When things are going well, you don’t do anything to make them better. Max Allegri kind of adhered to this and only made two changes to the winning side that started against Manchester City, with Patrice Evra and Juan Cuadrado coming in for Alex Sandro and Stephan Lichtsteiner. Considering how demanding the wingback role in a 3-5-2 formation is, the Swiss Express probably welcomed the rest, but Sandro might have wanted to continue at left back after his recent exploits.
Prior to this encounter, Palermo had lost the last six matches played against Juventus without scoring a single goal. The Bianconeri travelled to Stadio Renzo Barbera on the back of a rare three-game winning streak in all competition — i.e. the first and only one of the season — and morale was high, so the trend could only continue. However, it took an entire first half of little vision and efficiency, very reminiscent of the latter times Antonio Conte was still shouting his lungs out from the Bianconeri dugouts, for Juventini to finally break the deadlock.
It wasn’t particularly enjoyable until the point Mario Mandzukic stopped wandering around the pitch purposelessly, though only for roughly five seconds, and headed in the opener. You could argue this is what most goal poachers do during games, but the Croatian has a special and very irking way of proving to be a lethal striker. But at least half of the goal had Paulo Dybala written on it. All eyes were on the Argentine striker as he made his first return on the island of Sicily since his €32 million + bonuses summer move to Juventus, and he didn’t fail to impress. Hence the few boos and whistles coming from the home tifosi as Dybala was being subbed off. Bastards.
You couldn’t help notice how easy football became and how confidence surged after Juventus took the lead — an altogether different team took to the pitch, very similar to the one that outplayed City in midweek, when the early advantage did the trick. Continuing and, most importantly, trying to start games with the same frame of mind will be crucial to this slowly hike towards the Serie A table. Juventus have been very mature and solid in the centre of the park and especially at the back after the last international break, which is pretty much the reason for the good run.
Several positives to build on from here — all rise for Stefano Sturaro — and if it wasn’t for Paul Pogba’s yellow card, the evening would have been perfect. The Frenchman will miss Friday’s trip to Stadio Olimpico where a completely out of form Lazio (and that man Allesandro Matri) await. We all know what it means if Sami Khedira and Mario Lemino are not fit until then. Simone Padoin will bless our evenings with his presence once again.
The hosts started out with a high tempo trying to catch Juventus off their guard, but Allegri’s players were disciplined at the back and managed to soak up the early pressure without too many problems. After 15 minutes of football, Mandzukic came a few inches away from meeting Cuadrado’s cross and sending the ball into the open net.
The Bianconeri completely controlled possession in the following minutes but only shyly approached Stefano Sorrentino’s goal and weren’t able to create any important scoring chances. Contrary to the game’s direction, it was Alberto Gilardino who caused some panic inside the visitors’ box just before the half hour mark with a shot from angle which flew past the far post.
Leonardo Bonucci missed a huge opportunity to open the scoring in the 34th minute when he leaped over the opposite defence following a corner kick taken by Dybala and failed to hit the target with a free header from just over six yards. A few minutes later, Dybala doubled up Bonucci’s miss with a header directed off target from a decent position.
Another corner kick caused confusion inside Palermo’s area but none of the Bianconeri could take a shot on goal, with Sturaro blocked in the last moment by the defence. The ball was cleared away and referee Paolo Valeri sent the two teams to the locker rooms for half time.
HALFTIME STAT: Mandzukic had fewer touches (11) than anybody on the pitch. Including. Both. Goalkeepers.
SECOND (and equally frustrating) HALFTIME STAT: There wasn’t a single shot on goal.
The second half started in a similar fashion as it ended — decent intensity, but very little end product. The hosts had appeals for a penalty waved off by Valeri after a challenge from Andrea Barzagli, while Pogba tried his luck from distance but couldn’t hit the target.
As any tifoso already knows, football is not all about stats and Mandzukic proved it once again as he responded in big style to his incredibly poor first half, scoring Juventus’ opener in the 54th minute. Dybala’s initial delivery from a corner was cleared away but his second cross was perfect and the Croatian striker muscled his way inside the area before powering the header past Sorrentino.
Both teams came close to scoring in the 66th minute. First Chiellini did great to block Gaston Brugman inside the 6-yard box and then Cuadrado tested Sorrentino on the counter with a powerful strike at the near post.
The Bianconeri played out the rest of the game perfectly, giving Palermo no chance to get any close to Buffon’s goal.
In the 89th minute, Sturaro received the ball at the edge of the box from Pogba and after a brilliant control with his left foot, slotted it coolly past Sorrentino to double the lead.
Juventus hit Palermo again in the last minute of injury time. Having replaced Dybala a few minutes earlier, Simone Zaza combined with Alvaro Morata inside the area before sending a low shot at the near post that left Sorrentino reaction-less. The host were saved from the misery of restarting the game as Valeri blew the full-time whistle.
Buffon: N/A Didn’t have to make a single save. Still amazing, though.
Barzagli: 6.5 Some good tackles and interceptions to thwart attackers. Linked-up well with Sturaro and Cuadrado.
Bonucci: 6.5 Solid, just as his fellow defenders. Missed a great chance to score in the first half.
Chiellini: 7.5 Great performance, making well-timed challenges in crucial moments.
Cuadrado: 6 At the heart of most of the first-half actions. Lacked the final touch tough. Replaced by Lichtsteiner in the 68th minute.
Sturaro: 7.5 Another solid display — worked his way effortlessly up and down the pitch and rounded it off with a well-deserved goal.
Marchisio: 6.5 Took complete charge in the centre of the park, distributing the ball accurately.
Pogba: 6.5 Covered a wide area in midfield and ineffectively looked for the goal with long shots several times. Decent assists.
Evra: 6.5 Some very spirited charges down the flank. Sound defensively.
Dybala: 7.5 Often dropped deep to see more of the ball and create chances. Really good deliveries from set-pieces and a great assist.
Mandzukic: 6.5 Useless in the first part, but made up for it with the goal, with his only good touch of the game.
Morata: 6.5 Replaced Mandzukic in the 67th and despite trying a lot for himself, managed to assist Zaza's goal.
Lichtsteiner: 6 Came in with 20 minutes left to play and had little involvement.
Zaza: 7 Replaced Dybala in the 84th minute. Good composure to score the third goal.
Allegri: 7 Resurrected the team at half time and made the right subs at the right time.