We’re back! Juventus welcomed Bologna to Juventus Stadium for the first Serie A game of 2017. After all the festivities of the Christmas and New Year period, it was a huge relief to see the Bianconeri back in competitive action again in the league, especially on home turf. Juve didn’t disappoint, as a Gonzalo Higuaín brace and Paolo Dybala’s penalty was more than enough to cruise to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Bologna on a cold Sunday evening in Turin.
As expected, Juventus dominated possession early on. The territorial dominance paid off surprisingly quickly for the home side as they opened the scoring within seven minutes. Miralem Pjanic, once again roaming around freely in his trequartista position, lofted a delicate ball over the top to Higuían, who struck the ball first-time perfectly on the volley. Despite getting a hand on the volley, Antonio Mirante couldn’t keep the effort out as it trickled past him into goal: 1-0!
Juventus had the momentum in their favor and continued to control the game comfortably in possession. Higuían had the opportunity to double the Bianconeri’s lead but his header from a Khedira cross went a few yards wide of Mirante’s goal. Bologna finally had their first sight of goal in the 20th minute through a decent effort from the lively Federico Di Francesco, but it was a comfortable save for Neto.
The game visibly lost intensity as Juventus were becoming a bit lazy and complacent in possession, allowing the visitors to gain a bit more of a foothold in the game. Claudio Marchisio did manage to test Mirante with a stinging long-range shot, but the goalkeeper was up to the task and tipped it over for a corner. Just when it looked like the half was going to end on a stale note, Marios Oikonomou bundled Stefano Sturaro over just inside the box, leaving the referee with no choice but to point to the penalty spot. Dybala stepped up to rifle in a typically inch-perfect penalty to double Juventus’s lead: 2-0! That was the last piece of action of the half as the Bianconeri went to the changing rooms with a comfortable 2-0 lead.
Juventus again seemed content with controlling the game at a steady pace in the second half as they starved Bologna off possession and waited patiently for an attacking opening. That opening came very quickly after the restart in the 54th minute courtesy of that red-hot striker Higuaín. A brilliant piece of midfield interplay between Sami Khedira and Stephan Lichtsteiner allowed the latter to break through after the German played a ball in behind the Bologna defense. Lichtsteiner waited patiently for Higuaín to pick his spot in the box before lofting a perfect cross onto the head of the Argentine for him to nod past Mirante for his second goal of the game: 3-0!
Juventus took their foot off the gas even more as Bologna fought valiantly to salvage some kind of consolation from the game but it was really too difficult for the visitors to break through the solid Bianconeri defense. On the other hand, Dybala huffed and puffed, but seemed to let the cold temperatures freeze his usually brilliant and delicate skills. Another dangerous breakaway saw Khedira touch and turn wonderfully before squaring the ball to Dybala, but he couldn’t quite control the ball properly because of the bounce and blasted his effort wildly off target.
The last notable action of the game should really have resulted in the fourth goal. Sturaro broke free and seemed to be through on goal with only Mirante to beat but squared the ball just behind Khedira who couldn’t control the ball cleanly which allowed the Bologna defenders to recover and clear the danger. Thankfully it didn’t matter as Juventus had built an unassailable 3-0 lead and closed out the game without ever needing to get out of second gear.
The scoreline stayed at that as Juventus set a league record for consecutive home victories: a staggering 26 wins on the bounce! A wonderful way to start the new year!
NETO 6.5 – Besides a few saves, he barely had a thing to do. I do have to say, though, I find his footwork/passing from the back really dubious and that’s not just based on this game.
LICHTSTEINER 7 – Great cross for the assist on the third goal and dealt quite well with the lively Di Francesco.
BARZAGLI 7 – Perfect game for him to return from injury. It was a typical Barzagli performance and he didn’t put a foot wrong all game.
CHIELLINI 7 – Dealt with Destro with all the ease in the world.
ASAMOAH 7.5 – Played very confidently at left back. He was helped by the fact that Krejci drifted inside so much so he basically had no one to mark.
KHEDIRA 7 – A typical Khedira performance — solid, dependable, and did the dirty work in midfield.
PJANIC 7.5 – Brilliant assist for the opening goal and he roamed around midfield with all the comfort and freedom in the world.
MARCHISIO 7.5 – Was the free man in midfield and enjoyed the acres of space he had to play with. Even tried his luck with a few strikes at goal.
STURARO 7 – Solid performance and used his body intelligently to win the penalty. Shame about the poor pass at the end of the game though.
HIGUAÍN 8.5 – When he’s hot, he really is red-hot. Razor-sharp technique for his killer volley and intelligent positioning for the header. Higuaín is only going to get better and better as the season progresses!
DYBALA 6.5 – A perfectly-taken penalty aside, he really struggled to make an impact tonight. He looked quite off the mark, but I’m hoping it’s just a one-off event.
CUADRADO 6.5 – Nothing special here during his 20 minute substitute appearance.
MANDZUKIC 6.5 – A quick 15 minute cameo for the Croatian striker.
RINCÓN N/A – Nice to see him debut for a short 10 minute stint.
ALLEGRI 7 – I guess his seething anger from the Supercoppa defeat did the trick because it was a confident performance without much trouble. The team did at times look not entirely bothered to put in too much effort which, unsurprisingly, coincided with the times that Bologna grabbed a foothold in the game. Overall, though, it was easy as you like on Sunday’s return from the holiday festivities.
Tactical Analysis: Freedom
There wasn’t much revolutionary going on this game in terms of tactics which is a shame because I’m a sucker for love for the tactical nuances of the beautiful game. Other than the usual patterns for Juventus, like Pjanic roaming all over the place in his “false 10” role and Dybala drifting deep and wide in his support striker role, there were two noteworthy tactical features in the game: Marchisio’s freedom in midfield and (loosely connected) the narrowness of Ladislav Krejci and Bologna’s front three in general.
Juventus had a midfield advantage (4v3) and, given that Bologna played a 4-3-3 formation, Marchisio ended up being the free man in midfield. Thanks to his wonderful range of passing and intelligent positioning, he enjoyed this freedom very much and managed to move forward in possession from time to time to join the attack. However, it wasn’t always so rosy for the Italian maestro. Krejci would drift very centrally into Marchisio’s zone during attacks, making it unclear whether he or Asamoah should pick up the Czech winger. Also, without the ball, Destro would occasionally help out in defense by dropping deep onto Il Principino but this was mostly quite half-hearted and lackadaisical. This general confusion/indecisiveness between Krejci and Destro mostly resulted in Asamoah and/or Marchisio benefiting from oceans of space to operate in, much to the detriment of the visiting side.
Bologna’s front three were, in general, remarkably narrow and the knock-on effect of this was to grant Lichtsteiner and especially Asamoah acres of space down the wings. It’s no surprise then that the former chipped in with an assist and the latter had a very impressive performance himself.
The following picture is especially interesting because it shows how a few of Bologna’s problems compounded together. The front three is all very narrow again (possibly) to compensate for the midfield being outnumbered and, to provide width, Donsah (#17) drifts completely out of position to a wide right position. Dzemaili, standing next to the referee, is likewise not in the best position to track back or provide assistance to the defense and so this leaves the entire Juventus midfield/attack completely free and available for a pass on the counter attack as Bologna lose possession in this picture. Given that the front three is unlikely to bust their lungs to track back defensively in the case of a turnover, Bologna is in a bit of an awkward position formation-wise in this picture. Maybe it was for the better that the ball went out of play here instead of being intercepted because it could have ended quite embarrassingly on this play.
As you probably noticed, it was a very smooth, fun game which Juventus negotiated without much trouble. There were a few complacent moments here and there — mostly due to the tireless work by the extremely impressive Di Francesco — but it was never anything serious and the result never looked in doubt. Higuaín continues to grow ever more comfortable and accustomed to life in Juve colors, which is really showing in his goal tally. Nevertheless, Wednesday’s Coppa Italia game will probably see a decent amount of rotation as Juventus prepare for a set of demanding fixtures against Fiorentina (away), Lazio (home), Sassuolo (away) and Inter (home). January is a notoriously difficult period of the season, so let’s see what the boys have in store for us! Onwards!