Juventus welcomed Chievo Verona to Juventus Stadium for the 31st round of the Serie A. All eyes were, of course, on the looming, titanic battle against Barcelona on Tuesday in the Champions League, but that doesn’t mean that the team could ignore its domestic responsibilities. Nevertheless, rotation was both very necessary (after the crunching game against Napoli a few days ago) and expected as the big guns rested in preparation for Tuesday’s game. But ... there wasn’t much rotation to be found, alas.
Thanks to a Gonzalo Higuain brace and a glorious display by Paolo Dybala, Juventus secured a 2-0 victory against Chievo. The visitors gave Juventus a real scare in the second half, but the Bianconeri managed to get the goods and secure the three points at the end of the evening to (temporarily?) extend the lead at the top of the table to nine points.
Juventus started the game as they always do — patient buildup play and composure in possession. The possession play wasn’t quite as fluid and effortless as usual, but there was no real rush as Chievo didn’t pose much of a threat on the counterattack. The first real sight at goal came from our German maestro Sami Khedira, who picked up a bouncing pass from Higuaín on the edge of the box and smashed a shot at goal on the half-volley. The goalkeeper was up to the task though and made a smart, low save from the stinging shot. Another chance came quickly afterwards from Paulo Dybala who picked up the loose ball on the edge of the area and unleashed a powerful drive which goalkeeper Secullin had to palm over the bar for the corner kick.
Dybala, really enjoying himself on the night, was in the thick of the action again just two minutes later. After exchanging passes with Stephan Lichtsteiner, the Argentine found himself on the right corner, face-to-face with the defender, with seemingly nowhere left to go. La Joya made a glorious shimmy with his hips to fool the defender into going the other way and just glided past him on the open side to square the ball for Higuaín inside the box. The striker was left with the simple task of side-footing the ball into the opposite corner to open the scoring: 1-0! A beautifully simple goal created by Dybala’s fantastic, deft use of the hips and quick acceleration!
The Bianconeri comfortably passed the ball around the park with ease and without expending too much effort. There was clear match control throughout the first half even though it wasn’t particularly glamorous stuff to watch. Chievo did get a few half-chances and look-ins at goal, but nothing that was ever enough to call Buffon into action. The last chance of the half came from Khedira in the 42nd minute, but his glanced header from Juan Cuadrado’s cross was comfortably wide of the target.
Chievo started the second period with real fire as
the always - pleasant Juventus lucky charm Sergio Pellissier forced Buffon into a decent save thanks to a powerful effort on target after the Juve defense were lazy in clearing a cross into the box. Meggiorini then glanced a header at Gigi Buffon to remind the home side that there still was a lot of work to be done before they could think of the showdown on Tuesday. Juventus woke up again and Higuaín almost scored his second of the evening with an absolutely scorching drive that fizzed wide of the target after chesting down a long ball and holding off Spolli’s challenge.
Still, though, Chievo valiantly fought on in the second half as they pressed Juventus into a few haphazard mistakes that almost resulted in clear-cut chances. Roberto Inglese went close to the equalizer with a glancing header that went narrowly wide of the post, clearly irritating Buffon as the legend watched his side grow worryingly complacent in what should be an easy home game. Dybala responded almost instantly with a rasping shot at goal but the effort fizzed inches wide of the post.
The biggest chance, and miss, of the second half came, quite remarkably, courtesy of Higuaín. Dybala drifted inside from the wing and drove an inch-perfect pass into his partner’s feet. His first touch set him up immaculately for a completely free chance just a few meters in front of goal but, with the goal at his mercy, the striker somehow managed to sidefoot his shot wide of goal! A most uncharacteristic miss from the mercurial Argentine dangerman. Valter Birsa then unleashed a decent effort at goal for Buffon to save, once again reminding us that the game was far from over as long as there was only one goal to separate the sides. Finally though, Juventus decided to put the game to an end through Higuaín: the extraordinary Dybala once again skipped past a host of Chievo challenges on his way into the box and
, upon realizing that he doesn’t have a right foot, slipped a lovely ball into Lichtsteiner to the right. The Swiss full-back played a strong pass to Higuaín, completely free in the box, who took an exquisite touch to both kill the pass, open up the free goal, and finally fire a smooth shot into the far corner: 2-0! Juventus finally managed to kill the game after laboring through a testing second half.
Khedira almost made it three after a wonderful, flowing passing move involving Dybala and Higuaín, but goalkeeper Secullin made the save to keep the scoreline respectable. It finished 2-0 then for the Bianconeri at the end of the evening: all eyes on Tuesday then!
BUFFON 6.5 – Only one memorable save today from a testing Pellissier effort on goal.
SANDRO 7 – Solid as always and enjoyed the space on the wings due to Chievo’s narrow midfield formation.
RUGANI 6.5 – A little bit shaky in the second half and I remember Buffon giving him a bit of a telling off at a point to remind him to stay focused.
BARZAGLI 6.5 – Strong performance by Barzagli. Didn’t do much wrong and kept things solid with Rugani.
LICHTSTEINER 7 – His assist was actually a very difficult ball for Higuain to control. It looked fine because the Argentine is so darn good that he controlled it expertly, so that covered up Lichtsteiner’s pass.
MARCHISIO 7.5 – Didn’t put a foot wrong all game. Nice to see him still play confidently despite his relative lack of minutes since his recovery.
KHEDIRA 7.5 – Very guttttttt. He has been so consistent the last few months and provides such security and stability in midfield.
STURARO 6 – A far-cry from the midweek performance against Napoli, when he was actually very good. He was poor today although he battled hard defensively.
DYBALA 9 – Glorious, cerebral display by the elegant striker. He was at his fantastic best this evening as he glided past challenges, slipped in disguised passes, and was actively involved in everything good.
CUADRADO 7.5 – Another player that has been pleasantly consistent of late. His crosses were on point, dribbles incisive, and passing good. Well done, Juan.
HIGUAÍN 8 – A fantastic brace today for Higuaín. The second goal was especially good because Lichtsteiner’s pass was actually unpleasantly hard and bouncing a bit, but Pipita’s first touch killed it wonderfully. That miss, though, was, um, no good.
LEMINA 6.5 – I’ve started to notice that he’s actually a surprisingly good dribbler and provides an interesting option when played out wide.
BONUCCI 5 – Um, Leo, were you even prepared for the substitution today? Looked completely out of sync. I’ll excuse it because it was a 20min cameo against Chievo… ma che cosa, Leo?
DANI ALVES N/A – Replaced the exhausted Lichtsteiner late on.
ALLEGRI 7 – Business as usual. He’ll be a bit annoyed/worried about the complacency in the second half and how long it took to kill the game, but overall the performance was solid (if unspectacular). The Lemina-on-the-wing option is, again, an interesting one actually…
Tactical Analysis – Variation and Corner Kicks
Unlike in the first encounter between the sides back in November, Chievo set out in a narrow 4-3-1-2 diamond formation this time around that was pretty standard/unspectacular except for a few interesting quirks. Let’s start with the “normal” stuff though.
A standard 4-3-1-2 shape with the trequartista playing very close to the strikers and the central midfielders generally staying quite narrow although Castro is a bit out of position (circled blue). That leaves a gap on that side of the pitch that the Bianconeri can capitalize on. There were times that Chievo wasn’t so disciplined defensively and left some gaps between the lines:
Hetemaj caught my eye (that rhyme is so absurd, it made me chuckle while writing it) a few times during the game with his curious positioning. He played very deep and, interestingly, often on the same line as the midfield anchor Ivan Radovanovic. This often made Chievo look like a creative 4-2-2-2 setup.
The story becomes even more confusing when looking at the average position chart on Whoscored.com, which suggests that perhaps I’m insane and Chievo was actually playing a 3-man backline?
As a final point, the commentators made a good point about how Juventus varied its corner kick routines intelligently throughout the game. Sometimes the team went for the long cross, sometimes for the short corner, and sometimes a hybrid style where it goes short before eventually being crossed into the box. I like this a lot because, contrary to popular belief, corner kicks are probably the most shockingly inefficient aspect of football. People always get angry about short corners, but I think I read somewhere once that only 10-20 percent of corner kicks are actually converted in football. What happens to the other 80-90 percent that aren’t converted? Most likely they end up in a nerve-wracking counterattack that has us our blood pressures skyrocketing. So to hell with corner kicks, I say!
Shaky, but business as usual after all
Aside from that unpleasant wobble in the second half, it was business as usual today. Dybala was utterly magical today and the timing couldn’t be more perfect given the upcoming fixtures this month. Although I’m beating on a dead horse here, the lack of rotation is extremely worrying as players like Higuaín, Dybala, and Khedira are going through an extraordinary amount of minutes. I’m not necessarily blaming Allegri here as the problem is evidently squad depth. It’s funny because I’ve generally shied away from blaming the management for this issue, but maybe I have to slightly backtrack on that after all. Nevertheless, the game we’re all thinking about will now fully be on the spotlight. I’m excited; I hope you guys are, too! Andiamo!
I still can’t get over that Higuaín miss, though. Woow.