Juventus traveled to Sicily on Saturday, taking on a Palermo side that has stumbled a bit of late but remains comfortably in mid-table thanks in large part to the strike partnership of Franco Vázquez and Paulo Dybala. With the massive a Champions League tie with Borussia Dortmund only a few days away, Andrea Pirlo still nursing his calf, and Paul Pogba suspended, some squad rotation was expected from Massimiliano Allegri's side.
Juventus turned up in a 3-5-2, with the returning Andrea Barzagli taking back his role alongside Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in the center of defense. Stefano Sturaro made his Bianconeri debut, while Arturo Vidal and Patrice Evra were held out of the starting lineup in view of Wednesday's match, giving Paolo De Ceglie a chance on the left wing.
For most of the match it was clear that neither team wanted to go all-out for the win. Juventus understandably had half an eye on the massive game midweek, and Palermo recognizing the value of taking a point against the dominant side in Serie A. There were brief sparks of inspiration and intent, mostly on the counter, but for long periods it was the kind of match where mundane replays get four or five views, and the play seems to go from goal kick to goal kick.
The best news was certainly the return of Andrea "The Wall" Barzagli, who seemed to step right back into the rich form Juventus fans know so well. Vázquez and Dybala worked hard, but the Juventus midfield and especially the defense were rock solid, winning everything in the air and blocking everything on the ground. It was a very impressive defensive effort against a respectable attack, and encouraging knowing that a clean sheet in Germany (gulp) will see Juventus through.
The match started quite quickly, especially compared to what was coming in the sixty minutes to follow. Barzagli didn't take long to make an impact on the match, showing confidence and strength to shake off Vázquez' pressure. Vázquez got his revenge soon after, picking the ball off Claudio Marchisio and pulling off a quick nutmeg on fellow Argentine Carlos Tévez, who then had to take the Palermo man down.
Stefano Sturaro was eager to get involved, throwing his body around all over the pitch, but usually to little effect. A few counterattacking chances came when the ball quickly came into either side's strikers but both sets of defenses were fairly compact and untroubled, although a combination between Tévez and Fernando Llorente seemed like it might produce a chance.
A 35-yard snapshot from Tévez seemed to swerve in the air, forcing Palermo goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino to just parry away, but the Rosanero defense were quick to sweep up. Sturaro was on the receiving end from a nasty challenge from Andrea Rispoli, and although the recent arrival was able to carry on Arturo Vidal replaced him at halftime.
In the 29th minute, Juventus had numbers forward on the counter from a Palermo throw, but Roberto Pereyra's cross was deflected into Sorrentino's hands. Juventus looked the more likely to break the deadlock, with more effective pressing from the midfield and defense, with Llorente offering a good out ball, but failed to get any of their shots on target, occasionally settling for poor chances.
Palermo had a chance to get through when Luca Rigoni and Dybala combined, but Chiellini shielded the final pass through for Gianluigi Buffon. Yellows came out for Vázquez and Siniša Anđelković and a 42nd minute Marchisio free kick was nodded back by Llorente, but the Spanish striker was flagged offside. Good pressure from Sturaro won the ball for Tévez in a dangerous area, but his shot went wide, with the teams ending the first 45 with a combined one shot on target, and that shot from 35 yards.
Vidal came on for Sturaro but otherwise not much changed. A Pereyra cross was cleared away, before El Tucu won a free kick in a dangerous position outside of the box. Tévez struck the ball well, getting it around the wall and on target, but not far enough from Sorrentino who made a good save. Dybala threatened to break clear, but Barzagli made the tactical foul and saw yellow. Palermo contested possession well, and were able to put a few balls across the box, but still could not trouble Buffon.
Álvaro Morata was on for the last 30 minutes, and eventually Juventus returned to getting the majority of the chances, as Stephan Lichtsteiner got his head to a Tévez corner, but again it went wide of the post. Pereyra showed wonderful skill to break the press and lead the counter, but Vidal's shot was closed down.
Just a minute later, the deadlock was broken. Marchisio clipped the ball into the channel for Morata, who tricked Anđelković with his control to get a yard of space, cut inside onto his left, and curled a beautiful strike into the net. It was a fantastic goal, and showed the kind of movement and technique that the young striker brings to the team.
De Ceglie went out with a leg injury in the 76th, with Simone Padoin coming on, while Palermo brought on another striker in Andrea Belotti. There were more yellow cards than chances as the clock ticked down, with Lichtsteiner, Morata, Dybala, and Pereyra all seeing a card, Morata's meaning he will be suspended for the Genoa game. Dybala tried his luck another couple of times, but the game finished with Palermo failing to register a single shot on target.
Buffon: 6 Another game, another clean sheet for Buffon, who pretty much just took the goal kicks.
Lichtsteiner: 6 A constant physical presence down the right flank, but didn't create much and twice shot off target when he might have chosen differently.
Barzagli: 6 Strong and confident, he slotted right back into form alongside Bonucci and Chiellini. Had a couple of hairy moments, but generally a very good return.
Bonucci: 6.5 A vital component of a dominant backline, played a huge role in not allowing Palermo a shot on target.
Chiellini: 6.5 Always winning his challenges, Chiellini was all over the field and even contributing to buildup play.
De Ceglie: 5.5 Mostly anonymous down the left flank, and had to come off with an unfortunate injury.
Sturaro: 6 Showed lots of strength and aggression, perhaps too much at times, but definitely lots to like from his first game in the black and white.
Marchisio: 6.5 Stationed in front of the back four, Marchisio played a big part in Juventus' dominant defensive performance, but perhaps could have had more impact on the front foot.
Pereyra: 6.5 One of Juventus' best weapons in transition, the Argentine created several good chances simply by beating men in midfield and driving towards goal.
Llorente: 5.5 Was a useful target man for balls out of defense, and played well with Tévez at times, but did not offer much goal threat.
Tévez: 6 Another game in which Tévez seems to do all the same things, but just not find the finishing touch that he had in the early part of the season.
Vidal: 6 Always solid in the defensive phase and looking to break into attack, but unable to have a huge impact on the game in 45 minutes.
Morata: 7 Scored the winning goal and immediately sharpened Juventus' attack with his movement.
Padoin: N/A On for the injured De Ceglie, Padoin had 15 minutes to fill in and did just fine.
Allegri: 6 Always tough to motivate a side for games like these, especially with such a big lead in the division, and some distraction showed. None of the distraction came in defense however, and a 1-0 is just perfect. Now for Wednesday.
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