This was a tricky game. With the Bayern Munich match only a few days away, it was conceivable that Juventus players would get distracted, or that some would run a little less to conserve energy, or that others may tackle with less conviction to avoid an injury. With Napoli having an "easier" game this week against Palermo, it was essential to play a focused game and come out with the three points. And then there was Gigi Buffon's record — a clean sheet this game would leave him within striking distance of Rossi's goalless record of 1990.
As we have gotten used to now, the team did not hold anything back, playing with conviction and pressing so much it reminded me of Antonio Conte's Juve of a couple of years ago.
The game started with an unexpected intensity. Juventus players were everywhere, pressing Sassuolo all over the pitch and trying to transition from defense to attack with unseen speed. At times, it seemed that Juve's speed was too fast for their own players and they would lose to ball to have to get it back shortly. This was partly because Sassuolo was also trying to press the Old Lady. This made for an exciting yet chaotic match at the beginning.
With time, Juventus started to settle and dominate with confidence. The first chance came after 17 minutes when a fre kick from Paulo Dybala found Alex Sandro's head, forcing Andrea Consigli to save what could have been the first goal. A few minutes later, Sami Khedira couldn't convert from a chance Dybala created out of nowhere. Juventus dominance continued and, after 36 minutes, Dybala scored the only goal of the match. Juan Cuadrado and the Argentine combined well to release the Colombian, who beat Federico Peluso for pace. Cuadrado returned the ball to Dybala, who curled a shot from the edge of the box. As someone said in the comments section, it was like watching a mirror image of a Alessandro Del Piero goal.
The second half started with Juventus taking their foot off the gas and letting Sassuolo have more of the ball. With that being said, the neroverdi didn't really look threatening. In fact, it was Juventus who came close to scoring after 69 minutes, but Claudio Marchisio, Khedira and Cuadrado failed to shoot on target with Consigli beaten. Max Allegri and Eusebio Di Francesco changed players, but nothing came out of it. Sassuolo threatened Gigi's goal in the dying minutes, but Buffon earned his record as the 2nd keeper with less goals allowed in Serie A.
Buffon 7.0 As usual, Buffon didn't have much to do for much of the game, but when he had to he was immense. He had to deal with a poor back pass (from Bonucci or Rugani, I couldn't tell) showing his focus on the game. I loved when the camera's focused on him after 68 minutes (when he beat Zoff's record) and Gigi looked so focused it just showed his professionalism.
Barzagli 7.0 Usual performance from The Wall. He ventured forward a couple of times which I really enjoyed seeing.
Bonucci 6.5 Sufficient performance, minus 0.5 in case it was his poor back pass to Gigi.
Rugani 6.5 If I was grading his second half performance, his score would be much higher. During the second half he made a few mistakes and was caught in no man's land in one of Sassuolo's attacks. The second half was a different story. He was clean, but ruthless and also ventured forward responsibly. There are performances that kill confidence (Inter) and others that give confidence (Sassuolo). This should be a starting point for our young defender.
Cuadrado 7.5 He destroyed Peluso, beating him technically, tactically and physically throughout the match. His decision making has improved leaps and bounds, but his scoring ability is still lacking. Let's hope he is saving it for Munich.
Khedira 7.0 He did very well today, but could have scored at least twice. I know that is not his job but he could have done better going forward, specially during the first 30 minutes of the match.
Marchisio 7.5 He was one of my favorite players of the game. His four tackles (game high) plus some good passing throughout the match helping Juventus keep a clean sheet and go forward with organization.
Asamoah 7.0 I thought the Ghanian he did well. I give him an extra 0.5 because of his performance after such limited playing time. His WhoScored statistics show that he has played a grand total of 303 minutes all season. If Juventus progress, he will be an asset to keep us fighting on all fronts.
Sandro 8.0 Man of the Match performance from our new left back. He is such a complete player. Passing accuracy? Check. Defending? Check. Aerial ability? Check. Allegri should put him in bubble wrap until next Wednesday. If Juventus are going to make it through in Germany, we need Sandro.
Mandzukic 7.0 Mario is not scoring, but his contributions to the team are still immense. His pressing of the defense is second-to-none and his physicality is such a challenge for defenders.
Dybala 7.5 I really wanted to see our forwards get goals to gain confidence. Mandzukic didn't score, but Dybala had a goal that would absolutely help his confidence going forward.
Things I think I think
- I don't want to take anything away from Gigi, he totally deserves this record, but this record belongs to the team. Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, and even Rugani have helped keep clean sheets for over 10 matches. How insane is that? Marchisio's defensive duties have also been fundamental in keeping this record. Even Mandzukic and Dybala have contributed to this. Let's celebrate Gigi, he should be the one associated with the record, but let's not forget what everyone else has done to get us here.
- Take that, Napoli. Ball is on your court. Juventus have temporarily gone 6 points ahead. Pressure is on and I personally don't think they have the psychological strength to withstand Juventus constant winning and Roma's increased pressure.
- I wanted to see Domenico Berardi in action. Berardi vs. Sandro would have shown where the youngster is really in his development. I still wish we will get to see him in black and white next season.
- Kudos to Sassuolo and Di Francesco. In three years in Serie A they have built a team that plays with discipline and identity. I have nothing but respect.
- Rugani was so good in the second half. I really want to see him being given more time as the season progresses.
- Now to Munich. We will have to play an extraordinary game and hope Munich make mistakes. No matter what, I want to see a team fighting for every ball until the end.