Juventus came into the game on the back of a bitterly disappointing Champions League result against Lyon. Unsurprisingly, then, the Bianconeri were looking to head into the International break on a good note by negotiating a tricky away fixture against mid-table Chievo Verona.
The game had barely kicked, though, when YET ANOTHER injury hit the Bianconeri. After a minute and a half, Andrea Barzagli dislocated his shoulder after challenging for a header and landing very unpleasantly. He was carried off on a stretcher, much to the concern of the Juventus medical staff and team, and was replaced by Leonardo Bonucci. After a lengthy stoppage for Barzagli’s injury treatment, the game finally got “started.”
Chievo, however, seemed intent on letting the game flow as little as possible by unleashing a torrent of fouls. The game was incessantly stopped for niggly tackles and, eventually, a few yellow cards. Due to this, there was more of a physical war instead of a tactical battle occurring on the field. Unsurprisingly, then, Juventus grew frustrated as they were limited to a few half-hearted shots from range courtesy of Hernanes and Juan Cuadrado. The former then also headed a decent chance off-target from a Miralem Pjanic free kick delivery, but it barely worried the Chievo players.
The biggest chance of the game came courtesy of Mario Mandzukic after he brilliantly controlled an fabulous ball over the top from Pjanic, flicked the ball over Nicolas Spolli, and unleashed a shot from a difficult angle that sadly went comfortably wide of the target. A lovely piece of play that didn’t get the finish that it deserved. Mandzukic had a busy afternoon as he later headed another chance wide from an Alex Sandro cross. Despite the Croatian dominating most of the visitors’ offensive output, though, the quiet Gonzalo Higuaín came agonizingly close to opening the scoreline just before halftime. After picking up another Sandro cross, the Argentine both killed the ball and glided past Spolli in one elegant touch but goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino was able to make the save from the shot from a narrow angle.
That piece of action ended an uninspiring, ugly first half of football littered by fouls, bookings, misplaced passes, and a dearth of chances.
The second half started slowly as well with Chievo still defending resolutely. Nevertheless, a few minutes into the second period saw Juventus make the breakthrough thanks to Mario Mandzukic. Chievo defender Massimo Gobbi committed a crucial error by slipping and giving the ball away to Cuadrado, who slid a simple pass into Mandzukic. The striker took a few touches to steady himself before sliding a tidy finish to the far corner past Sorrentino. 1-0!
Given the nature of the game, a mistake like that was probably the most likely method of witnessing a goal. Juventus calmly dominated possession and slowed the tempo of the game to their desire. A few moments later, Higuaín was played through but Spolli did just enough to put off the striker and force an unconvincing shot that resulted in a corner. It really wasn’t Higuaín’s day as he was frustrated all afternoon. Chievo’s first real chance of the game finally fell in the 64th minute as some chaos in the box resulted in Castro testing Gigi Buffon from point-blank range but the Italian veteran, playing his 600th career league game, was up to the task as always.
Chievo suddenly sprung to life and their efforts were not in vain: moments later, Valter Birsa played an inch-perfect through ball towards
irritating little bugger substitute Sergio Pellissier who had cleverly gotten the wrong side of Stephan Lichtsteiner. The Swiss defender was then adjudged to have brought down the Chievo striker illegally inside the box and thus Chievo had the chance to equalize from the penalty spot. Pellissier picked himself up to send Buffon the wrong way from the penalty and score the equalizer: 1-1.
Chievo now had the momentum on their side and Juventus once again started to misplace passes and lack fluency in attack as a result. Thankfully, the Bianconeri picked themselves up a few minutes later. Pjanic cleverly won a free-kick in a central position right on the edge of the penalty area. With him, Bonucci, and Hernanes standing over the ball, the Bosnian curled in a wonderful free-kick past a rooted Sorrentino to restore the lead to the visitors! Allegri later responded by taking off the disappointing Higuaín and putting on Patrice “I love this game” Evra and switching to a five-man backline. Chievo threw everyone forward in desperate search for the equalizer, but this meant that Juventus had acres of space to break into.
On two occasions, they really should have punished the home side. First, Sturaro pounced on a terribly confused pass by Spolli and was immediately through on goal. With the goal at his mercy, and Alves free in space to his right, the adrenaline rushed to his head caused him to smash a wild shot well off-target. On the second occasion, Cuadrado went on a mazy dribble, gliding past a host of static Chievo defenders, only to similarly choke when the pressure and adrenaline of a totally free chance got to him. The final chance of the match came courtesy of (the matchwinner) Pjanic after Sturaro had run in behind the Chievo defense but was fouled right on the edge of the box by Fabrizio Cacciatore. This time, Pjanic went for Sorrentino’s short corner but the keeper was alert to the danger and produced a fabulous save to force the corner kick. Juventus managed to anxiously defend the lead in the final few minutes of the game and secure a hard-fought three points in Verona!
BUFFON 6.5 – Quiet afternoon for the shot-stopper as he celebrated his 600th league game. Couldn’t do much about the penalty, unfortunately.
BONUCCI 6.5 – Confident performance, marshalled the defense well.
BENATIA 6.5 – Another strong display by the Moroccan. He’s enjoying life in Bianconeri colors.
LICHTSTEINER 6 – It was a soft penalty that he gave away but overall he was ok-ish.
CUADRADO 6.5 – Busy performance and won lots of fouls. Really should have put away that late chance though after that fantastic, mazy run.
STURARO 4.5 – Erratic and jittery display today. Unnecessary fouls, badly missed chances, and in general just really frustrating.
PJANIC 6.5 – Scored the all-important match-winner, although he was a bit invisible in the first half.
HERNANES 6 – Solid performance. Doesn’t do much wrong, but doesn’t do much spectacular either.
ALEX SANDRO 6.5 – Subdued first half but came into his stride more in the second period. His crossing was quite good overall.
HIGUAÍN 5.5 – Very poor display by the Argentine.
MANDZUKIC 7 – I was really impressed by him today, worked hard defensively and shone offensively as well.
EVRA N/A – A short, 10min display, so it was too little time to give a grade.
ALVES N/A – Also a short cameo for the Brazilian, a mere five minutes. Thankfully, his eye looks better.
Sidenote: BARZAGLI N/A – Get well soon, Andrea!
ALLEGRI 6 – I’m going to be repeating myself yet again, but it was an atrocious first half and the team looked really short of ideas. The second half was better, but with all the fouls it was difficult for Allegri to really impact the game with subs. I am surprised, though, that he didn’t sub out Sturaro for Lemina, given the Italian’s poor display.
Tactics? What tactics?
This was honestly one of the most impossible-to-analyze games from a tactical viewpoint. The first half, especially, was a total slugfest with foul after foul breaking up all the rhythm and preventing either side from showing any kind of tactical ingenuity.
But Chievo weren’t the only party guilty of ruining the play in this match:
Nevertheless, I could at least note that Allegri resisted the temptation to go for a 3-man backline on Sunday despite the early setback from the Barzagli injury:
This was in contrary to Chievo, who defended stoutly with a 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation which clearly worked in stifling Juventus’ attacking rhythm:
Juventus’ lack of attacking fluidity was even more pronounced when looking at the passing statistics in the final third:
Do you still trust me, my love?
Another game, another labored performance. I’m struggling to come up with new things to say because there’s so little new to see. To be fair, with the plague of injuries wearing down the team, it’s still commendable that we can secure victories and maintain decent results but it’s shockingly depressing to see how little creativity there is in the side currently. The International break gives Allegri much to think about and us fans much to worry about.
See you, Space Cowboy…