After the hugely disappointing loss against Fiorentina, Juventus were looking to bounce back at home against the high-flying Lazio side. Despite the eventful happenings off the pitch, there was no time to lose focus as games are coming thick and fast in the month of January. Juventus certainly didn’t disappoint as they secured a 2-0 home victory against Lazio thanks to goals from Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuaín in a mesmerizing first-half attacking display.
The home side began in absolutely breathtaking attacking pace, seemingly justifying Max Allegri’s tactical changes. After a mere five minutes on the clock, Juventus found the breakthrough as Stephan Lichtsteiner, returning to the starting lineup after suspension, lofted a ball towards Mario Mandzukic, who cushioned a header into the path of Dybala. The Argentine genius didn’t hesitate for a second as he strode confidently towards the ball and unleashed a sizzling strike on the half-volley past a helpless Federico Marchetti in goal: 1-0! There was a barely believable intensity and pace to the game in the opening 15 minutes as Allegri’s men played like men possessed. This drive and purpose paid dividends again as Juventus found the back of the net for the second time a few minutes later. Once again, some neat passing play down the right resulted in Juan Cuadrado playing an inch-perfect cross towards Higuaín, who snuck ahead of Stefan De Vrij and prodded the ball into goal with the sole of his boot: 2-0!
Lazio were completely shell-shocked as the home side continued to pile on the pressure and attack with precision and purpose. Nevertheless, the visitors managed to get their first “chance” of the game through Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, as he picked up a loose clearance on the edge of the box and fired an effort narrowly wide of the post. Higuaín later thought he had scored his second of the game after heading a Dybala free-kick delivery into goal, but it was correctly disallowed for offside.
Nevertheless, Lazio finally seemed to have shaken off the attacking onslaught and started to grow in confidence as the half came to an end. They recorded a few consecutive corners and shots on goal but the Juventus backline stood firm to the test. Buffon was finally called into action for the first time of the game, although it came in somewhat peculiar fashion. The veteran goalkeeper rushed out of his goal to slide in on Ciro Immobile by the corner flag after the striker had broken through behind the defense. Thankfully, Gigi Buffon just about got the ball and managed to secure the goal kick, but it was an adrenaline rush that certainly gave the fans a scare as the first half came to an end. The last chance of the half came courtesy of Leonardo Bonucci after the defender did well to stop a Lazio attack and then surge forward on the counter, but he could only volley a Higuaín cross narrowly wide of the far post.
Lazio continued to grow into the game further in the second half as they secured a few corners and shots on goal. Juventus eased off the intensity as the game progressed which certainly allowed Lazio to gain a greater foothold in the game. The visitors continued to push forward through Milinkovic-Savic and Felipe Anderson and while the hosts didn’t concede any extremely threatening chances on goal, it was still frustrating to see them clearly take their foot off the gas due to their (comfortable?) two-goal lead.
The Bianconeri finally regained some control of the game and managed to secure two huge chances through Dybala. First, he drilled a low shot just wide of the post after a wonderful counterattack and then he stabbed the ball wide after a magnificent reverse pass from his compatriot Higuaín put him through on goal. Juventus were on the ascendancy again, as Mandzukic got into the mix on a few occasions but his headers were dealt with by the Lazio defense and goalkeeper Marchetti. The most threatening moment in the second half for the visitors came after a neat triangle on the edge of the Juventus box resulted in Milinkovic-Savic chipping an exquisite ball towards the onrushing Marco Parolo, but Bonucci made a crucial last-ditch interception to deny the midfielder a goal that would certainly have put the hosts in a nervous bother in the final 15-minutes of the game.
Marko Pjaca then replaced Higuaín for his customary five-minute cameo and could have grabbed a goal or two in those few minutes. The young Croatian first exchanged some tidy passes with Cuadrado and Miralem Pjanic in midfield and surged forward into the box. Cuadrado drilled in a low cross to the youngster but he completely scuffed his chance and sent his effort high and wide of the target. He was later bundled over in the box by Felipe Anderson in what very well could have been a late penalty, but the referee waved play on. In the last chance of the match, Pjaca headed over a cross by Pjanic much to the frustration of the injury-plagued youngster who still goes on in search of his maiden Juventus goal.
Nevertheless, a great 2-0 victory for Juventus in their 27th consecutive home win!
BUFFON 6.5 – A few easy shots and a scary, but impressive tackle on Immobile aside, he had basically nothing to do. Probably caught a lot of sunshine, though!
ASAMOAH 7 – Really assured, confident performance by Asamoah. His defensive side was absolutely on point too as Lombardi (and later Felipe Anderson) didn’t have a second of joy during the game.
BONUCCI 7 – Had Immobile in his back pocket all day and passed well out of the back.
CHIELLINI 7 – Played very confidently in tandem with Bonucci. The two of them had things locked up at the back.
LICHTSTEINER 7.5 – I give him a bit more because the majority of the (best) attacking play came from the right side. Although him and Cuadrado seem to be on different wavelengths at times, they did well in providing the majority of the team’s offensive output.
KHEDIRA 7 – Didn’t set a foot wrong all game, but will be feeling a little dizzy after that unpleasant clash of heads with Chiellini in the first half. Khedira and Pjanic played a fantastic double-pivot block in front of the defense together.
PJANIC 7.5 – Quiet, but assured performance. He obviously had to be reserved offensively because of all the attacking firepower that was on the pitch at the same time, hence he orchestrated the play brilliantly and quietly from deep instead.
CUADRADO 7 – Overall a good performance but like I said above, sometimes his relationship/passing with Lichtsteiner is terribly confusing. Great cross for the assist though (curiously, Whoscored gave him a man-of-the-match rating).
MANDZUKIC 7.5 – His role was mainly a defensive one on Sunday, but showed his offensive class with the wonderfully cushioned header to Dybala for the opening goal. He also showed some surprisingly deft footwork at times while his physical presence on the left wing really helped our defensive solidity.
HIGUAÍN 7.5 – He doesn’t need many chances to score and he showed that here again today. Very well-taken goal and, as usual, his hold-up play was fantastic. That reverse pass to Dybala in the second half for his missed chance was absolutely glorious as well.
DYBALA 7.5 – All-action performance by the Argentine. Missed chances, a wonderful goal, and an overall elegant display. I would have given him a bit more had he buried those late chances that would have put the gloss on the result.
BARZAGLI 7 – As usual, a flawless display by Barzagli in the 15 short minutes he played in the second half.
RINCÓN N/A – Short substitute display for El General but I liked his tenacity and physical presence in the midfield combined with his tranquility when in possession.
PJACA N/A – Yet another five-minute cameo which is especially surprising because Mandzukic was played out of position on the left wing. Could have had a goal or two but didn’t quite get enough on his two efforts on goal while he even could have won a penalty due to a clumsy Felipe Anderson tackle.
ALLEGRI 8 – Full credit to Il Mister for this one because he got the tactics spot on today. He won the midfield game as the physical presence of Khedira, deep-lying playmaking skills of Pjanic, and intelligent movement by Dybala overwhelmed Lazio in midfield. Cuadrado and Lichtsteiner dominated the right wing while Mandzukic kept things solid on the left. As much as the decision to play the striker out of position and leave Pjaca kicking his heels on the bench yet again, it clearly paid massive dividends as Lazio were never really in the game.
Tactical Analysis: Change
All eyes were on Juventus on Sunday due to Allegri’s tactical surprise in his starting lineup. Though there were suspicions it would be a 3-4-1-2, it was indeed a 4-2-3-1 with Mandzukic on the left and playing Dybala deeper as trequartista. Hence, today’s tactical feature sees us cast our eyes primarily on our beloved Bianconeri.
Pjanic and Khedira held a solid double pivot deep in midfield and rarely, if ever, ventured forward. This was completely understandable as the side required a bit more defensive balance given all the attacking players on the pitch at the same time. Come to think of it, I think this is probably the most attacking Juventus starting lineup I’ve ever seen Allegri play: only three recognized defenders in the squad and one defensive-minded midfielder. Mandzukic, however, didn’t really venture forward and played a very disciplined, almost Simone-Pepe-esque, defensive role on the left wing. It was no surprise then to see that 46 percent of Juventus attacks — and both goals — came from the right wing. Furthermore, Dybala played an intelligent deeper role in order to exploit the space in midfield due to Lazio’s disjointed press. The Argentine’s movement was also very useful in creating the 3rd man in central midfield in order to prevent a numerical deficiency in that zone.
The midfield battle, though, was a curious one. I expected Juventus to struggle because I thought there might be too much space between the Khedira-Pjanic tandem and the attacking quartet. However, this is where Dybala was again so crucial because he tied the side together by dropping deep and harassing (especially) Lucas Biglia in that space.
In the above picture we once again see Khedira and Pjanic playing very deep in order to build the Juventus attack. However, Lazio have pressed them high up the pitch but in a very half-hearted, disjointed manner. Hence, the blue circle shows the gaping hole in midfield which Dybala is in prime position to exploit. Who knows, if Lazio had pressed in a bit more organized fashion, it could very well have been a different story for the Romans. It was also quite confusing to figure out Lazio’s formation/game plan after the substitutions. It seemed like a peculiar fusion between a 4-2-4, 4-3-3, and 4-4-2 and this confusion didn’t help their structure in midfield:
For some reason, Inzaghi still chose to neglect his side’s left wing despite the fact that everything good offensively for Juventus came from that side of the pitch. All in all, Lazio’s gameplan — emphasis on Milinkovic-Savic’s movement and the positioning of the front three — was difficult to understand for me as I took notes throughout the course of the game.
Back to winning ways!
This was one of the most entertaining Juventus games I’ve watched in a while and was reminiscent of the exciting Derby della Mole from a month ago (note: I missed the Coppa game vs. Atalanta). It was a team performance and I found it hard to really pick out a man-of-the-match: everyone raised their game to new heights after the pitiful loss against Fiorentina last week. The Bianconeri made an in-form Lazio look particularly average thanks to their fantastic intensity, crisp passing, high tempo game, and the boisterous crowd roaring them on throughout the game. A tricky Coppa Italia game against Milan on Wednesday awaits us next, but if Juventus can bring Sunday’s swagger and energy to that matchup, it promises to be another wonderful game!