Bittersweet is the only way to describe this match. On the one hand, Juventus opened a massive nine-point lead in the Serie A table, all but guaranteeing the Scudetto will be sewn to the kits next season. Great news there. On the other hand, Juventus lost Claudio Marchisio to an ACL injury that will not only sideline him for the rest of the season, but will have lasting impact in our summer mercato and next year's championship. I know that at Juventus, winning is the only thing that matters, but as things stand, I would have taken a loss if Il Principino was going to be okay.
Fortunately, I also know that at Juventus, he will be supported as he comes back to the fold many months from now.
Let's talk about the game. After Napoli dropped points in Milan (ironically, in the first game they played ahead of Juventus in weeks), Juventus needed to capitalize from that result and open up a bigger gap at the top of the table. Max Allegri was clear about this in the pre-match press conference: Juve need to continue fighting until the Scudetto is mathematically secured. And so they did. Juventus started with their classical 3-5-2, with Daniele Rugani playing at the back alongside Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli. In the middle of the park, Patrice Evra and Juan Cuadrado manned the wings while our top-three midfielders (minus SImone Padoin) took care of the center of the park. Up front, Allegri welcomed young Paulo Dybala ready to face his old side alongside Mario Mandzukic.
Juventus started the game strong and it only took 10 minutes for the Bianconeri to get ahead. The goal came from a beautiful Paul Pogba assist (his 10th of the season) and an equally nice finish from Sami Khedira to beat Stefano Sorrentino and make it 1-0. And here is where things went south. A couple minutes after the goal, Marchisio went down to tackle Palermo's Franco Vasquez and he never stood back up. You could tell from his demeanor, and that of his teammates, that something bad had happened. Il Principino was carried out in a stretcher and youngster Mario Lemina came on to replace Marchisio.
This injury seemed to really unsettle the Juventus players who dialed the pressing back and started playing more conservatively. That is not to say that there weren't chances for both teams. After 25 minutes, Pogba's shot hit the crossbar before going out of bounds; and 30 minutes into the match, Barzagli saved a Vasquez effort after Buffon was already beaten. Palermo had a couple more chances and Juventus welcomed the end of the half as they went into the dressing room to regroup.
In the second half Juventus didn't show amazing football, instead they stamped the superior individual category to crush Palermo beyond all doubt. Álvaro Morata came on for Dybala after 69 minutes, and the Spaniard showed his great form for the duration of the match. The second goal will come from Pogba, who just like last week, was at the back post of a corner, ready to make Sorrentino pay
Then the floodgates opened.
After a turnover from a Palermo player, Juan Cuadrado lifted the ball to take out a defender and then shot it across from where Sorrentino was standing. A beautiful finish, credit here to Khedira and Morata who opened up the Palermo centerbacks to give Cuadrado plenty of room. In less than five minutes Juventus had tripled their lead and the game was done. What do you do when a game is done? You bring in your human victory cigar. Padoin came on at the 78 minute mark for a tired Khedira. Eleven minutes later, he got his name on the score sheet. Because, let's face it, if Francesco Totti scored a goal in Roma's game, Simone could not be outdone.
Buffon 7.0 As usual, he wasn't really tested but when he was, he pulled off a couple good saves.
Barzagli 7.5 Saved Juventus from going level in the first half.
Bonucci 6.5 Wasn't really troubled in defense and also didn't contribute much going forward. A really average game for him.
Rugani 7.0 Another beastly game for the young Italian. Four successful tackles out of four tackles attempted, three clearances, and three interceptions. Most of Palermo's attacks came from his side but were easily shut by him.
Cuadrado 8.0 WhSscored will tell you he was the Man of the Match. With five dribbles, two clearances, and one interception, the Colombian was a problem for Palermo all night.
Khedira 7.5 One goal to get us started, and his smart movement made space for Cuadrado to take his shot for the third goal. He was impeccable today.
Marchisio s.v. Come back soon, Principino, Gutted by the injury.
Pogba 8.0 My man of the match. On the attacking side, one goal and one assist. On the defensive side, he had the second most aerials won, and three successful tackles. If that is not a complete match, I don't know what is. He is really enjoying his football and you can tell.
Evra 6.5 A game-high five tackles made him, and he was a force on the left hand side of defense. However, his attacking contributions were really lacking I thought.
Dybala 6.5 Nice to see Dybaby back. He has to gain a bit more fitness, but he was an inconvenience to the Palermo players.
Mandzukic 7.0 Did what we expect of him. Pushed the defense around and made space for others. I want to see more goals from him as he missed a clear chance today.
Lemina 7.0 He played most of the match today and did an amazing job shutting down Palermo while also moving the ball around. He had the second most successful dribbles (after Cuadrado), the most aerial balls won (three defensive, one attacking), two tackles, five clearances, and two interceptions.
Allegri 7.5 He set us his team well, and reshape them during the second half. All his substitutes played a huge role in the win today.
Things I think I think
- I am from Ecuador, and our country had a massive earthquake last night claiming over 250 lives. It is hard to be happy for the win, when I have been watching pictures of a my country destroyed since last night. Although I really enjoy football, and Marchisio's injury was hard to take as a fan, my thoughts and prayers really go out to those that lost loved ones during this tragedy both at home, but also in Japan a couple days ago. FYI, everyone in my family is safe.
- Marchisio's injury is a huge blow for the club and its plans. I will try to write a piece about this during the week if time allows. Needless to say, Lemina needs to play every single game between now and the end of the season. We need to take him for a serious test drive, now that we know our starting CM will be out till November and won't likely be in any form until January or February. ACL injuries are notoriously slow to heal, specially at a psychological level. But if someone can come out of this one, it will be our Principino. I just don't think we'll see the real player until August 2017 rolls round.
- I am willing to bet that Juventus will mathematically clinch the title in two more matches, at the end of the Fiorentina match. Napoli are letting their foot off the gas and Juventus seem really unstoppable.
- Pogba's strength is beyond this world In the first goal, Hiljenmark was hanging on to the Frenchman with everything he had. Pogba kept moving forward, not really bothered by the Palermo player. Keep in mind that they are both roughly the same age, and that the Swedish player is not a small guy.
- I am glad Cuadrado treated us to such an amazing goal. I have never watched a replay of the Bayern match, I don't know that I ever will. I am glad the Colombian gave me a goal that I can watch over and over again.