Back to Serie A, back to being Juventus again.
The first game of the 2017-18 season saw Juve be, well, Juve. After a rocky preseason and some inconsistent performances, Max Allegri and his crew got back to what they do best — winning in Turin. Goals from Mario Mandzukic (guut!), Paulo Dybala (very good!) and Gonzalo Higuain paced the offense and Gigi Buffon made two crucial first-half saves — including the first-ever VAR-influenced penalty kick — as Juventus stormed past Cagliari 3-0 on Saturday evening.
Not a bad way to start the new year, I’d say.
Not a bad way to start the “Allianz Stadium” era, either.
We always say the same kind of thing whenever Juventus come out of a preseason where they haven’t looked any good. (Then again, you can say that about pretty much every preseason under both Antonio Conte and Allegri the past six years.) We wonder how Juve are going to look when the games actually matter.
We got the answer, for at least one game, on Saturday.
The sluggishness from the Supercoppa last weekend wasn’t there. Instead of defending like idiots and having to fight from behind the majority of the time never happened. Juventus got the lead courtesy of Mandzukic, doubled the lead on the sublime Miralem Pjanic-to-Dybala goal and cruised the rest of the way.
It’s one game, sure. One game and about 93 minutes of sample size against a Cagliari team that allowed a club-record amount of goals last season and just saw their leading scorer from a year ago bolt for Spal all of 24 hours before their first game.
But to see Juventus struggle defensively in the preseason and then rack up a clean sheet, that was good news.
To see Paulo Dybala do what he did, that was good news — again.
To see Juventus look and play like a team rather than a discombobulated mess we saw for a good chunk of the preseason, that was the best news of them all.
Let us be happy the Juventus of old showed a portion of its self again. One game down, 37 to go in Serie A. It was a good start, that’s for sure.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Pre-game lineup-related thought: OMG DANIELE RUGANI STARTING OMG
- Pre-game lineup-related thought: That whole part of the match preview in which I took time to talk about any new signings start ... I guess Max was having absolutely none of it. “You want Douglas Costa, Federico Bernardeschi or Mattia De Sciglio starting? SORRY. You get Juan Cuadrado AND Mario Mandzukic on the wings, folks.”
- First thought on Mandzukic’s goal: That’s a classic No. 9 kind of finish.
- Second thought on Mandzukic’s goal: Simone Padoin had absolutely no chance marking him.
- Third thought on Mandzukic’s goal: That’s one of the best crosses we’ve seen from Stephan Lichtsteiner in months.
- First thought on Dybala’s goal: God I love him.
- Second thought on Dybala’s goal: That pass from Pjanic is one of the best assists we will see this season. It was absolutely insane vision and execution.
- First observation of Blaise Matuidi in a Juventus jersey: This guy, even though he’s been labeled as a defensive midfielder, isn’t afraid to push forward and get involved in the attack. It’ll be interesting to see where he fits into the midfield picture once he actually has a chance to get a couple of training sessions in with his new teammates.
- Buffon’s two saves in the first half absolutely killed any kind of offensive momentum Cagliari had in the first half. Just look at how the wind went out of their sails after he saved that penalty, too. (Ball don’t lie, by the way.)
- I got a few things on Twitter over the course of the week regarding Miralem Pjanic not playing all that well during the preseason (and in big games last season). It’s like he read them tweets because he was on fire all game long and at the center of everything. That assist to Dybala will go down as one of the best things he does in a Juventus jersey this season. Just amazing skill.
- I like Daniele Rugani playing from the start. His first task on defense was executed to perfection, with a tackle easily made and done calmly as well. Hopefully him starting alongside Giorgio Chiellini is something that we get to see a lot of over the next couple of months as this new season gets underway.
- Juan Cuadrado ... smh.
- You know you’ve entered the game with plenty of really good options on the bench when you see Allegri go through all three subs and Federico Bernardeschi is left sitting on the bench.