Juventus concluded their 2016 with, for lack of a better word, a spectacle match in Doha against a Milan side that’s been on the up this season: The Supercoppa Italia 2016. In sharp contrast to the freezing conditions back home in Turin lately, the players took to the field in comfortable short sleeves amidst the cool, pleasant conditions.
Similar to the game against Roma almost a week ago, Juventus came roaring out of the blocks, playing with a hunger they haven’t necessarily displayed frequently this season. The Juventus midfield pressed very high from the get go, and the opening ten minutes saw three shots on target from the likes of Stefano Sturaro, Mario Mandzukic and Alex Sandro. None were any real threat for the prodigious talent of young Milan goalkeeper and heir apparent to Gigi Buffon’s Italy throne, Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Again, similar to the game against Roma a week ago, Juventus soon took a deserved early lead. A long ball from Daniele Rugani found Gonzalo Higuain on the break, and with Sturaro and Mandzukic on either side of him, he played in the former, who under pressure from Ignazio Abate, tests Donnarumma with a low shot that is well saved. From the ensuing corner, Miralem Pjanic swung in a delicious ball that Giorgio Chiellini emphatically volleyed home. 1-0 Juventus.
Thereafter, the team settled into their usual bad habit of not forcing the issue and furthering their lead. They maintained the pressure well enough, but once again they allowed Milan back into the game by ceding possession to them and dropping deeper. Milan, for their part, were completely absent for the opening 30 minutes. Slowly, they began to find their rhythm, especially with their passing, and the dual threat of Giacomo Bonaventura and Suso on either wing began to establish their influence on the game. This coincided with Sandro complaining of what appeared to be a thigh problem, and going off the be replaced by Instagram star Patrice Evra.
It was this duo that brought the game level soon later. Suso, after some fine wing play, fired in a wonderful cross that Carlos Bacca miscontrolled, allowing the Juventus defense to clear, only for the ball to find the Spaniard on the right wing again. He cut onto his left foot, and fired in a pinpoint cross that Bonaventura brilliantly attacked and glanced into Buffon’s far corner. 1-1 and game on.
The half concluded with Juventus struggling to find their rhythm again, and Milan playing with wind in their sails.
The second half once again continued where the first left off, with Juventus slowly retreating deeper and deeper, and Milan beginning to dominate possession. Suso seemed to really have Evra’s number, as the Frenchman had absolutely no answer for the young Spanish winger. I look at my match notes, and 90 percent of the second half incidents begin with the phrase: “A Suso cross wreaks havoc in the Juventus box and...”
From one such move, Chiellini cleared from a threatening Suso cross, and from the resultant corner, Alessio Romagnoli was very unlucky to not give Milan the lead, as his wonderful angled header crashed off the cross bar.
Juventus’ passing game began to improve as Paulo Dybala came on for a Pjanic who faded badly in the second half, and this coincided with Claudio Marchisio suddenly bursting into life in the middle of the pitch. A few chances, mostly on the break, include a wonderful Sami Khedira strike from distance that was wonderfully saved by Gigi Jr., and a similar strike from distance from Dybala that was inches away from the post.
Milan could easily have stolen the crown in the dying minutes, as two separate Suso crosses found Bacca open in the box, only for him to head the first into the ground, pulling a fine reflex save out of Buffon, and the second to be a little too high, rendering him unable to keep it under the cross bar. Full-time: 1-1.
Extra time began as regulation time ended, with Suso bamboozling Evra and firing in another heart palpitation inducing cross, that fortunately a Bacca who clearly seemed to lack match sharpness, wasn’t able to bring under his control with the goal gaping, and the Juventus defense cleared their lines.
After appearing to be asleep for a large chunk of the game after the opening 30 minutes, Juventus suddenly burst into life again in the second half of extra time. A mazy Dybala run was well finished by Evra, but he was in an offside position. Similarly a few dangerous crosses were played in, including one brilliant move by Khedira and Evra, that was cut back into the danger zone, and Dybala, open, under no pressure, rocketed his shot way over the cross bar from point blank range. It was the THE chance, and looking at his face, you could tell he knew. (Foreshadow much?).
There was some drama at the end, as with the last kick of the game, Evra scooped the ball at Mattia De Sciglio, and it appeared to hit him on the arm, but on replay the referee made the correct decision as his arm was definitely buried by his side. After Extra Time: 1-1.
Onto the dreaded penalty shootout. Here’s a quick recap:
- Marchisio: Goal (Top right corner)
- Lapadula: Saved by Buffon (Guessed the right way, very close to center)
- Mandzukic: Off the crossbar
- Bonaventura: Goal (Placed into the right corner)
- Higuain: Goal (Straight down the middle)
- Kucka: Goal (Top left corner)
- Khedira: Goal (Bottom left corner)
- Suso: Goal (Down the middle)
- Dybala: Saved by Donnarumma (Brilliant save to the right)
- Pasalic: Goal (Top left corner)
Milan win the Supercoppa Italia 2016 4-3 on penalties, after playing out a 1-1 draw. The Donnarumma save on Dybala that ended up being the difference maker, was a truly stunning save, and a worthy match winning play.
I felt at first that the Juventus defense appeared to be in disarray when it came to positioning, which is surprising given that this is Gigi’s domain of dominance. After thinking about it, though, when a team invites that many crosses into the box, it’s hard to fault the positioning of the players. He did well to save from Bacca at the depth, and from Lapadula in the shootout. Genuinely had no chance with any of the other penalties.
If the injury to Dani Alves was meant to be the beginning of The Swiss Express’ resurgence, each passing game seems to be proving the opposite. It’s time the Swiss Express ran a new course, at perhaps a new team. He struggled to cope with Bonaventura all game, his passing and positioning was well below the competence displayed by him in years gone by, and the less said about his prowess (or lack thereof) going forward, the better. The last three goals we’ve conceded in all competitions have been scored by people who should have been marked by Lichtsteiner.
Hard to really find fault with the young center back, who dutifully went about his duties with minimal fuss and maximum heart as has become expected of him. As I mentioned in Buffon’s rating, one can only expect so much aerial dominance from your center backs when this many crosses are allowed in the box, as evident by his nine clearances.
The only Juventus player who can really feel hard done by the end result, should be our veteran warrior. Continues to build on his recent good form after his return from injury, as well as his flourishing partnership with Rugani, with a dominant and all-action performance at the heart of the defense. Scored another goal in a final, and was everywhere in the box. Did very well to limit Bacca’s threat.
His substitution changed the game, for all the wrong reasons. If tonight, and past games are anything to go by, we should all be praying for his injury to be something minor. His influence on this squad is growing with each day, and the difference between his presence and absence on the left, in both phases of the game, is quite frankly startling. I would bet the game would have ended differently had he not been forced off.
Decent game from the German, who continues to display his consistency. His spectrum seems to range from very solid and unspectacular, to brilliantly decisive, but the former has been a lot more frequent than the latter lately. One can only hope that he picks up steam with the rest of the squad during the season’s crunch time. His improved fitness is heartening, but as amazing as he is in the subtle and quieter aspects of the game, it’s clear that this Juventus side is missing a more dominant personality in midfield. Finished his penalty with calm aplomb, though.
Had a quiet start to the game, as he went about his game with minimal fuss. It was the kind of Marchisio who’s more conspicuous by his absence than presence however. This changed with Dybala’s introduction for Pjanic — make of this what you will — after which he burst into life and began to stamp his influence on the game, in defense and attack. Had a truly brilliant extra time half hour, and emphatically converted his penalty.
His score has an asterisk, because I found it hard to rate him this game. One thing is certain, though, whatever his shortcomings, he balances the midfield better than any other player we currently possess, and this is doubly important for players like Pjanic and Marchisio, who benefit from his physical presence. His composure on the ball is steadily improving, and while I know this aspect will never be world class, I’m willing to give him credit for the improvements he’s clearly making having been given a first real extended run in the team alongside a stable midfield.
Had a wonderful start to the game, as he wreaked havoc playing between the lines. However, as is becoming a frequent occurrence, as soon as the team begins to sit back and be less aggressive in the offensive phase, his influence begins to wane badly. Surprising, given his known talent for maintaining tempo. Yet, the moment the team and the players like Sturaro and Mandzukic stopped aggressive hounding down the Milan ball carriers and disrupting the Milan midfield, he began to struggle to influence the game besides set pieces. Also, oddly enough, him going off for Dybala really woke Marchisio.
I truly cannot fault his effort or passion, but looking back at the game in hindsight, games like this really highlight that his all action play at other ends of the pitch are sometimes a trade-off for a more attacking presence. Also disappointed with his penalty, though I wasn’t surprised he went for power over finesse.
Another player who in recent times, has impressed me with his work rate. He sacrifices a lot for the team, which while heartening, is frustrating, because to see a man so lethal, so starved of service, is annoying to say the least. That said, he did look a little off the pace today. I believe it was Linez (forgive me if I got this wrong) who summed it up best. The few times he was in promising situations (not golden chance situations), he looked eerily and clumsily similar to Fernando Llorente, who always took a few touches too many.
He loves this game. But going by games like on Friday night, the game doesn’t seem to love him that much anymore. He has been underwhelming this season so far, but this game was a nightmare. I don’t know what else to say. I shudder to think what a Messi, Bale, Robben or Carrasco would do to him.
His presence was a positive change for the team, undoubtedly, but even though I love him, the bottom line for his influence on this game will be the golden chance he missed in extra time, and that penalty miss at the end. However, I hope he displays the champion mentality we know he has, and doesn’t dwell on it too long. We need the Dybala of last season in 2017, badly.
I thought he looked good in his short time on the pitch, but its hard to really judge him considering how the flow of the game went after he came on. He has excellent strength, but oddly enough, he doesn’t have the same physical presence that Sturaro offers. I’m interested to see him given a few games while Khedira is rested, to get a better idea of just what he can offer this midfield. The potential is there (sorry Semperty), but just how much is there?
I don’t know what to say for Il Mister honestly. The fact that he looked absolutely livid at the squad at the end is very heartening. I want to see him kick this side up the arse. Its hard to really fault him or his choices (except perhaps Mandzukic and not Dybala, but recent form justifies that), but the squad is just not playing to their capability. And that’s on him. He gets paid to unleash the potential of these champions. He needs to do that come 2017. Also, we all know Allegri likes to protect his players in the media, even occasionally lying about circumstances to do so.. But Its time we all got an answer to this “take-the-lead-then-sit-back-and-defend” bullshit mentality. It has been hurting us all season, and if not solved, will be our undoing come 2017.
Sorry for the relatively short piece, but it is holiday season after all! I’m sorry we must part ways this year on this relatively sour note, but may 2017 bring special joy to each and every one of you, both personally, and with regards to our beloved Juventus.
Please have a special Christmas and new years week, and lots of love to my Juventini brothers and sisters all over the globe. This year has also seen me begin trying my hand writing for all you wonderful people, and a lot of the encouragement for that came from many of you. So thank you for reading this, and giving me the chance to say my two cents. Its an honour. You guys rule!
Cheers, and for the last time in 2016, this is Kaushik, signing out!