Juventus returned to the always-welcoming Juventus Stadium after their heroic exploits in midweek against Barcelona. It was time to welcome Genoa to our home ground in a Sunday evening Serie A fixture. Juve manager Max Allegri was cautious before the game — especially because if what happened last time around against Genoa — and stressed that the game would be pivotal in deciding the Scudetto race as we reach the season climax. The game may have been pivotal, but the performance made it look like an exhibition match: the Bianconeri blitzed past Genoa 4-0 thanks to goals from Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic, Leonardo Bonucci, and a Ezequiel Muñoz own-goal.
Allegri made a grand total of six changes from the game against Barcelona, and although the team exuded confidence and consistency in the opening period of the game, the visitors almost took a surprise lead in the fourth minute. An untimely slip by Bonucci allowed the ball to reach Giovanni Simeone, who advanced towards the box before unleashing a shot on his weaker left foot that trickled harmlessly wide of the target. Juventus brushed off the early scare and quickly took control of the match. Dybala delivered a pinpoint cross to from the free kick onto the head of Gonzalo Higuaín, but the striker wastefully headed his effort wide after being completely free in front of goal for the chance. The architect Dybala almost turned goalscorer when he fizzed a stinging left-footed shot just wide of the far post a few minutes later.
The opening goal came just a minute later, though (just as my stream died), through the Muñoz own goal. Some nice passing play by the home side and phenomenal false-nine play by Higuaín allowed Claudio Marchisio to storm into the space created by the Argentine who then chipped the ball towards the midfielder. Marchisio couldn’t quite reach the ball, but that didn’t matter as the defender Muñoz unluckily shinned the ball into his own net for the opening goal: 1-0!
Just two minutes later, Juventus found a quick-fire double and banged in the second goal of the evening. Higuain picked up a long ball that was hoofed upfield from defense and played in Dybala. The little wizard played a deft one-two with Sami Khedira inside the box and fired a clever shot to the near post and past the goalkeeper: 2-0!
Genoa looked to hit back straight away as Simeone picked up a neat pass from Raffaele Palladino and stormed into the box. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, though, Bonucci slid in with an unbelievable sliding tackle to not only deny the chance, but also win a goal kick in the process! J
uve took that little scare as a warning, though, and didn’t allow Genoa an inch of play afterwards. It was utter domination by the home side as the confidence from the end-of-the-season climax was just oozing through every player. This confidence turned into yet another goal for the Bianconeri courtesy of Mr. No Good Mandzukic. A brilliant passing triangle on the left side of the pitch saw Dybala release the Croatian with a fantastic through ball and sped Mandzukic free down the wing. After a loose ball from his poor cross into the box dropped into his path, he didn’t have a second of doubt in his mind and banged in a phenomenal right-footed shot into the far corner: 3-0!
Quite amazingly, Juve just continued to pour forward relentlessly in search of more goals, though Marchisio’s deft flick was well stopped by goalkeeper Eugenio Lamanna. Still, though, 3-0 at halftime was a fantastic scoreline!
The home side needed just over five minutes in the second half to fire in the fourth goal, although it was (harshly) ruled out for a foul. Dybala crossed a great ball into the box towards the far post where Bonucci met the cross exquisitely on the volley for the goal, but the referee pulled back the play for an infraction in the box. Bonucci must have been listening to some Aaliyah before the game because he would see just a few minutes later that if at first you don’t succeed, you should just dust yourself off and try again. After picking up the ball inside his own half, he embarked on a remarkable run straight through the gaping chasm inside the Genoa defense and toward goal. As the defenders stood off him, Bonucci unleashed a rocket of a shot past Lamanna to mark his brilliant solo run with a goal: 4-0!
‘Cuz if at first you don't succeed,
Dust yourself off, and try again
You can dust it off and try again!
It was raining goals in the Juventus Stadium as the Bianconeri was in an extraordinarily swaggering mood on the night. The fans will be wondering how they were denied the fifth goal just a few minutes later though as some nice holdup play by Mandzukic (or was it Higuaín?) resulted in Marchisio picking up the bouncing ball on the edge of the box. Il Principino wasn’t deterred by the fact that the ball was on his weaker left foot because he sent an unstoppable half-volleyed effort crashing against the inside of the left crossbar and back into play. From the rebound, Higuaín then saw his own half-volleyed shot bounce off the outside of the post and out for a goal kick! A remarkable passage of play that somehow didn’t result in the fifth goal for the home side.
It turned into a game of “crossbar/woodwork challenge” in the second half as Kwadwo Asamoah joined the fun as well and saw his low left-footed drive kiss the outside of the post in the 77th minute. Genoa were being absolutely run ragged by a rampant Juve side! The last notable, and lovely, piece of action came from the danger man Dybala: thanks to a superb, deft drop of the shoulder and quick spin around his axis, he left Miguel Veloso for dead and bore down on goal. Unfortunately, his left-footed shot went well wide of the target, but his swivel-and-burst action was a joy to behold. The match ended with a thoroughly convincing 4-0 scoreline and saw Juventus momentarily extend their Serie A lead to 11 points!
NETO 8 – A few easy saves aside, it sure was the relaxing game for Neto to come in for Buffon.
BONUCCI 9 – Extraordinary goal by
Messi Bonucci in the second half and he was at his brilliant best tonight!
BENATIA 8 – Not really the type of game where he can stake a serious claim for being understudy to the established, starting defenders because he basically had nothing to do all game. Still, solid and dependable by the Moroccan.
BARZAGLI 8 – Ditto for Barzagli. The defensive trio did the little work they had to do in excellent fashion.
LICHTSTEINER 8 – Although Laxalt comfortably had more pace than the Swiss, he was still intelligent and solid down the right wing.
MARCHISIO 8.5 – Woow, what a shot that was in the second half! That deserved a goal in itself really. Still, Il Principino made sure the midfield was locked down in tandem with Khedira.
KHEDIRA 8 – Didn’t put a foot wrong all game and was subbed off early to get a deserved rest.
ASAMOAH 8 – Due to Genoa’s curiously lopsided formation, Asamoah had plenty of space down his wing and never really got into trouble. Almost picked up a goal in the second half as well.
DYBALA 9 – It was all so easy for Dybala today. In games like these, you really see how he enjoys himself!
MANDZUKIC 8.5 – It’s been a long time since the Croatian has scored, but he won’t care one bit. The selfless striker played a hybrid left-wing and central role and, as usual, gave his brilliant 100% for the team.
HIGUAÍN 8.5 – Was close to getting his goal, but his holdup play was excellent again as usual. Especially his false-nine movement for the opening goal was fantastically intelligent.
RINCÓN 7.5 – Playing against his former side, he kept things simple in midfield with Marchisio and continues to show his utility as a backup in central midfield.
STURARO N/A – Buzzed around actively in the final 8 minutes of the game
MANDRAGORA N/A – The youngster came on for his debut with five minutes to spare.
ALLEGRI 9 – It looked like a bit of an odd tactical switch when we saw the starting XI lineup in a 3-4-1-2 formation, but it all worked perfectly fine as Juventus were utterly relentless. There was no drop in concentration or form: everything was perfect. Not only that, but six starters also got a well-deserved rest at a crucial point in the season.
Tactical Analysis – Lopsided
The Genoa starting XI that played in the andata fixture was significantly different from the one we saw on Sunday night, mostly due to transfers. Although it looked like a straightforward 3-4-3 formation on paper, it was actually a curiously lopsided 3-4-1-2/3-4-3 due to Ntcham’s positioning and Palladino’s central drifts from the left wing.
Lazovic often pushed forward very bravely despite the fact he had little to no protection on that wing. This also meant that Muñoz was left with an awfully large amount of ground to cover on the counterattack. In fairness, this was somewhat understandable given that Dybala chose to occupy the other side of the pitch and Mandzukic, for all his brilliance, isn’t necessarily a gung-ho winger. Better yet, given that Juventus focused 37% percent their attacks down their right wing, you can understand that Genoa chose to put defensive emphasis down that side.
Ntcham really should have been the key man for Genoa as he was playing a quasi-trequartista role against a two-man Juventus central midfield. However, he was reduced to mostly hopeful efforts from range and very little time on the ball. He gradually dropped deeper and deeper though as the match progressed and Genoa grew increasingly resigned to a thorough dismantling at the Juventus Stadium.
The more time passed, the less of a tactical battle the game became. This was understandable though as Genoa realized that they were destined for a convincing defeat to extend their rotten run of form in the league.
Based on this game, it would almost sound like utter delusion to say that this Genoa side beat Juventus 3-1 a few months ago, especially given that six of the Juventus starters were rested today. Yet this Bianconeri side was an absolute, phenomenal joy to watch and you could see that as each goal went in, the players were just having more and more fun on the pitch. Despite the inevitable ups-and-downs throughout the course of a season, I feel extremely privileged to be able to witness this great group of players go from strength to strength every game. The mentality, the unity, the sacrifice, and, of course, the inevitable victories of this team are all just a sight to behold. When it all clicks, it all sure does click.