After the crucial but draining victory in Sevilla in the Champions League, Juventus travelled to the Stadio Luigi Ferraris to face Genoa in the league. Genoa were hoping for some inspiration after experiencing a dire run of two wins in nine games. They certainly found this inspiration on Sunday after storming to a shocking 3-1 victory over an uninspired Juventus side thanks to a remarkable first-half goal blitz.
The game began at a breakneck pace from the first minute. Leonardo Bonucci was immediately guilty of a terrible error that allowed Luca Rigoni to drive towards goal and unleash a strong shot that Buffon did well to parry. The danger wasn’t over though as the shot on the rebound from Lucas Ocampos was bravely blocked by Dani Alves on the line and Giovanni Simeone’s subsequent shot was again saved by Gianluigi Buffon. Simeone, however, had seen enough of this never-ending pinball shootout and smashed the ball into the back of the net at a fourth time of asking to put Genoa in the lead after an utterly shambolic defensive mix-up by the visitors: 1-0.
Juventus looked to hit back straight away as Stephan Lichtsteiner fired in an impressive cross that Juan Cuadrado did well to head strongly at goal, but it wasn’t enough to trouble goalkeeper Mattia Perin. Nevertheless, the chaos in the Juventus camp would not subside as Genoa continued to wreak havoc various times through (primarily) Laxalt, Simeone, and Ocampos. It was almost 2-0 as a low cross into the box deflected off Alves and bounced in front of Medhi Benatia, Buffon, and Bonucci. It was almost like time stood still as the trio looked at each other, confused about who should deal with the danger, until Buffon awkwardly claimed the ball just before Simeone could capitalize on the trio’s bewildering lack of coordination. Simeone got his brace two minutes later, though. Lazovic turned Sandro inside out to tee himself up for an exquisite cross that Simeone converted in acrobatic fashion with the diving header: 2-0.
Genoa were not satisfied with just two goals and smelled more blood this game. They continued their relentless pressing game with fierce counterattacks led by the front three of Rigoni, Ocampos, and Simeone. The home team forced yet another chance as Laxalt put an excellent cross into the box but Rigoni couldn’t quite steady himself for the volley and blazed the chance well over the bar. Just when the visitors thought they had found a few minutes of respite though, Genoa scored the third goal of the afternoon. The corner was swung in to the far post where Rigoni easily won the header that looped over everyone, hit the underside of the bar, and bounced in off Alex Sandro’s shin as he attempted to clear the danger. The goal went down as a Sandro own goal despite Simeone smashing it in afterwards to make sure it fully crossed the line: 3-0.
It was a score that was fully deserved at that stage as Juventus seemed completely uninspired and disinterested in any type of football Sunday afternoon. To make things even worse, Bonucci pulled up with what seemed like a hamstring injury and was substituted by Daniele Rugani a few minutes after the third goal. Just before halftime, Juventus had a strong penalty shout as Mario Mandzukic used his body intelligently to shield the ball from a strong Burdisso challenge, but the referee waved play-on to the fury of the Bianconeri players.
Thankfully, the second half started with far more positive intent from the visitors. Mandzukic found Miralem Pjanic on the edge of the box with a lovely backheel but the Bosnian midfielder’s thunderous shot went narrowly wide of the far post with Perin well-beaten. Juventus continued to press forward and put Genoa under some real pressure. Mandzukic had a half-chance later on while Sami Khedira had a huge chance on the volley from a corner but couldn’t find the target. Attacking substitute Higuaín also breathed some much-needed new life into the Juventus attack. Nevertheless, the youngster Simeone almost made it 4-0 after yet another Genoa counter attack, but Buffon did well to save with his legs. Mandzukic later threatened the home side when he collected a Cuadrado cross at the far post but was closed down by three Genoa defenders and didn’t have the space to shoot from a difficult angle.
Juventus managed to salvage a consolation goal in the 82nd minute through an exquisite Pjanic free-kick from the edge of the box: 3-1. All of a sudden, Juventus had real wind in their sails as they pushed for the second goal and camped inside the Genoa half; all this happened with 10 men after Alves went off injured and Allegri had used up all his substitutions. Higuaín then set up substitute Stefano Sturaro for a clear chance on the edge of the box, but the midfielder blazed a wild shot well over the bar. The last action of the game came courtesy of Mandzukic who was completely free in the box but headed a Pjanic free-kick wide of goal. The final score was a shock 3-1 victory in favor of the home side.
BUFFON 6 – Did all he could to prevent the first goal, but to no avail. Also saved very well from Simeone’s chance in the second half to prevent the 4-0.
LICHTSTEINER 3.5 – Everything good from Genoa came from their left side i.e. our right side. Lichtsteiner was totally overwhelmed by the intensity and pace of Genoa’s attacks and really couldn’t handle the game at all.
BONUCCI N/A – Went off with injury but his calamitous error led to the first goal.
BENATIA 4 – Like the rest of the team, he looked quite out-of-sorts. Not the ideal situation for a player just returning from injury.
DANI ALVES 4 – Wasn’t such a disaster per-se, but he also couldn’t contribute much positive to the team.
KHEDIRA 4.5 – The intensity and mobility of the Genoa players totally took him out of the game.
PJANIC 5 – Gets a bonus for scoring a fantastic free-kick. Still waiting to see the best of the Bosnian playmaker in Juventus colors though.
HERNANES 4 – Ocampos’ central drifts combined with Simeone’s relentless pressing completely overwhelmed the Brazilian.
ALEX SANDRO 4.5 – Got bamboozled for the second goal and wasn’t able to offer any type of offensive output.
MANDZUKIC 5.5 – He was actually quite good in the second half but, in what is becoming a worryingly recurring trend lately, he was starved of service.
CUADRADO 4 – I’m growing very, very tired of seeing this farcical Cuadrado-in-central-positions experiment. I know he was great there for Fiorentina, but for Juventus he’s been pitifully dire in this position.
RUGANI 5 – Didn’t do as bad as the rest of the team, but there was little he could do today to save the team.
HIGUAÍN 6 – I was really impressed by the Argentine’s short cameo. He linked up very well with Mandzukic and actually seemed to bring some kind of an idea to our attack.
STURARO 4 – Silly yellow card and really should have done better with the clear shot he had late in the second half.
ALLEGRI 3 – Where do I even start? The excuse of “the team needs time to gel” is getting very worn out, that’s for sure. He totally lost the battle on the wings as that’s where all Genoa’s offensive destruction came from. Granted, the injuries are less than ideal but it seemed like everyone was still exhausted from the Sevilla outing. It’s a damning indictment that the team looked better with 10 men after Alves’s injury than with 11.
Tactical Analysis - On wings of glory
Genoa set out in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Rigoni as the trequartista, Ocampos left-of-center, and Simeone centrally. Juventus played a 3-5-2 formation with Cuadrado drifting everywhere and nowhere while Mandzukic was the target man. The key behind Genoa’s success was their remarkably efficient use of the wings, mainly the left wing.
Although Simeone was the star with two goals, it was Ocampos’ intelligent positioning and drifts that enabled the young striker to shine. More than that, this also allowed the impressive Laxalt to storm forward on the overlap, completely overwhelming Alves and Lichtsteiner. Ocampos’ selfless display made it difficult to figure out who should have been tasked with marking him: Alves? Lichtsteiner? Khedira?
It’s especially curious to compare where Ocampos received his passes to where Laxalt received his, with the latter looking more like the wing-forward instead of a wing-back:
By allowing the Marseille-loanee to pick up the ball deep and drive forward on counterattacks, Genoa were able to consistently fashion dangerous situations without really needing much involvement from their central midfielders Cofie and Rincón. Therefore, dangerous situations like these were the order of the day at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris:
A time to reflect
Every team has bad days. It happens. We’re all human, so I can understand that the team cannot perform at superhuman capacities at all times. However, this was just shameful. More than that, we’ve played at such a disturbingly sub-par level all season long that such a disastrous loss is a culmination of months of confused and disjointed performances. Christmas is around the corner, so that will be a good time for to reflect and to ask some soul-searching questions. However, I do worry about the mental fortitude of the team — especially as the Champions League reaches its most testing stage. Losses like these, though, really put into perspective how brilliant the Juventus teams of the last few seasons were.