Back from the eventful matches of the international break, league-leaders Juventus hosted 18th-placed Pescara on a chilly Saturday evening in Turin. Given the crunch-tie away at Sevilla in the Champions League on Tuesday, Juve manager Allegri opted to rotate the squad significantly: Miralem Pjanic, Claudio Marchisio, Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon were all rested.
The game started at a pretty pedestrian pace as the home side tried to shake off all those AirMiles from the international break fixtures. As expected, Juventus dominated possession, but it all seemed to be a bit sluggish and reluctant. The first half-chance of the game came after Alex Sandro set up Gonzalo Higuaín for a shot but Hugo Campagnaro was on hand to shut down the shot. The Sandro-Higuaín combo was repeated a few minutes later; this time the Brazilian teed up Higuaín for a header but the striker couldn’t get it on target. Juventus tried their luck with a few more efforts from range, though, as one shot from Hernanes went a few meters wide while Higuaín blazed a snap-shot well off-target soon after. It was drab and slow stuff but Pescara were understandably happy to keep things that way.
Remarkably, though, it was the away team that registered the biggest chance of the game. The Juventus defense was slow to push up after a failed Pescara attack but Zuparic was able to intercept the ball and loft it over the top to lone striker, Gianluca Caprari. The striker was suddenly through on goal but, thanks to the heavy pressure from defender Daniele Rugani, he fluffed the chance wide of target to the relief of the home fans. Nevertheless, a massive warning shot for the Bianconeri.
As happens with every game that I review, there was another Juventus injury to report. Stephan Lichtsteiner jogged off the pitch with a mystery injury that I honestly have no idea what it might have been. Nevertheless, Juan Cuadrado replaced the injured Swiss wingback. About 10 minutes after the forced substitution, Juventus opened the scoring. A brilliant piece of passing link-up between Khedira and Mandzukic in the inside-right channel resulted in the ball falling into the path of the German midfielder who duly toe-poked the ball into the far corner for the 1-0! That wasn’t the last action of the half though as Memushaj tested Neto with a stinging right-foot shot but the goalkeeper managed to awkwardly save it after making a bit of a mess out of it initially. The referee blew the half-time whistle and Juventus happily took a tidy 1-0 lead to the break, despite almost allowing Pescara to score a goal for themselves.
The second half started with a little more verve beginning with the always wonderful Alex Sandro. The Brazilian twisted and turned and weaved past a host of Pescara challenges and won a free kick for his efforts, although the set piece resulted in nothing. A few minutes later, Higuaín came closest to doubling the home side’s lead after picking up a completely misplaced Cristante back-pass and firing a shot against the outside of the post with Bizzarri backpedaling.
Juventus were getting in the mood now. Khedira fired in a low cross to Mandzukic inside the penalty area but the Croatian awkwardly got in his own way and fired it against his own hand. Later, Khedira was again orchestrating Bianconeri attacks as he released Higuaín through on goal. The Argentine let the ball roll across his body but, in doing so, allowed Biraghi to recover and pressure him enough to force a hasty shot that Bizzarri managed to save. Juventus nevertheless managed to double their lead a few minutes later courtesy of Mario Mandzukic. Alex Sandro crossed the ball into the box for Khedira to head down to an alert Mandzukic who had cleverly beat the offside trap to flick the ball into goal: 2-0! This time around, the roles were reversed: Khedira turned provider and Mandzukic turned goalscorer. Juventus continued to crank up the pressure as the frustrated Higuaín headed a cross from a free-kick a meter or so over the bar. Later, even Hernanes joined the party by collecting a Sandro pass and unleashing an unstoppable right-footed shot into the bottom corner past Bizzarri for the 3-0!
This was the cue for Allegri’s men to take the foot significantly off the gas as the game really trickled into a pedestrian pace. Juventus were understandably conserving energy for Tuesday’s clash so it became a bit of an exhibition match in the final 20-25 minutes of the game. There was still time for a few noteworthy moments though: Sandro caused havoc with a determined dribble and, after a series of deflections from his driven cross, the ball ended up at the feet of
enemy-of-the-state Stefano Sturaro who tested Bizzarri with a strong right-footed shot. The Italian midfielder got another chance two minutes later from Higuaín’s cross but somewhat bizarrely chested the ball at Bizzarri goal instead of heading it on target. Moise Kean then made his long-awaited debut by replacing Mandzukic with five minutes to go and Patrice Evra made a goal-line clearance to maintain the clean sheet. 3-0!
NETO 6.5 – Had one noteworthy save to make, for the rest nothing to do.
RUGANI 7 – Did well to put off Caprari for that huge scare in the first half. Didn’t put a foot wrong all game.
BONUCCI 7 – Business as usual for the stand-in captain today.
EVRA 7 – Kept things simple and had little difficulty dealing with Pescara’s attackers. Great goal-line clearance at the end of the game too.
LICHTSTEINER N/A – Let’s hope he’s ok!
KHEDIRA 8 – Great game for the German to get his mojo back. Was really involved in all positive Juventus moves.
ASAMOAH 7.5 – Tidy performance and linked up well with Sandro.
HERNANES 7.5 – Cracking goal and a very composed display. These are the types of games he’ll just love to play in.
ALEX SANDRO 7.5 – Enjoyed himself without exerting too much energy.
HIGUAÍN 6.5 – He’s in a bit of a funk now and was really unlucky not to get at least one goal from his two huge chances. He’ll be alright though, he’s a tough cookie.
MANDZUKIC 7 – Was alert for the second goal and played well throughout.
CUADRADO 6.5 – Solid outing, did his defensive and offensive work tidily.
STURARO 6.5 – Could have gotten a goal with a good shot on target and an awkward chested ball at Bizzarri.
10 N/A – THE FUTURE HAS ARRIVED!!!11ONEONE. Just kidding. I suppose he’ll be back in class on Monday to get back on that high-school hustle.
ALLEGRI 7 – This could have been one of those games where the team couldn’t be bothered, given the nature of the opposition and the task at hand on Tuesday. However, Allegri did well to make sure that the job was well done without any unnecessary implosions. That helped the team close out the game at a very relaxed pace in the last 20-25 minutes.
Tactical Analysis – Mirror Force
Another game that wasn’t exactly tactically revolutionary stuff, but still had a few noteworthy elements. Pescara coach Massimo Oddo mirrored our formation by also going for what seemed like a 3-5-2.
Their 3-5-2 seemed to be consistently deeper than ours though which explained why we dominated possession so much. I’m honestly quite baffled by teams that play a deep line against us because it makes little sense: Higuaín and Mandzukic aren’t exactly Theo Walcotts that are going to run in behind the opposition defense. Just look at that passing map I posted above of Higuaín and how deep he is. Basically, given the lack of pace of our forwards, it’s probably well worth the gamble to play a high line as Napoli demonstrated excellently a few weeks ago.
Lastly, although I couldn’t quite note how often this happened, on a few occasions one of either Cristante or Memushaj would step forward to join the forward press when the Juventus back three had the ball – presumably in an attempt to disrupt our build-up play:
Are you ready?
Juventus obviously had one eye on Tuesday’s big fixture so saw this game as somewhat of a formality and, hence, a good opportunity to rotate. It looked like the international break might have disrupted the rhythm a little in the beginning but eventually things clicked into gear and it was smooth sailing. This is really the perfect type of game to ease back into things after having so many of your players travel the continent/globe to represent their countries. Now, however, awaits the real test of skill, grit, and desire.
The Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán stadium eagerly awaits our arrival. See you on Tuesday, ragazzi.