Is it just me, or does one’s spirits automatically rise with the return to regular action, after the lull of an international break? It feels like the funk has lifted, and one can’t help but feel excited at the prospect of watching our beloved Bianconeri back in action again. As such, we welcomed the league’s other Bianconeri, Udinese, to the Juventus Stadium. The ensuing match was an interesting one to say the least, if not as exciting as one would hope — unless you’re Sampath and you got to watch the unheralded brilliance of one Cyril Thereau take on the strongest defense in Italy single handedly.
For all our excitement, it seemed like fate didn’t quite want things to go the way of Juventus however. Both Giorgio Chiellini and Miralem Pjanic were sidelined on the morning of the match, and Max Allegri was forced to summon forth his tactical adaptability to set us up in an interesting and new 4-4-2 formation.
The game burst into life from the get-go, as Juan Cuadrado broke free down the right hand flank after a neat interplay with Mario Lemina, before cutting it across to Paulo Dybala, who cut inside his man and fired just wide of the far post.
That said, the chances were few and far between for the first quarter of the match thereafter, as Udinese surprisingly took their chances in pressing high and pegging the Juventus offense back. The new-look Juventus lineup took some time to find their footing in the game, but they really should have taken the lead at the 26 minute mark.
A neat one-two between Dybala and Mario Mandzukic saw the young Argentine break towards goal and set himself up to shoot at goal. His shot was blocked however, but the rebound turned into a perfect assist for Mandzukic, as he found himself staring at a gaping goal with keeper Orestis Karnezis out of position, but he inexplicably lobbed his finish high over the cross bar.
Juventus were made to rue that miss a few minutes later, as a goal kick played out from the back found the defense under immense pressure, and Hernanes completely missed the ball, setting Jakub Jankto up to take a touch and fire a fierce low shot almost directly at Gianluigi Buffon. Buffon, however, was extremely slow in getting down, and the shot squeezed straight through his hands into the goal.
We looked to respond immediately as they drove forward in large numbers, and one such interplay between the omnipresent Dybala and Cuadrado, broke kindly for Stephan Lichsteiner in the box. The Swiss Express however opted to fire a tame effort well wide of the near post instead of crossing back into the box or shooting for the far post.
Juventus, and Dybala, were rewarded for their efforts a few moments later, as some quick feet from Mario Lemina won us a free kick 24m from goal, in a very central position. After some shoving in the wall, and a particularly fierce Patrice Evra shoulder barge, Dybala stepped up to fire a bullet shot into the far corner, leaving the keeper Karnezis with absolutely no chance.
The second half started in a similar vein to the first, as Dybala won the ball in midfield and charged at the Udinese defense, causing panic between the ranks. He cut past his man beautifully and found himself in a central position, but he ended up scuffing his shot and it rolled safely into Karnezis’ grateful hands.
However, after gifting Udinese the lead, the visitors would respond in kind, as on the 51-minute mark, Rodrigo De Paul foolishly brought down an Alex Sandro who was running away from the box for a penalty. Dybala stepped up and made absolutely no mistake in firing in his fourth goal of the season so far.
Alex Sandro should have made it 3-1 on the 62nd minute, when an overlap between Dybala and Lichtsteiner down the right, saw the Swiss full back fire in a peach of a left footed cross to the far post, finding the Brazilian completely unmarked with the goal gaping. Yet, somehow, he too contrived to make a mess of the chance and failed to make solid contact with the ball at all.
The game mostly ended at a pedestrian pace, as Juventus didn’t look too keen to push forward in large numbers, preferring to use the speed of Cuadrado and Dybala on the counter, while Udinese struggled to breakdown our dogged defense. A few shots on target from Cuadrado and Thereau, and a Felipe header from a corner that Buffon got down well to save aside, the rest of the second half was mostly uneventful. Dybala’s brace proved to be enough to give us the five points, and extend our lead at the top of the table to five points over second-place Roma.
The injuries to Chiellini and Pjanic, and late returns from international action for the likes of Khedira, forced Allegri to set us up in a new 4-4-2 formation. Considering Bonucci was initially rested for this game, and was only recalled after Chiellini’s injury, I feel like Allegri was already considering using a four-man backline. What is interesting about this setup, is that Udinese is doing what almost all Italian teams seem to favour doing at the J-stadium, crowding the midfield.
However, the double overlap on either flank meant that the midfielders Lemina and Hernanes, could quickly cycle possession out wide and let the overlap against the opposing fullback and a very central midfielder, push us forward. This plan did have a domino effect however, as while most teams crowd out the centre of the pitch to prevent us from controlling play from there, Udinese found that they could use their man advantage in the middle to break forward at pace and release their wide forwards, De Paul and Thereau, in the space vacated by our full backs’ forward forays. Barzagli and Benatia were on their toes for the entire first half in snuffing out any such danger, and I cannot stress enough how well they did in making sure Udinese found no inroads to goal in this manner.
While we did seem to line up in a 4-4-2 to start with, this started to resemble a very lopsided 4-3-2-1 soon, as for most of the first half, Sandro played more as an LCM than a left winger, and Evra manned almost the entire left flank himself, almost like a traditional wing back. There are many occasions when Udinese would win the ball and break forward as mentioned earlier, when Sandro was the one racing back to cover for Evra’s advanced position. On the right side however, it seemed far more straightforward, with Lichsteiner overlapping with an advanced Cuadrado down the right. Dybala ended up playing very centrally as a Trequartista almost, leading to the lopsided 4-3-2-1 with an extra man in the central Dybala on the right, and Evra covering the entire left side himself with Sandro’s help.
Both teams adapted shape in the second half however. Juventus came out lined up in a 3-4-2-1 setup, with Benatia, Barzagli and Evra forming the back-3, Lichtsteiner, Lemina, Hernanes and Sandro forming the midfield, Dybala playing as a wide forward on the right, Cuadrado mirroring this on the left, and Mandzukic leading the line. Udinese responded to this by taking off De Paul, and bringing in Stipe Perica as another forward next to Duvan Zapata, while Thereau continued to play as almost a free roam striker behind them, in a 4-3-1-2 setup.
The change was a very positive one for us, as it finally freed Sandro up to dominate the left flank, and Cuadrado looked quite impressive using his quick feet to cut in and link-up with Mandzukic and Dybala. Hernanes also looked far more at home in a more central deep lying role, and he recovered from his mistake to have a much more decent second half, where he continuously brought the wide players into the game. Dybala thrived the most in this setup, as the build up was not through the centre, and this meant he was under less pressure to drop deep and find the ball. Instead, the wide players like Lichtsteiner and Sandro found him in his central/drifting right free roam position, and he found himself playing between the Udinese defense and midfield, and wreaked havoc as a result.
It hasn’t been the greatest few weeks at the J-stadium for Superman, as another big error gifted the opposition the lead. However, for the second time, it did help his team take more initiative, so maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in hindsight. He did well to keep out Felipe’s header at the end, but here’s hoping his brainfart quota for the season is close to being met.
Decent game for the Swiss Express, he was very solid and vastly untroubled at the back. That said, considering the emphasis on wing play this game, one would have hoped to see more from him going forward. He found himself in some decent positions, and on multiple occasions, his overlap runs alone were able to help Cuadrado find some space as he pulled defenders away, but honestly, he’s set the bar high enough these past years for us to expect more from him.
Stunning game from the veteran defender. He dominated Zapata the entire 90 minutes, and gave him not even the slightest sniff at goal. He did a fantastic job in the first half of making sure Udinese didn’t have too much time and space to exploit the adventurous play of our full backs, and he mopped up any forward advances with minimal fuss and maximum efficiency. Timeless.
If Barzagli is dominant in the twilight of his career, Benatia is surely a sign of the not so distant future. Just like his older partner for the day, Benatia possesses stunning reading of the game, and an excellent control and passing range with the ball. He stepped forward into midfield and found space to pass into excellently, without risking anything. His aerial dominance is something to behold, and is surely a positive sign when one considers the potential weaknesses our defense possesses. Its important we keep him fit.
Uncle Pat hasn’t had the happy and inspirational start to the season that his “I Love This Game” Instagram posts might suggest. He was solid for the most part, but offered very little down the left going forward. He also left acres of space behind him for De Paul to exploit, and a better player and team might have done more damage, but this is more of a criticism of Allegri’s tactics than his personal game play. That said, he does bump his score up from 6.5 to 7, thanks to a very dominant performance as an LCB in the second half.
The duality that is the enigma that is Juan Cuadrado. Such impressive ability with the ball, but his decision making and shooting leave so much to be desired. That said, setups like this that emphasize on the wing play to create suit him. He was a driving force for us going forward, and his link-up with Dybala was impressive all game. He also showed a tactical versatility I wasn’t sure he possessed when he played well from a left wing position in the second half. If only his shooting were better.. And he dropped to ground in his “Another Juan Bites The Dust” act a little less, referees are starting to be stricter with him and it could come back to haunt us.
Not the best game from the midfielder. He was also solid for the most part at either end. He provided decent cover for the center backs while defending, and his strength and dribbling to break forward gave us a different dimension with which to counter, but overall, it was a sloppy display. That might have something to do with the new system, as he wasn’t the only player who’s touches and passes were a little off throughout the game.
I do think Hernanes had a better game than Lemina. Had it not been for his taking his eye off the ball at the worst possible time and setting Jankto up for the opener, he would have gotten a 7. His range of passing was instrumental in spreading play to the wings, and his positional sense has improved vastly, as he always gave Barzagli and Benatia an option to pass to when under pressure. Although he tried some adventurous through balls that were once again, a little off in the second half, much to the irk and boos of the crowd, I credit him for being adventurous enough to try.
It was a really quiet display from the Brazilian Bomber, as his first half position baffled me completely. He played for the most part in the position Asamoah would have played in, in a 3 man midfield, and his influence on the game suffered as a result. He hardly found himself in any promising positions throughout the half, and his chemistry with Evra wasn’t quite there. He improved in the second half, but the team weren’t pushing up with too much endeavor, but he ought to have buried his chance to make it 3-1.
Dybala: 8.5 (MotM)
La Joya is well and truly back! His performances for the first month of the season weren’t poor by any stretch of the imagination, but he wasn’t playing like his usual confident self. The difference a goal or two can make. He was everywhere and was running the offense. His positional sense is back with a bang too, as he wreaked havoc playing between Udinese’s lines. He came close on a few occasions beside his dead ball goals, his corners were much improved, and that free kick was SEX (Shoutout to DelPiero’sGirl). He is vital to our offense.
At first, I thought it was the team’s tactics that were leaving Mandzukic so isolated and ineffectual. Now however, its been too long to not attribute some of the blame to the player. Buffon had 1.5 as many touches as Mandzukic did, and that tells the story. His much vaunted “chemistry” with Dybala from last year has been completely absent. And there is absolutely no excuse for that horrific near open goal miss in the first half. Will the real Mandzukic please stand up (and batter a few defenders and elbow a few guys and score a few clinical goals)?
All three substitutes had little to do after coming besides seeing the game out, without expending too much energy. Sturaro did impress me a little in his short time on the pitch, as he flew into a few crunching tackles and played with a lot of heart. He’ll be crucial considering our dearth of options in the middle.
Thanks for joining me in reliving this thrilling exciting game, and I wish you all a great Sunday and week ahead! Next up: THE CHAMPIOOOOOOONS! This is Kaushik, signing out. Peace.