent in a testing ball. Ogbonna got a backheel flick that made things difficult for Cragno in the Cagliari goal, and Tévez was quickest to react after the goalkeeper's weak parry.
In the 8th minute, Cagliari finally got a few touches of the ball, and created their first chance through Victor Ibarbo and ex-Juve midfielder Ekdal. The Colombian found a yard of space down the left and crossed for Ekdal's header, but Gigi Buffon got down quickly to save.
Ogbonna was at the heart of things in the Juventus defense, standing up Ibarbo and winning crosses into the box. But it wasn't long before the ball was at the other end, and on 15 minutes Juventus made it 2-0. Tévez picked up the ball in the center circle and drove at the Cagliari defense, getting close to the box before laying off for Patrice Evra. The left back's low cross was cleared by a desperate Capuano but only made it as far as Vidal on the edge of the box, who struck a sweet curling shot first-time into the far corner.
2-0 down Cagliari still struggled to create anything in attack, with Juventus limiting the Sardinians to hopeful punts towards an Ibarbo, who was never likely to win the ball. Andrea Pirlo nearly had a rare chance in the box following some lovely touches, but Llorente's return ball never made it through. Roberto Pereyra showed his dribbling skill down the right, but his cross was easily dealt with.
Danilo Avelar showed some intent down the Cagliari left, but Marchisio and Lichtsteiner were alert to the danger, and with only Ibarbo and Cossu to aim for was unable to turn crosses into chances. Albin Ekdal again tried his luck after a corner was cut back for the Swedish international, but Juventus players were quick to close him down.
The first yellow card of the game went to Rossettini on 33 minutes, when Tévez was hacked down looking to run onto Llorente's return ball. Cagliari had a chance on 37 minutes after Buffon miscued a clearance to Ekdal's feet, but Cossu's cross-shot was tipped over. Another chance for the home side came soon after following lovely play from Balzano to escape Vidal's attentions, but Avelar fired wide at the near post. Juventus' center backs were very solid all half, and Cagliari's last chance at a counter following a Tévez giveaway was quickly smothered by Chiellini.
Cagliari began the second half by bringing on Ghanaian midfielder Godfred Donsah on for Benedetti, with Balzano dropping into defense. The Ghanaian added impetus to the Cagliari attack, setting up Ekdal for another long-range strike that was deflected wide. Capuano saw yellow for catching Lichtsteiner with a flailing hand, while Vidal was everywhere stopping Cagliari's counter before it could get started.
On 51 minutes it was 3-0, with Pirlo providing another glorious ball over the top for the assist. Lichtsteiner pulled the ball back for the Bearded Maestro, who hit a glorious chipped pass over the defense for Llorente's perfectly-timed run. The giant striker backed down his defender before turning and squeezing a left-footed shot under Cragno.
Cagliari nearly got one back a few minutes later as Capuano was left free at the back post following Lichtsteiner's accidental flick-on, but the defender showed why he usually stays deep in his own end with a terrible finish. Cossu should perhaps have seen yellow for a challenge on Ogbonna, but the referee let this one slide.
Cossu had a few bright moments trying to at least get something on the scoreboard, but a combination of strong defending and erratic finishing kept his shots off target. Llorente had another headed chance, but this time it was easy for Cragno in goal. On 63' it could have been four, as Vidal found Tévez with a sweet ball over the defense, only for Cagliari's defense to recover just in time.
Down at the other end Cagliari got their goal, Cossu's free kick evading Evra and Vidal for Rossettini's header. Pereyra nearly restored the three goal lead soon after, but after receiving an excellent pass from Tévez in the box he opted to cross instead of shoot, and Cagliari was able to recover.
Álvaro Morata came on for Llorente in Allegri's first change of the evening, with Caio Rangel entering for Ibarbo on the other side. Pereyra had another chance to get a goal, but his shot was tipped wide after a lovely Pirlo ball over the top and Lichtsteiner cutback. Simone Padoin entered for Pereyra soon after, with Vidal taking on the attacking midfield role. Morata created a chance for Pirlo soon after, beating his man for strength and getting into the box, but a combination of Cagliari pressure and miscommunication let the home side off.
Arturo Vidal had a header saved, before providing a lovely long ball for Morata's chip that went just off target with the keeper beaten. Sebastian Giovinco was Allegri's last change, in for his customary few minutes replacing Tévez. Avelar had a chance for Cagliari when Balzano's deep cross made it past the Juventus defense, but the angle was too narrow. Ogbonna continued closing down all over the box, with Ekdal and Rangel finding no way through.
Cagliari's young Brazilian had another chance to get a cross in when he escaped from Evra and Ogbonna down the left, but Lichtsteiner and Vidal cleared the danger. The last action of the game saw Morata escape down the left to chip the ball across, but Cagliari was able to clear their lines. A 3-1 win for Juventus, which was somewhat expected against a struggling Cagliari side, but certainly a welcome end to Juventus' string of draws.
Buffon: 6 Saved well when called into action, but one poor clearance nearly let Cagliari in. Put under pressure by a few questionable backpasses.
Lichtsteiner: 6 Strong and consistent up the right wing, the defender could have grabbed an assist if Pereyra's finishing was a bit better.
Ogbonna: 7 A fantastic performance from the Nigerian-Italian stopper, who has now played all the center back roles for Juventus this season. Kept Ibarbo and Cossu far from goal, and always won his individual battle. Lovely touch contributed to the first goal.
Chiellini: 6.5 Uncompromising as ever, the hardman made it a battle and always stopped the attack, even if he gave a few more fouls than perhaps was necessary.
Evra: 6 Very good first half for the Frenchman, who controlled his flank and sent in several teasing crosses, contributing to Vidal's second. Was one of the guilty parties on the Cagliari goal.
Marchisio: 6 A steady performance from the Italian international, who didn't get into the box as much as other times this season. Still tried his luck from distance, but didn't find much success. Very good defensively however, always available to help Lichtsteiner.
Pirlo: 6.5 While he wasn't overly active in the first half, the Architect played two magnificent balls over the top in the second, one for Llorente's goal and another that led to Pereyra's chance. Even got in the box himself a couple of times.
Vidal: 8 A storming performance from the Chilean, perhaps his best of the season. Dominant in the tackle and contributing a magnificent goal, this is the Arturo Vidal all Juventus fans want to see. With Evra, takes some blame for not getting something on Cossu's cross for the Cagliari goal.
Pereyra: 6 Not the Argentine's best day, as he was only really able to drive at the defense on a handful of occasions. Finishing let him down today, particularly following Lichtsteiner's second-half cutback.
Llorente: 6.5 A somewhat surprising decision to start the Spanish striker was rewarded with a second-half goal, while his hold-up play was as reliable as ever. Not the kind of performance that will lock up a starting spot, but did what was asked of him.
Tévez: 6.5 An early goal for the Argentine increased his goal tally to 10, but didn't contribute as much as other days this season. Always available to pick up the ball and drive the team forward, but only had two shots on the day.
Morata: 5.5 Did well down the left to create havoc in the box, and showed his danger when running behind the defense. Final ball slightly let him down, whether trying to set up teammates or beat the keeper himself.
Padoin: 5.5 The utility man came on for Pereyra with ten minutes to play and did his thing, covering for his defenders and playing the simple pass.
Giovinco: N/A Another late substitute for the Atomic Ant, and another appearance where Giovinco hardly had a touch of the ball.
Allegri: 6 Got the job done in this one, despite a fair bit of rotation with Bonucci suspended and with an eye on the Italian Supercoppa. Dropped points would have been a problem going into the winter break, especially if Roma win on the weekend, but Allegri's men did the job and the winter table will once again see Juventus clear at the top.
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