Any game after an international break is a tricky game. Most players are out for days, they come back with knocks, injuries, and exhaustion. The game against Empoli was hardly different. Add to that Leonardo Bonucci, Alex Sandro and Paulo Dybala were ruled out for the match, making things more difficult for Juventus.
Allegri lined up with a 3-5-2, a surprising move given that he had three defenders that were fit. Daniele Rugani started in Bonucci's position, protecting Gigi Buffon alongside Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli. Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra covered the flanks. After a long wait, Claudio Marchisio returned to the center of the field with Paul Pogba and Roberto Pereyra. In Dybala's absence, Álvaro Morata played beside Mario Mandzukic up front.
The game was an entertaining one Empoli did not sit back and try to hold Juventus to a 0-0 draw like most other teams do when they come to Turin. They tried to attack and didn't mind getting caught defending Morata and Mandzukic with three players. The problem for Empoli is that they lack the quality to really challenge our defense and midfield. Instead, they ended up giving many turn overs and risked our quick counter attacks. Nonetheless, the space they gave Bianconeri allowed Pogba to show a repertoire of great ball control, amazing first touch, and incredible passes. Also, the way Empoli played gave Morata to use his speed to great effect.
Unfortunately, despite the fact Juve had most of the ball, they were really ineffective — or unlucky? — going forward. Morata hit the crossbar, Manduzkic had a couple good chances that could have resulted in something more, but they were ultimately left frustrated.
This was the case until the dying minutes of the first half, Evra carried the ball from Juventus' side of the field and gave a rebound away when trying to pass to Pereyra on the right. The rebound fell to Marchisio, who played Pogba on the left. The Frenchman created a beautiful assist out of nowhere for Mandzukic, who hadn't scored for months. The goal came at the best time for Juventus and deflated Empoli.
The second half was more of the same. Empoli, trying to cause Juventus problems, with Juventus holding strong. After 54 minutes, Juan Cuadrado came on for Chiellini, who appeared to have a non-threatening injury. The Colombian's pace made things even more complicated for Empoli — who were getting caught on the break multiple times. Simone Zaza came on for Manduzkic after 68 minutes and was yellow carded almost immediately. Kwadwo Asamoah entered the pitch for a tired and ineffective Pereyra and almost scored off a volley.
Empoli tried hard in the dying minutes, but Juventus were too organized.
Now, with seven matches to go, Juventus have a lead of at least three points depending on Napoli's result Sunday. Ball is on your court, Napoli, let's see what you can do with it.
Buffon 6.5 Typical Serie A-Buffon game. He stands there doing nothing for most of the two hours, but when he is called upon, he has no issue stopping whatever comes his way. He was rushed off a back pass in the second half and it almost looked like it would cause him some grief.
Barzagli 6.5 Solid showing as usual.
Rugani 7.0 He was one of my favorite players of the evening. He was firm, composed, calm, and smart. It is hard to call him the real deal after three games as a starter, but the promise is there. He needs to be patient and wait his turn. I can't wait to see how much he is able to show in the seven games we have left.
Chiellini 6.5 Solid defending as well and he almost had a goal that would have surprised even his biggest fans. Unfortunately, had to be substituted for what appears to be only a minor discomfort.
Lichtsteiner 6.5 As usual, his defensive contribution was impeccable, but going forward he left much to be desired. Although he successfully took on some players, the end product didn't really amount to much.
Pereyra 5.5 He wasn't terrible by any stretch, but he was by far playing at a lower level than the rest of the team.
Marchisio 7.0 Seeing him play again is such a breath of fresh air. He intercepted three passes, was strong in the defense and had a few chances going forward. His shot from out of the box needs to improve. He can probably learn a thing or two from Pogboom and in exchange he can give the Frenchman some hair style advice. e will all win.
Pogba 8.0 Man of the Match performance in my opinion. Defensively, he recorded a game-high of five tackles. And offensively, he won five dribbles and had the assist. You could tell he was having fun. When Pogba is allowed room to operate, he can be devastating.
Evra 7.5 Four tackles, three clearances and two interceptions. His contributions at the back were something to enjoy. Going forward he started the play that would lead to Mandzukic's goal.
Mandzukic 7.5 He did everything he has been doing in the past three months except that he also scored a goal. In the end, scoring goals is what we are paying him to do.
Morata 7.5 He is finding his stride at the end of the season and I don't mind it one bit. He ran Empoli's defense ragged and was unlucky to not score.
Allegri 7.0 We all know that Juventus has the superior team, but it is the coaches job to give them the motivation to take every game seriously, even one against 11th place Empoli. The choice to start Rugani in a three-man backline probably gave the youngster a bit of confidence and he took it from there once Chiellini came off. His choice of playing Pereyra is a little suspect as I think Stefano Sturaro would have been a better option.
Things I think I think
- Allegri has overseen the development of Morata, Dybala, Sturaro, and Rugani. His handling of our young players has been second-to-none. Let's hope he can do the same with Mario Lemina and slowly bring him forward as a suitable first-team player.
- After three starts, Rugani is starting to show why there was so much talk about him. At his young age, he certainly is showing more promise than Bonucci did. if he has the same mental strength as Leo, we have a gem in our hands.
- Pogba is really growing into his own. He is slowly finding the consistency he was lacking at the beginning of the season.
- Juventus would be remiss to let Morata go this summer. Beppe Marotta said that we would do whatever is in our power to keep the Spaniard and I couldn't agree more. As I have said in the past, if Allegri can make Dybala and Morata click, we would be set.
- If Juventus can improve their efficacy in front of goal they can be a team no different than Bayern Munich or Barcelona. Today, Juve missed at least four clear chances and should have finished the game at least 3-0. They need to improve that aspect either by buying better players, or improving our finishing, or more likely both.
- Lastly, I have to comment on the Empoli keeper gaffe that almost cost them the match. If that had gone in, that would have been the blooper of the season.