Juventus welcomed Empoli to Turin in the final game of this week's Serie A action, with the Italian football calendar moving forward for the Easter holiday. Juventus won the sides' first meeting 2-0 in Empoli with wonderful goals from Andrea Pirlo and Álvaro Morata, and history repeated itself with Carlos Tévez and Roberto Pereyra grabbing the goals this time around. Empoli played their game, trying to keep possession and press high up the field, but Juventus' quality in both boxes eventually told.
After the international break it's always a relief to see the squad relatively unscathed, especially after Claudio Marchisio's injury turned out to be much less serious than was feared. Il Principino did have to skip the Empoli match, and with Pirlo and Paul Pogba nursing longer-term injuries Massimiliano Allegri's hand was forced in midfield, with Stefano Sturaro and Simone Padoin joining Arturo Vidal. In defense, Angelo Ogbonna got the nod ahead of Giorgio Chiellini at center back in the 3-5-2.
With another three points Juventus' lead atop Serie A remains at 14, while perhaps the most impressive news is how comfortable the side looked without three starting midfielders. Padoin won't be confused for Pirlo anytime soon, but neither did he and Sturaro look overwhelmed. The defense once again kept the clean sheet, although this time Gianluigi Buffon had to make a couple of difficult saves.
Empoli started with a decent spell of possession, with Padoin perhaps lucky to avoid a yellow card for an early tackle. Both sides were happy to press high and there was some sloppiness at the back, with Tévez getting a decent shot in on 5'. Fernando Llorente nearly got behind Daniele Rugani, but the ball just ran out of play. Sturaro was all over the pitch, and came off worst in a couple of challenges, while Riccardo Saponara looked the most dangerous for Empoli.
As the half wore on the quality of the Juventus began to show, however Empoli could still create dangerous triangles with their front three on the counter, but the Juventus center backs won their battles. Llorente began the game very well, holding on to long balls and even showing a bit of pace with the ball.
On 21 minutes Juve had a chance when Stephan Lichtsteiner's switch of play found Patrice Evra who cut it back for Tévez in space. The Argentine's feint stunned the Empoli defense, but Luigi Sepe came out to close the angle. Vidal began imposing himself in the game, nearly playing in Sturaro, before Lichtsteiner smacked the followup wide.
Tévez nearly broke through for a great chance but the ball ran away to Sturaro, before Lichtsteiner's cross found Vidal's header, over. Mirko Valdifiori tried to squeeze a dangerous ball through for Saponara, but Andrea Barzagli got their first. Empoli hadn't come to defend, and tried to keep possession play out from the back, but couldn't find the individual quality to create any real chances.
Sturaro's 34th minute cross found Vidal and Lichtsteiner crowding each other out, and the keeper claimed the resulting shot. Manuel Pucciarelli showed some flashes of skill, but Saponara was again closed down. Barzagli tried to burst down the side and find Tévez, but Daniele Croce came across well.
Tévez and Vidal nearly combined in the box, but Empoli again got bodies in the way. The away side finally created something, as Saponara played a nice first-time pass through for Massimo Maccarone, but his finish drifted well wide. Evra found Sturaro in the box where Rugani tipped the ball away, only for the referee to rule it an intentional backpass. Indirect free kick from the corner of the six-yard box!
As always the set up was high tension, and this time the execution was perfect. Vidal touched it on for Tévez, who smashed it into the roof of the net past a flinching wall.
The second half began with a couple of hopeful efforts, Pucciarelli flicking a difficult header over and Evra found Llorente in the box, but again Empoli crowded him out. On the resulting counter Croce escaped from Tévez, earning the Juve man a yellow card.
Saponara was next to try his luck for Empoli, but sent his effort straight at Buffon. There was an even better chance when a brilliant first-time ball from Valdifiori found Pucciarelli's run, while Buffon almost got caught in no-man's land but backpedaled quickly and made a great sprawling save. Empoli were on top, and finally putting shots on target.
A free kick in midfield gave Empoli a set-piece, but the whistle blew for offside. Evra made a run to break the offside line, but was again flagged off. Matías Vecino threatened to break through, beating two and playing a ball for Pucciarelli, but again Juventus defenders got in the way.
Tévez looked to have space to charge towards goal from his own half, but Valdifiori made a good covering run and challenge. A quick attack from the home side saw Tévez, Vidal, and Lichtsteiner combine but the right wingback's cross was poor.
Empoli continued to control most of the possession, but got very little end product out of it. In the 66th minute Lichtsteiner drew a yellow for Mário Rui, giving Juventus the chance to set up possession in the opponent's half, before Lichtsteiner got caught offside. At the whistle, Llorente made way for Morata.
Things got a bit more exciting soon after when a poor clearance from Barzagli gave Pucciarelli the ball at the edge of the box, where the striker nutmegged Evra and tried to round Buffon, but the veteran keeper held his nerve and tipped the ball away, springing to his feet to make a follow-up save.
Juve seemed to wake up a bit and pressure Empoli more, with the midfield winning the ball high up the pitch. In the 75th minute Vidal played a lovely ball in for Morata's run, but Rugani slid across to cover. A crunching tackle from Vecino left Sturaro worse for wear, and the midfielder was soon taken off for Pereyra. On the Empoli side, Pucciarelli made way for Simone Verdi.
Lichtsteiner went charging into the box after a Morata flick, and Vidal had a shot from a nice Tévez setup, but Juventus could not quite find the second goal. Valdifiori again threatened to play a ball over the Juventus defense, but Ogbonna held his ground very well.
Arturo Vidal went down holding his ankle in the 84th, sending hearts briefly into mouths, but was quickly able to get back on the field before Simone Pepe replaced him. Morata threatened to get through in the 89th, but Rugani was again quick to get his challenge in. Barzagli gave away the ball in defense, forcing Bonucci into an important challenge. Eventually Barzagli saw yellow and Verdi limped off.
Juventus once again finished the half with a bang as Roberto Pereyra grabbed the second. The substitute played the ball in for Tévez who turned his man and sent the Empoli defense into disarray. Sepe saved the first effort, but Pereyra was on hand to tap in the rebound. Empoli had one more chance to grab a goal with a good set-piece, but nobody was able to get a touch as the last ball of the game fizzed across the box.
Buffon: 8 Very little to do in the first half, but made two fantastic saves in the second to preserve the clean sheet.
Lichtsteiner: 6.5 Combined well with Vidal and Tévez at times, as well as getting into the box himself.
Barzagli: 6 Controlled his space defensively, but sometimes took risks playing the ball out that could have cost a goal.
Bonucci: 6.5 Another good performance from Bonucci, who did well reading the play and stepping in defensively but struggled a bit with his long passing.
Ogbonna: 7 Called on frequently 1-on-1 in space, the Nigerian-Italian imposed himself on the Empoli frontline. Seemed to get the most attention from Empoli, and always had the answer.
Evra: 6 Provided good width for the whole match, but got caught offside too often when there was no need to run behind the defense.
Vidal: 7.5 A tenacious defensive presence who seems to be finding a bit of form on the attacking side, Vidal and Tévez were a very large part of Juve's attacking plans.
Padoin: 6 Playing in front of the defense this time, Padoin stayed close to his defenders, played the simple passes, and backed up the midfield press reasonably well.
Sturaro: 6.5 Had a few moments where he seemed to be trying too hard to impress by throwing his body around, but overall showed great energy, got into good positions, and played a couple of dangerous balls.
Llorente: 6 Faded after a very promising start, but provided the sturdy hold-up man that Juventus needed at times this match.
Tévez: 7.5 Persistently dropping back into midfield to help compensate for the losses there, Tévez still managed to be threatening around the box and score a wonderful free kick, blasting it above the wall and under the bar from the edge of the six-yard box.
Morata: 6 Given 25 minutes at the end he had a couple of chances to create off the dribble, but was unable to get his shot away.
Pereyra: 6.5 Scored the second and generally filled un well on the right of midfield.
Pepe: N/A Given a few minutes after Vidal was taken off with an ankle problem.
Allegri: 6.5 With the injury crisis in midfield and players coming back after an international break, as well as an impressive Empoli side, the points were by no means certain in this one, but Allegri's team once again kept a clean sheet and created enough at the other end.