Juventus went a man down within the opening third of the game at Stadio Friuli in Udine, and won 6-2 behind a hat trick from a 30-year-old Sami Khedira who just recently returned from injury. That’s not a sentence I thought I’d be writing, even in a game that pitted the Bianconeri against a — let’s be honest — relatively bad Udinese side.
Still, though, you’ve got to be impressed with the win, considering all the factors surrounding this game like a smog. Not only was this game an away fixture on short rest, but Udinese really isn’t a terrible team. If nothing else, they can score goals; they’ve tallied 15 for the season, only two fewer than second-place Milan and trailing just five teams in the entire league — that’s crazy! Yes, their defense blows . . . only Benevento has conceded more (!). But the prevailing logic in this situation, with Juve a man down, might’ve been that the hosts could press Juve and not worry too much about their own defense.
In fact, this is actually how the game played out. Allegri’s side were happy — well, maybe not happy... — to concede concession, as Udinese controlled the ball 56 percent of the game. The downfall for the hosts was the dangerous cocktail of bad goalkeeping, extreme misfortune, and, most pervading of all, the incisive precision of a field surgeon on a howling battlefield that was Juve’s finishing.
In other words, Juventus were clinical. The champions are still, of course, three points down to Napoli and a point off Inter, but it’s cool to have (statistically speaking) the most potent offense and to be stride-for-stride. It’s going to be a long season, and I’ve got faith that the defense will eventually catch up with the offense — even if it takes some January transfer window tinkering, but that’s another story.
I’m the official match recapper today, so that’s either good or terrible news. Or you don’t care. But anyway there are no awards, instead some different sections and stuff in here and for you people who become immensely excited about ratings, there are those, and they are so serious and you should probably curse at me pretty intensely if I got something wrong.
(Side note / theory / excursion: I’m going to invent a form of journalism which is like anti-journalism in which the most important and vital pieces of information of a given article are at the end, rather than the beginning, of the piece, so that the reader is forced to stay with the piece the entire time; they can’t just bail out like normal journalism. And before you say, “Well, geez, they could skip to the end and just read that,” I would make the end [i.e. the most important information] totally depending on all preceding information, even though that preceding information seemed, at first, somewhat tangential or extraneous. If you’ve read this entire paragraph I commend you and will purchase you a drink if you ever visit Austin, Texas.)
1. The youthful and youthful-looking Daniele Rugani returned — to mixed results.
Rugani scored what proved to be the game-winner and assisted the insurance goal (although he might’ve made the pass from an offsides position), so that’s all really good. He cleared the ball, passed well, and made a couple important tackles, and all that’s also really good.
But he was far from perfect, and we shouldn’t ignore that. I think it’s supremely unfair to shovel 100 percent of the culpability regarding the first goal onto the young center back’s shoulders — what the hell was the midfield doing? — but Rugani stretched himself too far forward and subsequently made a clumsy tackle which sprung the attackers to the opening goal.
On the second goal — which may or may have not been offside — Rugani was too busy unsuccessfully gesticulating to the linesman that Danilo was in an illegal position. I really have a hard time understanding why players don’t just keep playing. Rugani probably couldn’t have caught the Brazilian, but he could’ve breathed down his neck and made things a bit tougher for him.
Overall, I do think it was a stellar performance from Rugani. He was unfortunate to have made slight-to-medium mistakes on the two scoring plays.
2. Like winter, the goals are coming.
Juve have scored 27 goals in nine league games. That’s good. Juve are scoring all kinds of goals, which is also good — set pieces off heads, free kicks directly from Miralem Pjanic and Paulo Dybala, crosses whipped in from new (and old) wingers, Pipita holdup, La Joya magic; it’s all there.
If the rest of the league hasn’t figured it out, I’ll let them know: it’s only going to get worse (for them).
I wrote about this over the summer, but I’m pretty convinced that something changed in Max Allegri’s mind in Cardiff. He knows that Juve need flair and firepower to reach the top in Europe. He admitted so after the Champions League defeat, when he noted the palpable absence of Marko Pjaca.
That’s why Juve — despite the departures of Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves — spent a boatload of money on wingers, rather than replacements. This is going to sound super bad-newsy to people, but it may actually be more of a two- to three-year project of transforming Juventus into a Barcelona-caliber side rather than a one-year deal. Allegri admitted he thought long and hard about leaving Juventus this summer, and I doubt he signed on for just one more year. He’s crafting something. So yeah, Juve didn’t replace Bonucci, and the center back and right fullback positions are absolutely questionable against talented teams — but it’s not like he and management don’t see that. It’s funny to think about a bunch of Juve fans (myself included!) complaining about Stephan Lichtsteiner or Andrea Barzagli on a message board on the webosphere when all the bosses have the evidence in front of them.
If Juve don’t fix the defense with the current pieces in the next two months, they’ll move in January. (Also Howedes is still on the team, right?)
3. Three tonal shifts.
For me, this game hinged back and forth on three tonal shifts.
The first was the own goal in the 14th minute. It was an absolutely bizarre play, one in which Samir looked as though he’d made the absolute perfect strike to bury the orb into the back of the net. Just happened to be the wrong net. Until that point, Udinese had pretty much thrashed Juventus. It was yikes city.
The second tonal shift was, of course, the Mario Mandzukic red card, which transformed the game tactically. Juve slid into a 4-3-2 — more on this later — and absorbed blows before finally conceding an equalizer shortly after the halftime break, after which they attacked relentlessly.
Although there was a shift in feeling when Udinese equalized, I detected a bigger burst of pathos in Juve when Udinese didn’t equalize thanks to two first-rate stops by Gigi Buffon. That was the moment, it seemed, in which Juve realized, “Hey, damn it, we’re Juventus, and we’re not going to lose this.”
Maybe it does seem illogical, since Udinese eventually leveled the score, but I thought those two saves sparked this side to life.
Ratings Because People Are Obsessed With Ratings and Rankings And Stuff
Gigi Buffon — 9
Didn’t have much of a say with either of those two goals. Made the crucial stops mentioned above.
Stephan Lichtsteiner — 6.5
Did what he was supposed to do. Nothing spectacular, nothing horrendous. That’s usually good news for the Swiss Menace these days.
Daniele Rugani — 8
Somewhat of a mixed bag, as I mentioned above. But the mental resolve to contribute twice with his head, once by depositing the game-winner and again with the assist, was impressive as hell.
Giorgio Chiellini — 7.5
Missed a header on a corner in which, remarkably, he wasn’t marked. Otherwise bossed the defense like, um, a boss.
Alex Sandro — 6.5
Grabbed an assist, but was far from perfect on the left flank. Nearly gave away a penalty (maybe a stretch), but did plenty of good things.
Miralem Pjanic — 8.5
Probably the best game of a player I won’t say much about. He was great, and Juventus are glad to have him back. Miralem had by far the most touches today, and that’s a good thing.
Sami Khedira — 9.5
I’m a terrible person for not giving him a 10, but although he tallied three goals in three shots he did seem to vanish in the midfield in stretches of the game (only 36 touches).
Juan Cuadrado — 8
Beautiful cross to Khedira. We sure give the Colombian a lot of flack, but he played great against Udinese.
Paulo Dybala — 8
Played less than 70 minutes, hurled in beautiful free kicks, held possession and distributed well. It’ll be a relief when he’s back on the scoreboard, but it was certainly an improvement.
Mario Mandzukic — . . .
Pipita Forever — 9.5
Gonzalo Higuain is such a beast. I’m on Team Pipita and I’ll forever be on Team Pipita. He nearly scored a couple days, but his touch is coming back, his hold-up play was nearly perfect, and he worked his ass off. Loved what he did out there.
Douglas Costa — Sure
Did some interesting things, like dribbling all the way from the left wing to the right side of the field. Also, he is fast.
Andrea Barzagli — Fine
Federico Bernardeschi — LOL
Mr. Max Allegri Coach Man — 10
You’re damn straight; I’m giving Allegri a perfect 10.
The moment Mandzukic got sent off, Juventus started playing a 4-3-2 as if it was the formation that they had always played and practiced since they were little tiny baby Europeans and South Americans. I almost couldn’t believe how tight, natural, and fluid the formation was throughout the game. It was beautiful; the black and white sank in to receive the pressure as Udinese gave it to them.
Then the hosts equalized, and sometime shortly thereafter Allegri decided he wasn’t going to just hope Juventus earned one point which, in the post-match interview, he would’ve inevitably called “crucial” as he referenced vaguely true points totals vis-a-vis the end of the season, blah blah blah.
Instead, Juve switched to a rather strange 4-3-1-1. Dybala shifted over to the left side of the pitch instead of playing alongside Higuain — at this point La Joya was sort of mirroring Cuadrado — and Khedira pushed up and played almost on the back of Pipita. It was mostly Dybala’s shift that I noticed at first. It gave some severe pop to the left flank, which now boasted Sandro and Dybala, and it put two targets in the center. Khedira filled the Mandzukic role today, and he did a hell of a good job: one diving header off a perfect Cuadrado cross (a real thing!), one poacher’s slam in front of net, and one wonder striker only after surveying the pitch to see if he could help anyone else add to their total.
Khedira shifting up was fantastic for the offense, and it really swung the pendulum of pressure the other way. Sami has had a pretty compelling career shifting back and forth between a holding or defensive midfielder and a more offensive-minded, forward-pushing middle, and tonight (and recently) he excelled in the latter.
What a whirlwind, but 6-2 is a delicious final line.
It’s going to be a very busy 10 days for Allegri and the lads. On Wednesday Juve take on SPAL, who sit second from the bottom in the league table (although, to be fair, only three points separate 13th-19th). On Saturday, Juve play Milan in San Siro* followed by a October 31 battle against Sporting which, in all probability, decides who takes the second spot in Group D behind Barcelona.
*I feel like LOL MILAN deserves its own tiny little section: LOL MILAN. They’re 11th in the league with a negative goal differential — they’ve scored 12 and conceded 13. LOL it’s the best thing ever. They play Chievo midweek (I’m rather confused about whether Bonucci will be suspended for just this game or also the Juve game . . . I assume someone will correct me) before the fixture with the Bianconeri. This is probably hugely jinxing us, but oh well. I don’t believe in that stuff. (Gulp.)