Coming off a midweek Champions League clash with FC Porto, Juventus were back in domestic action with a trip to Sampdoria on Sunday afternoon. An early goal from Juan Cuadrado was enough to hand the away side all three points as they had to deal with another Paulo Dybala injury concern. That injury is reported to be a muscular problem which shouldn’t keep the Argentinian out for too long — a relief for any team who are scheduled to come up against Barcelona in the next month.
The result was what Juve needed, but as the game went on, tired legs were on display. It’s bound to be a bother, playing so many games in so little time, with their European ambitions combined with their Italian Cup aspirations meaning they rarely have a week’s rest before league games. The win against Porto was comfortable, but seven players from the starting lineup on Tuesday night returned for the contest on Sunday, with three of those changes coming in defence. Andrea Barzagli, Daniele Rugani and Kwadwo Asamoah came in for Leonardo Bonucci, Medhi Benatia and Alex Sandro, respectively, while Miralem Pjanic returned after being rested in place of Claudio Marchisio. That meant most of Juve’s attacking players were asked to put in another 90-minute shift.
Eventually the energy they’ve exhausted in the last week would catch up with them, but they did start well. A beautiful patient passing move in the eighth minute was finished off with a bullet header by Cuadrado. Facing a high-press from their opponents most of the game, this was a good example of how composed Juve can be when facing such a tactic. The ball ended up on the left-hand side where Mario Mandzukic laid it off for Asamoah who sent in a brilliant cross to find Cuadrado. Sublime offensive work from the Bianconeri and a well-deserved goal to finish it off.
There were opportunities to double the lead, mostly from Gonzalo Higuain, but his poor form was on show yet again. With no legitimate back-up striker, due to Mandzukic operating on the left wing, Higuain has had to play a lot of games this season, perhaps more than Max Allegri would like his star striker to be involved in. A second option for the position must be a priority in the summer. For the time being, however, Allegri has no other choice but to play his record signing in these crucial matches. His tiredness was on show as the first half petered out — either struggling to hit the target or unable to control the ball. Higuain must be suffering from a lack of rest and, much like his teammates, his fatigue was obvious.
Juve were looking slow and sluggish after the restart, with the shot chart the most telling when looking at the difference between both halves. Juve registered nine shots for the match, but all nine attempts came in the first half. Unable to muster up a single shot in the second half, it shows just how lethargic they were going forward at times, sometimes even resisting the urge to push up. Allegri must have accepted his team’s deteriorating stamina levels as he reverted to a more defensive stand, knowing that their midweek efforts were taking their toll. It has often happened after European fixtures, where an away match the following weekend becomes harder work than it should be. Dybala’s injury didn’t help matters, as his pace and trickery were absent for the majority of the game, but Allegri’s tactics should be praised as he adapted to his team’s physical condition.
With their energy lacking, Allegri realized it was best to sit on the slender lead than push for the goal which would have sealed the win. Having to deal with one of his more influential players being taken off, and Higuain forgetting his scoring boots, there was little need to risk a Sampdoria equalizer. Luis Muriel and co. would have been savoring the opportunity to counter-attack but a deeper defensive line kept Sampdoria’s quick players in check. Juve were able to cut off any supply to the final third, with seven interceptions in the last 40 minutes compared to their opponents 2.
Barzagli may have endured a tough afternoon at times, as he lost Fabian Quagliarella on a couple of occasions, but he helped dictate his defence’s solid performance. Per whoscored.com, the veteran had six clearances and 4 interceptions while also boasting a 93% pass success rate. He’s lost some form in the last few months, but the 35-year-old came through when it mattered today and was one of Juve’s key performers.
With Napoli and Roma both eliminated from European competition this month, it means Juve are somewhat at a disadvantage as their fixture list starts to become congested. With the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final yet to be played as well as the two matches with Barcelona coming up, there will be more of these grind-it-out wins required if they are to retain their Serie A title. It may not have been a dominant performance but Juve done what was needed to do and retained their comfortable lead at the top.