Can we have a mulligan?
Juventus travelled to Zagreb on Tuesday night with the aim of kick-starting their UEFA Champions League campaign after a disappointing first game at home to Sevilla two weeks ago. The build-up featured statements by Coach Max Allegri stating quite plainly that Juventus had to get the three points. Recent performances (the aforementioned Sevilla game, the loss to Inter and win away to Palermo) had shaken early season optimism after some quality signings in the summer.
Patrice Evra was again selected over Alex Sandro to run the left flank, and surprisingly Hernanes was chose to start over Mario Lemina. Paulo Dybala was reinstated to the starting eleven after his "rest" on the weekend. Mario Mandzukic and Marko Pjaca were returning to their former club and home stadium, Stadion Maksimir, with the 21 year old winger having only left Dinamo Zagreb a few weeks ago.
For the Croats, DZG were missing their 19 year old star playmaker Ante Coric, allegedly dropped for disciplinary issues. Shot stopper Adrian Šemper has already made himself DZG's number one between the posts, despite his tender age of 18 (remind you of anyone?).
A sedated opening, the most notable chances came via a Hernanes long range shot, and a volley by Gonazlo Higuain - both off target. Juventus expectedly controlled possession, patiently prodding the ball around, looking for an opening.
The breakthrough for Juve came on twenty-four minutes, as a long pass out the back by Leonardo Bonucci, led to a mix-up in the Zagreb defence; with defenders Gordon Schildenfeld and Leonardo Sigali distracting each other and the latter flicking the ball skywards for Miralem Pjanic to sneak in and toe-poke past young Semper in the goal.
If, after the goal, Juventus thought the rest of the game would be a walk in the park, well Schildenfeld quickly put that notion to bed. The big defender got above his marker to head a Domagoj Antolic free kick onto the bar! It would have been the fourth goal conceded from a set piece this season; clearly an area of concern for Juve.
Not much longer before it was 2-0 for Juventus. This time it was the Bosnian midfielder with a marvellous assist - a Pirlo-esque long ball over the defence - for Gonzalo Higuain to control on the chest and side foot past the goalie. It was the Argentine's first of hopefully many more goals for Juventus in the Champions League.
Pjanic was taken off at the half; a precaution as the Bosnian reported a knock to the thigh. Juan Cuadrado was his replacement, as the Colombian recorded his first Champions League appearance in his second stint at Juve.
After a similarly tame opening to the second half, Juve got their third in spectacular fashion! Paulo Dybala, who admitted to lacking confidence due to his inability to find the net so far this term, showed no signs of that as he wound up from around thirty-five yards and unleashed a left-footed "thunder bastard" (thanks to Ian Macintosh) which flew past Šemper in goal and rippled the net! It was La Joya's first goal of the season in any competition, and what a way to end his drought!
With the three points all but secured, Allegri gave DZG old boys Pjaca and Mandzukic the chance to play in front of their old fans. The winger seemed particularly up for it, and almost scored after an inventive run and finish that was parried away by Šemper. The young goalkeeper's night went from bad to worse, as he failed to keep out a deflected Dani Alves free kick - effectively knocking the ball into his own net - giving Juventus their fourth goal of the night.
So in the end, a dominating (if unspectacular) comprehensive win for the Bianconeri which - combined with Sevilla's 1-0 win over Lyon - put them top of Group H.
Buffon 7 Literally did not have to make a save all game. Apart from the header onto the bar, was untroubled.
Barzagli 8 Barza being Barza. Like Buffon, was largely untroubled.
Bonucci 8 Bonucci being Bonucci. Like Buffon and Barza, was largely untroubled.
Chiellini 8 Chiello being Chiello. Like Buffon, Barza and Bonucci, was largely untroubled.
Dani Alves 8.5 The veteran Brazilian continues to look like he enjoys his free role. Regularly involved in the attack, and ably getting back to do his defensive duties. Had an assist and his deflected free kick led to the fourth goal.
Khedira 6.5 After a bright start to the campaign, Sami Khedira seems to be slowing down a bit. Didn't have a bad game, but not a particularly good one either.
Hernanes 7 A decent performance by Hernanes. Didn't really do anything special, but most importantly he didn't f*** up either, which at this point is probably the best we can hope for from the Brazilian.
Pjanic 9 Tremendous performance by Mire. A goal and a brilliant assist from the midfielder, and all is just forty-five first half minutes. His knock shouldn't be anything serious - hopefully - so hoping for more of the same from the Bosnian.
Evra 7 Not much to say about Evra's performance. He was decent, but would still much prefer to see Alex Sandro.
Dybala 8.5 Yasssss! Dybala finally got his first goal of the season and it was a scorcher! Overall he was his usual busy self, dropping deep to get involved and linking with Dani Alves. Higuain complained of the two playing too far apart, something that will improve with time together. Let's hope this goal will see Dybala back to his old self.
Higuain 8.5 Is it just me or does Higuain still look a bit chubby? Maybe it's this particular shirt that makes him look that way, but it just seems like he can still stand to lose some more LBs. Anyway, he took his goal brilliantly
Cuadrado 6 Came on at half time for Pjanic, but it was not a particularly noteworthy cameo.
Pjaca 7 A bright cameo for Marko, almost scored soon after coming on - which would have been some impact.
Mandzukic 6 Much like Cuadrado, did not have a particularly noteworthy cameo returning to his old stomping grounds.
Allegri 8 I guess given the dominant performance and scoreline, you have to give Max credit. Juventus were largely untroubled, Dinamo Zagreb had one chance and no shots on target. Juventus hadn't won by such a large margin in the Champions League since Nordsjælland in 2012 (also 4-0). But it should be noted that it was against Dinamo Zagreb, undoubtedly the weakest team in the group and arguably one of the weakest in the tournament. There is still a lot of improvements to be made. Higuain mentioned that he felt him and Dybala were playing too far apart (indeed, the two did not exchange a single pass). One would expect their understanding will improve with time. Alternatively, maybe introducing a trequartista to the system, so that Dybala doesn't have to always drop so deep, would help. It would also take some of that creative burden off of La Joya.
All in all, you can't really complain about a commanding 4-0 win. So good job all around.