It was a special day for Juventus at J Stadium. Firstly, it was the debut of the new mascot, J, a creepy-looking zebra. Secondly, it was the debut of two of our new signings — Brazilian full back Alex Sandro and Brazilian playmaker Hernanes. And thirdly, the league leaders Chievo Verona were in town. The Flying donkeys currently living up to their nickname after impressive wins versus Empoli and Lazio (who they just ripped apart 4-0).
Oh yes, it was a special day indeed.
Juventus, as is well known, were still in search of their first points of the new season. After a busy summer and the recent international break, the full team for the season (until January at least) were back in action trying to stop the rot after losing their first two games of the season - a historical low point for the Bianconeri.
Max Allegri took the chance to give some of the internationals a rest after the exertions of the last week, and to keep them in shape for the big Champions League game away to Manchester City on Tuesday night. The expected switch to a four-man backline was made, with 4-3-1-2 shape being employed. Stephan Lichtsteiner and Paul Pogba started on the bench, with Martin Caceres and Stefano Sturaro taking their spots at right back and on the left side of the midfield three, respectively. As mentioned, Alex Sandro made his debut at left back, while Hernanes played as the "1" behind Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata, with Mario Mandzukic moving to the bench. The game also marked a return to the lineup for Il Principino, Claudio Marchisio, who recovered from his most recent injury.
The game could not have started any better — for Chievo, that is. Five minutes in, a Chievo attack saw the ball ricocheted off Andrea Barzagli to Peparim Hetemaj at the top of the Juventus box, and the Finn lashed a shot past Gianluigi Buffon in goal. One-nil to the league leaders; yes, again, I'm referring to Chievo.
Juventus' sluggish start to games this season continued, but the team did manage to put some chances together. On eight minutes, new signing Hernanes made some space for himself at the top of the box and took a quality shot, forcing veteran shot-stopper Albano Bizzarri into a fairly decent save. From the resulting corner, Roberto Pereyra's cross cum shot just evaded Leonardo Bonuci's sliding effort at the last post.
Another debutant, Alex Sandro, had an industrious first game. He put a cross into the box, which the goal-scorer Hetemaj failed to deal with, and Pereyra wasted the golden opportunity by snatching at his effort and sending it over the bar; guess his finishing has not improved at all since last season.
On the half-hour mark, Pereyra crossed into the box for Sturaro, who nodded his chance over the bar. Juventus kept the pressure up on Chievo, though without the same fluidity and verve as in recent seasons. Another cross from Alex Sandro was inadvertently flicked on by Hernanes for the oncoming Marchisio, but his tame effort bounces wide. The last chance of the half came when Dybala snatched at a shot from about 25 yards out, not getting it anywhere near to troubling the Chievo goal.
Pogba came on at half time for the returning Marchisio. Allegri shifted Hernanes back to the regista position, with Pogba reinstated on his preferred left side of midfield and Pereyra into the hole behind the strikers.
Juventus did not show much improvement after the break. On 52 minutes, it was the captain who kept Juve in the game with a top draw, almost godly save. A deep cross into the box was knocked back into the middle, and big Slovenian defender Bostjan Cesar met the cross on a volley; Gigi responded with a magnificent reaction save to push the shot onto the post and back out. This play seemed to stoke the fires in the home team.
A few minutes later, Dybala played the ball inside for Pereyra, who turned in the box brilliantly and goy a wonderful shot off (much better than his effort in the first) which beat Bizzarri but not the near post. The rebound fell straight to Pogba at the penalty spot, but the young Frenchman's laissez-faire attempt was blocked by the last ditch tackle of Nicholas Frey. Dybala then blasted the second rebound over the bar. Things were heating up.
The first of two moments of controversy were to come next. Valter Birsa's beautifully floated free kick into the box was flicked on at the near post by Alberto Paloschi and then stabbed home at the far post by Cesar. However the referee inexplicably ruled the goal off. Replays showed some holding by Cesar on Bonucci, but Bonucci also had a handful of Cesar's shirt. A massive let off for Juve.
Hernanes, who was quiet in the second, collected a pass just outside the box and shifted from his left to his right and fired on target, again forcing Bizzarri into a fine save. The Brazilian playmaker was again involved when he stepped up to a free kick and whipped in a right footed curler to the near post; this one, though, was easily tipped over by Bizzarri.
The second moment of controversy came on eighty-three minutes. Substitute Juan Cuadrado — who had injected some life into the Juve attack — was adjudged to have been taken down in the box by Cesar. On replay, it looked a bit harsh as the contact was minimal and Cuadrado did go down easily — as he tends to do. Regardless, it was a penalty to Juve. Dybala stepped up to take it, and slammed it home with a perfectly place penalty! One all and Juve were back in to get something from the game. Disappointment for Chievo, who had played a great away game to now.
Juve kept up the pressure to try to find a winner, but Chievo withstood and maintained their unbeaten start to the season. Juve are finally off the mark, albeit in fortuitous fashion.
Buffon 7 Superman did not have a lot to do, but his terrific save on Cesar midway through the second half kept Juventus in the game.
Caceres 6.5 A solid, if unspectacular, performance from the Uruguayan. He got forward well, though the final ball was lacking.
Barzagli 6.5 With Chievo playing on the counter for the most part, Barzagli (and his partner Bonucci) were not under much pressure for the ninety minutes. Did what he had to without much fuss.
Bonucci 6.5 Same as with Barzagli. He was lucky that the ref called a foul for him on the Chievo disallowed goal, as he was doing as much holding as Cesar was.
Alex Sandro 6.5 Encouraging debut for the young Brazilian. He was beaten on a couple of occasions by Chievo's Castro, and his crossing was inconsistent, but he got up and down his flank very well and did well when called upon.
Pereyra 6.5 The poor man's version of Arturo Vidal had an okay game. While he does most things in midfield well, his poor finishing continues to be the biggest weakness in his game.
Marchisio 5.0 Marchisio marked his return from injury and to the starting line-up with a sub-par performance at the base of the midfield. Taking over the deep playmaker role from the departed Andrea Pirlo, Il Principino failed to conduct the midfield in the same manner, or like we know he can. One would expect him to improve as the season goes on.
Sturaro 6.0 Did well in his defensive duties, but didn't add much to the offence. Had one chance from a Pereyra cross that he could have done better with.
Hernanes 6.0 The Brazilian had an okay debut, creating a couple decent chances on goal which forced the Chievo goalkeeper into some fine saves. His ability to switch from either foot with such ease does already look like it will be an asset, as does his free kick taking ability. Would like him to influence the game more.
Dybala 7.0 The young Argentine had a busy game, showing a willingness to get on the ball and try to make things happen. Tried to make the best off of some of the scraps he got fed, but he eventually got his goal from the penalty spot - and it was a great spot kick!
Morata 6.0 Like Marchisio, Morata is returning to the starting line-up from an injury layoff. The Spaniard had even less to feed off of than Dybala did, but he did put in the work. He needs the game time to get back into his form.
Pogba 5.5 Will the real Paul Pogba please stand up? A disappointing cameo. Should have scored to equalise earlier, but he was a bit too laid back and Frey stretched himself to block what should have been an easy goal.
Cuadrado 6.5 The Colombian gave Juventus an injection of pace and caused Chievo real problems when he came on. His first touches almost resulted in a shot on goal. He won the penalty for the equalising goal, though he does go down very easily; the Colombian Ashley Young.
Mandzukic n/a Barely touched the ball.
Allegri 6.0 His decision to bring Cuadrado on for Sturaro gave Juve fresh impetus and directly led to the Bianconeri getting back into the game. Hampered a bit by players being out of form (like Pogba) and returning from injury (like Marchisio and Morata). One would expect that in the coming weeks things will improve. Next up though, is Manchester City on Tuesday, and we need a big performance if we're to get anything out of that game. Get on it, Max!
THINGS I THINK I THINK
The performance was still not what would be expected from Juventus, but at least we managed to get a draw when a loss seemed very probable once again. Yes, we know it will take some time for the new players to gel with the old players and regain the fluidity in movement Juve have had in the last few years. But the lack of form is very disconcerting. There will be time to make up for the bad start in the league. But the boys are in the group of death in the Champions League, and this kicks off on Tuesday. This time, there is no room for a slow start. City, Sevilla and Moenchengladbach will be tough tasks and Juventus will need to get out of the blocks quickly.
Apart from the team just not looking like itself, the form of Pogba is also quite worrying. He has looked nothing like the player that reportedly will command a record-breaking transfer fee. The impact on games just isn't there. He needs to step up; not only is he the star in the midfield now, but he's also wearing the number ten. All eyes are on him. He needs to rise to that challenge, like he claims he wants to.
It will take some getting used to, and yes the changes were not all for the current year; the plan is to extend Juve's dominance for years to come. But for the present, the struggles are threatening to derail the season, even in these early stages.