Aaaaaand we’re back! The new season is officially underway!
What a way to kick things off, too: A packed Juventus Stadium with an electric atmosphere, one of Italy’s better teams who have a bitter hatred for us rolling into town, Gonzalo Higuain officially opening his J account, Hernanes gifting possession with one of his first touches, Hernanes dribbling past the entire Viola team before scoring a screamer of a goal.
One of the above is a lie, so any guesses as to which?
Juventus started the game having come roaring out of the blocks. Straight from the kickoff, Fiorentina lost the ball to Paulo Dybala near the halfway line, and Kwadwo Asamoah got the chance to run at the defense from the middle, before being felled down and giving Paulo Dybala a free kick opportunity 23 meters from goal that he could only shoot into the wall.
Pressing very aggressively up the field, Juve kept stealing the ball in dangerous positions. The best chance of the opening exchanges occurred at the four-minute mark, when Dybala put Tatarusanu under pressure, and his poor clearance gifted Khedira the ball within the 18 yard box. Sami Khedira’s lob just went over the bar however. Juve also had penalty appeals waved away, when a Dybala cross seemed to hit Astori on the arm, only after bouncing accidentally off his foot however.
A bulldozing Giorgio Chiellini run found Asamoah unmarked in the box, but he too skied his effort high and wide, while a few minutes later Dybala found himself in space outside the box after a low cutback from Sandro, but his finish ended up going harmlessly wide.
As the half wore on, the Dybala-Dani Alves duo began to torment Marcos Alonso and Davide Astori on the right side, and a beautiful interplay and 1-2 between them ended with Dybala breaking into the box and trying to curl one into the far corner, but this too went wide.
Just as Fiorentina began to find their footing, some brilliant interplay down the left side ended up with Chiellini firing in a pin point cross right between the CB’s, for Khedira to come rushing in and fire a bullet header past the fingertips of Tatarusanu to give Juve a deserved lead.
Dybala continued to find himself in excellent positions, but missed his shooting boots on the night. On the stroke of halftime, Mario Lemina won the ball in midfield and threaded through a beautiful pass to Mario Mandzukic, who held the ball well with his back to goal, before feeding in an onrushing Alex Sandro, who again couldn’t keep his shot low enough to trouble the goalkeeper.
The second half started in the same vein as the first, as a long Leonardo Bonucci ball was headed on by Mandzukic into the path of Sandro down the left. His low cross found Dybala, but he was well marshaled by the defense who blocked his shot. Mandzukic continued to be a nuisance to the Viola defense, and a few minutes later he found himself in space in the Viola box, but could only head Alves’ cross over the bar.
Eventually the Viola gained a foothold in the game, and they began to maintain possession in our half. For our part, we decided to sit back a little and let them keep possession without pressing intensely, as it was amounting to very little in the form of chances. This, however, did come back to haunt us eventually. Sandro completely lost Tello down the right, whose low cross was cleared by Bonucci for a corner. Once again, Sandro afforded Nikola Kalinic way too much respect and space from the resulting Ilicic corner, and the big prima punta headed in the equalizer.
This awoke the Old Lady from their pedestrian tempo, and we began to exert dominance over the possession again. The Viola Happiness was very fleeting, as substitute Gonzalo Higuain fired Juve into the lead a mere five minutes later. Sandro broke down the left flank menacingly, and he threaded the ball through to Asamoah in space outside the box. The Ghanian brilliantly fed the ball into Khedira inside the box, only for his shot to be blocked. The rebound fell to Higuain at a tight spot, but he pounced and made no mistake in beating an onrushing Tatarusanu to restore our one goal lead.
Having surrendered the lead to the only real shot afforded to the Viola, Juve were loathe to let that happen again, and they maintained control of the ball as the game headed towards its end. A brilliant Lemina break from midfield found Khedira on the right flank, and his cross was inches away from Higuain, with Rodriguez’s toes keeping the deficit at one.
Lemina and Asamoah’s physicality and engines ended up being crucial in helping us maintain possession, and the Gabonese even fired two brilliant long range efforts in the final ten minutes that forced Tatarusanu into fingertip saves.
A skied effort from Matias Vecino following some smart work by Cristian Tello on the flank was the most the Viola could muster in the closing stages, and the Old Lady saw the game out and sealed the 3 points.
Juve lined up in their customary 3-5-2, while Fiorentina started the game in a 3-4-2-1 kind of shape, with Federico Bernardeschi and Alonso serving as wide midfielders, and 18-year-old Federico Chiesa and Ilicic playing free roam roles in support of Kalinic. However, considering how high we were pressing them, our shape looked more like a 3-3-4 for the bulk of the first half, with Alves and Sandro parked high up the pitch and stretching the Viola defense to the max. This ended up completely negating Kalinic’s aerial threat, as the wingbacks/wide mids Bernardeschi and Alonso, spent most of the half tracking the runs of our Brazilian wing back duo deep in their own half. The chemistry between Khedira, Alves and Dybala down the right seemed to be our greatest source of inspiration, as the players enjoyed an almost telepathic understanding of each other’s movements. Asamoah and Sandro too showed much improved chemistry down the left, and Sandro frequently found himself in great positions to fire in crosses from.
Sandro ended up being parked so high up the pitch, that Asamoah found himself playing more as a left mid himself, and Kalinic’s isolation resulted in Chiellini taking advanced positions in midfield often, and one such move led to his brilliant assist for Khedira’s opening goal.
Sousa sensed his team were on the back foot, and he changed things up at half time by bringing on Christian Tello for Chiesa, to occupy the right flank, so that Bernardeschi could move further up in support of Kalinic. As Juve began to sit back in the second half, Barnardeschi and Ilicic ended up seeing a lot of the ball within our own half, and finally their wide mids Alonso and Tello, found themselves in advanced positions down the wing from where they could fire in a few crosses for Kalinic.
While Dybala seemed to be enjoying himself dropping deep and playing free flowing one touch football with Khedira and Alves, this left Mandzukic isolated against 3 CB’s for most of his time on the pitch. The Higuain substitution ended up being very positive, as the Argentinian’s off the ball running alone was enough to peg the defenders back, and push our midfield higher up the field as a whole.
Both teams seemed to tire significantly in the second half as they continue to build on their fitness. Alves and Sandro in particular faded quite a bit, and they didn’t get much chance to whip in crosses in the second half. The midfield trio of Khedira, Lemina and Asamoah worked their socks off however, and tirelessly kept possession ticking over all game.
Buffon: 6.5 – Gigi might as well have brought a lawn chair out and lazed in it all game. Except for pulling the ball out of his net, he had almost nothing to do and didn’t make any saves of note all game. Considered giving him a 10 just for being Gigi and leading us out in that sharp green jersey.
Barzagli: 7 – So effective were our wingbacks and midfield in pegging the Viola back, that our defense had very little to do all game except snuff out any potential half threats before they even materialize. The Wall had a very very solid game, and he played a little wider than normal to afford Alves the space to run riot down the right flank. Did pick up a booking for a surprisingly rash tackle on Kalinic, however.
Bonucci: 7 – Big Leo spent most of the game keeping an eye on Kalinic and cleaning up any long balls aiming to find the target man. He won almost all his duels against him, and seems to have resumed where he left off at the Euros: in great form and condition. His passing seemed a little off in the first half, but was back to its imperious best in the second, as he sprayed the ball all over like a regista, while Lemina did the bulk of the hatchet work in the middle.
Chiellini: 7.5 – Great game for King Kong. He marshaled the left side of the defense with a hawk’s eye and snuffed out any and all threats without hesitation. He was surprisingly effective in the Viola half in the first period, as he broke forward in support of Asamoah and Sandro, and found himself in decent positions with the ball. His assist for Khedira was beautiful.
Alves: 7 – Enjoyed a stellar first half as he ran riot down the right, playing more as a right winger than wingback. His passing and link-up play with Dybala and Khedira was a joy to behold, and brings a whole new dimension to our attack. The prospect of what this trio can do once Claudio Marchisio and Miralem Pjanic are fit is an enticing thought. He fired in a few decent crosses, and kept Alonso quiet for most of the match. He faded significantly in the second half, though, as the team began to sit back a little. Still, very encouraging competitive debut from the veteran.
Khedira: 8.5 – MotM. His presence elevates our midfield to lofty heights. It was a positional masterclass from Khedira, as he was lively all over the pitch. He and Alves managed to keep the left side of Fiorentina’s attack very quiet for the entire game, and he was simply devastating in the final third, scoring one, should have scored another, and playing a crucial role in the second goal. His ability to be in the right place at the right time is the epitome of in-game sense. Clocked significant minutes without visibly tiring. Wrap him up in wool, Max, we need him fit!
Lemina: 7.5 – Fantastic display by the Gabonese. He brings a different playing style to the team as compared to Claudio, which is a super tool to have. His physicality is impressive, as is his engine. While his decision making and final pass does need some work, they’re definitely areas he has the potential to improve. He held the ball well in midfield without taking too many risks, and kept possession ticking with efficacy. Also showed some brilliant passing to release the wing backs down the wings. Very encouraging display!
Asamoah: 8 – A succinct reminder of what he is capable of, Asamoah was amazing. Again, brings something very different from what we were used to with Pogba, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve been very critical of his chemistry with Sandro since last season, but the two appeared to be completely on the same wavelength tonight. While he doesn’t inspire 100% confidence when trying to play the ball out of defense, he was supremely tidy in possession, and going forward, he too has a great in-game sense that enables him to exploit the space between the opposing midfield and defense. Seems to be back to his best physically, as his tireless engine was on full display all game long.
Sandro: 6.5 – He was a real menace down the left, and it was a shame that he couldn’t tally an assist on any of his forward forays and crosses. He seems to only be getting better physically, and his blossoming understanding with Asamoah and Lemina is very encouraging, as he linked up well with both. He loses points for two silly mistakes that led to the goal however, as his misjudging of a long ball gave Tello the space to win the corner, from which he consequently failed to mark Kalinic properly. He has a high ceiling, but he still needs to improve certain aspects of his game.
Dybala: 7 – He looks like he’s thoroughly enjoying his football at the moment. Has developed a brilliant understanding with Alves, and it’s a shame we couldn’t see his chemistry with Pjanic this game. He consistently found himself in great positions, and on another night, he might have had one, if not two goals. Still working his way to peak fitness however, and he faded visibly in the second half. If he can maintain his level all game, we have a world beater on our hands.
Mandzukic: 6.5 – Mario’s score isn’t for lack of effort. The somewhat defensive nature of our midfield, in that they preferred to sit back and make late runs into the box, coupled with Dybala dropping deep to find the ball, meant that he was often isolated against the Viola centerbacks. He still used his imposing physique and brilliant hold up play to the fullest when given the chance, but all in all, he would benefit from Pjanic’s presence on set pieces, and a better understanding with the wing backs.
Higuain: 7.5 – What a way to respond to the naysayers! Opportunities were limited for Pipita as the team sat back and energy levels dropped, but all he needs is a half chance to make a difference. Brilliant finish to win us the game, and he showed bright off the ball movements too. He looks much sharper and fitter now, and hopefully this is but a sign of things to come. His menacing positioning must have been tough to deal with after Mario’s physicality and hold up play.. Two vastly different styles.
That’s all from me, and have a great week, guys!
The season is well and truly underway!