Juventus travelled to hot and humid Sicily to face Palermo to continue a busy month of football in September. With midweek Serie A and Champions League games piling up, it was another opportunity to (slightly) rotate the squad ahead of an important trip to Zagreb on Tuesday.
Juventus immediately stated their intentions from the first minute. Gonzalo Higuaín took a low cross by Alex Sandro into his stride, but couldn’t quite steady himself as he blazed the finish over the goal. It was an early warning sign that, unfortunately, would be a fluke rather than a constant during the match. The true portrayal of the game would come swiftly, though: Leonardo Bonucci received a yellow card after a wayward Dani Alves pass forced him into a cynical shirt pull on
the extremely irritating, annoying, and pesky Alessandro Diamanti. It was the story of the first half as the flurry of yellow cards commenced: Edoardo Goldaniga, Mario Mandzukic, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Dani Alves, and Haitam Aleesami were all booked in an ugly 45 minutes of football.
Nevertheless, there was some action to cheer for, as Mandzukic rose high to power a header narrowly over the bar from an inch-perfect Miralem Pjanic corner. Soon after it was Higuaín’s turn to have a sight on goal but the young Josip Posevac was quick off his line to deny the Argentine striker. There was more action on the pitch quickly afterwards, although not the type we wanted to see. Daniele Rugani seemed to land awkwardly on his knee after battling for the ball with Norbert Balogh and had to be replaced by second-time debutant Juan Cuadrado. This meant a reshuffle of the Juventus formation into a lopsided 4-4-2 that sometimes seemed like a quasi 3-5-2 as well. Nevertheless, Cuadrado and Alves patrolled the right side of the pitch while Sandro and (occasionally) Pjanic took charge of the opposite side.
The biggest chance of the half came courtesy of a curled Lemina strike that forced Posevac into a wonderful save after Juventus had won possession in the middle of the pitch and broken away dangerously. Mind you, Mandzukic and Cuadrado were livid with the Gabonese midfielder for not squaring the ball for the easy tap-in. From the corner, Cuadrado managed to sting Posevac’s gloves with a low drive, although it was an easy save for the impressive Palermo goalkeeper. A brilliant long ball by Lemina then caused confusion in the Palermo defense which Higuaín nearly pounced on but, with the goalkeeper off his line and the goal at his mercy, Pjanic tamely chipped the loose ball right into the grateful hands of Posevac. Referee Paolo Valeri then blew his whistle to end a terribly feisty, ugly, and heated half of football.
The second half started in far more optimistic fashion as, right off the bat, we had the breakthrough. Dani Alves had once again drifted centrally and now tried his luck with an ambitious strike from distance. It seemed to be harmlessly going into Posevac’s hands until
Alessandro Del Piero Edoardo Goldaniga guided the ball into the net with a magical backheel to leave the keeper stranded. An extraordinary piece of skill by the Palermo defender to put the Bianconeri in the lead!
The goal did wonders for Juventus as the game finally calmed down and allowed them to control the game without all the disruptive fouling/bookings. The slower pace of the game helped the league leaders fashion a chance or two as well. Alves whipped in a pacey cross which Higuaín knocked down for his partner Mandzukic, who consequently forced Posevac (bloody hell, how often have I mentioned his name already?) into a brilliant save off the volley. The Croatian striker was again frustrated soon after as Khedira laid the ball on a platter for him, but he failed to convert the chance as he unconvincingly struck the ball straight at the keeper. Mandzukic finally had the ball in the back of the net after guiding it into the far corner from an excellent Alves free-kick delivery, but his celebrations were short-lived as he was correctly flagged offside.
Allegri threw on Giorgio Chiellini and Kwadwo Asamoah for Alves and Pjanic, respectively, to close out the game, yet his team ended the game with 10 men as Asamoah limped off the pitch with a knee injury. This numerical disadvantage was strongly felt in the final five minutes as Palermo piled on the pressure and threw men forward but despite a few half chances and nervy moments at the death, the Bianconeri managed to secure an extremely ugly but valuable 1-0 victory at the Renzo Barbera.
BUFFON 6 – Had one poor clearance in the second half, but for the rest played excellently as he dealt with the occasional low/high cross by the Palermo wingbacks.
BARZAGLI 6.5 – Tidy performance by the ol’ Maestro, had a few great tackles as well.
BONUCCI 6.5 – I won’t punish him for the yellow card because it was really Alves’ fault for the poor pass. Played very well and didn’t put a foot wrong all game.
RUGANI N/A – Went off with injury after only 30 minutes.
DANI ALVES 7 – He’s really a fascinating chap (discussed further below). Played well and linked up frequently with his teammates. Seems to be bedding in with the team and getting to know the system better with each passing game.
KHEDIRA 6.5 – Quiet performance by the German, but carried out his tasks very well and without fuss. Should have gotten an assist if only Mandzukic had buried that chance.
PJANIC 5.5 – Very disappointing game. Invisible in the first half and sloppy in the second.
LEMINA 6 – Bit of a back-and-forth game for him. Managed to mix excellent interceptions with very sloppy turnovers. His range of passing is still just not quite enough for me, though…
ALEX SANDRO 7 – Once again a very good performance by the Brazilian, who has had an extremely good month of September. Was not as involved offensively though, but fulfilled his duties excellently.
HIGUAÍN 7 – A busy performance by the Argentine as he showed us a different side to him this game. He worked incredibly hard defensively, effectively playing the Mandzukic-role of disruptor/harasser, and contributed quite well offensively as well
MANDZUKIC 5.5 – Very frustrating first half, but picked it up in the second half. Couldn’t really adapt to a double prima-punta system.
CUADRADO 6 – Defended admirably and very aggressively, which was nice to see. His link-up with Alves looked very slick as well. His final ball remains perpetually frustrating and disappointing, though.
ASAMOAH N/A – Injured after a few minutes.
CHIELLINI N/A – Played for five minutes.
ALLEGRI 6.5 – The double prima-punta system seemed to make the team too static although his use of Alves centrally is an interesting tactical experiment.
Tactical Musings: Going Undercover
It was difficult to offer much of a tactical analysis in a game as scrappy and disruptive as this one. Nevertheless, the tactical theme of the game was Dani Alves’ interesting movement. Kaushik discussed it excellently in the recap of the Cagliari game, so I’ll keep it short in order to not repeat too much. It was interesting to see that his central drift now resulted in a goal after he rifled in a shot from a central-right position. I wonder about two things with this, though: Is this going to be a permanent feature to his game and are we going to be more vulnerable down that side for counters because Alves will be out of position?
It’s very interesting to see Allegri be open to such a curious tactical nuance and I wonder how much he discussed this with Alves in training. As many of you discussed in the comments of the Cagliari review though, I’m sure Guardiola — and, by extension, Bielsa — had something to do with it…
Take the above screenshot for instance. I wonder what happens if the opposition coach deploys width-heavy tactics and plays a winger that loves to hug the touchline (e.g. a Ribery or Ferreira-Carrasco) on Alves’s side of the pitch. Barcelona’s Copa Del Rey loss to Real Madrid in 2014 was a decent example of that, with Gareth Bale exploiting the space in behind Alves’ very successfully. All that said, it seems like it will be well worth keeping a keen eye on the flamboyant Brazilian during his Juventus career!
Fly me to the moon
Another nitty-gritty game that was an utterly dire affair to witness but, then again, winning these types of games wins championships. Something tells me though that the fans are desperately waiting for a big performance against a big team to really lift the spirits and fill us with optimism again. We’re waiting to be flown to the moon and beyond. Given that it’s only September, there’s thankfully more than enough time for that to happen, but I can’t help but fear that the restlessness among the fans could soon build to an unsustainable level…