The Stadio Luigi Ferraris has become a foreboding place for Juventus. They have lost two of their last three trips to play Genoa, and while they’ve beaten Sampdoria in all three away fixtures in that time, they have all been difficult one-goal games.
The Marassi is dark and full of terrors.
Massimiliano Allegri’s men arrived for their early-season clash with the ricocheted hoping to reverse that trend, especially after being humiliated here 3-1 last November. To do so, Allegri put out the exact same 4-2-3-1 lineup that beat Cagliari in the opener save one change, with Sami ricocheted replacing an injured Claudio Marchisio. Juan Cuardado continued to start despite pressure from summer signings Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi — we’ll get to that later — while Daniele Rugani received his second straight start beside Giorgio Chiellini in defense.
Ivan Juric’s Genoa, meanwhile, countered with a 3-4-3, setting up an attacking trident of Adel Taarabt, Andrej Galabinov, and Goran Pandev. Mattia Perin made his first home start since suffering a second serious knee injury last year.
Within seven minutes, the specter of last year’s thrashing was lurking over the ground.
Eighteen seconds into the game, Pandev had turned Alex Sandro in circles and fired in a low cross that ricocheted off Chiellini and then Miralem Pjanic for an own goal.
Minutes later, Galabinov got up from a challenge in the box from Rugani gesticulating wildly. Referee Luca Banti stopped and put his hand up to his ear, then ran over to the VAR screen off to the sideline. The replay showed Rugani get a bare touch on the back of the Bulgarian’s heel, and Banti signaled for a penalty that Galabinov himself dispatched straight down the middle.
This being the first VAR incident that I had seen in Serie A live, I could not help but notice three things:
- The touch didn’t look all that significant and Galabinov went down in a heap. It was a soft penalty at best.
- If the referees had bothered to rewind the footage three more seconds they would have noticed that Galabinov was offside when the ball was played to him, which would have rendered everything else moot.
- The television audience (at least on the RAI International feed) didn’t get a look at the replay until after the game had kicked off again. That could be simply because the TV crews worried about missing the call being made (Banti got back on the field in record time) or could have been the league being uncertain that the call was made correctly—you see that happen in baseball and football all the time.
Regardless, Genoa was up 2-0 within seven minutes. Dark and full of terrors indeed.
But despite the scoreline, there were differences between last year’s failure and this early setback. A year ago, Juve had produced precisely zero on offense for almost the entire game. On Saturday, the Bianconeri had responded well to Genoa’s bizarre opener and nearly equalized within three minutes when Pjanic’s found Higuain with a free kick. The Argentine hit man put an excellent header to the far post but was denied by Perin’s diving, one-handed save.
After the second, the order of the day became chipping into Genoa’s lead before the half. Pressure was applied, but it left Juve open to counters. Taarabt managed to get down the attacking left but struck his angled drive right at Gianluigi Buffon. Those counterattacks would pose more and more danger throughout the half, but less than a minute after Taarabt’s effort the lead was indeed halved.
It was a neatly worked set of passes. Higuain slipped Pjanic through the channel, and the Bosnian laid back an excellent square ball into space. Mario Mandzukic was waiting for it, but Paulo Dybala had the better angle and cut in front of his teammate to slip the ball home and make it 2-1.
They had an excellent opportunity to equalize almost immediately, but Cuadrado, after running the length of the field with no Genoa player within 10 yards of him, put a cross three feet over Mandzukic’s head.
By the 20th minute, Banti was perilously close to losing control of the game. Stephan Lichtsteiner had been booked during the VAR incident for dissent, and two-thirds of Genoa’s back three — Salvatore Gentiletti and Davide Biraschi — received bookings. Pjanic’s up-and-down afternoon continued when he was shown a card for moving the ball closer to goal after Banti had set the location for a free kick. Fortunately things cooled down from there, and Juve, sensing blood, started pinning Genoa back in their own half.
In the 21st minute, Dybala pilfered a pass 25 yards out and fired, but it went right at Perin. A few minutes later, the new No. 10 was wide open in the middle, but Sandro never saw him and ended up skying a cross over everything for Genoa to collect on the other side of the field. The Bianconeri managed to get into great positions frequently, but couldn’t find the final ball. A terrible pass from Higuain snuffed out one attack in the 32nd minute. Pjanic snuffed out another half a minute later.
Genoa, meanwhile, was finding some success on the counterattack. Shortly after the half-hour, Darko Lazovic found Galabinov with a cross from the attacking right, but after out-jumping Lichtsteiner the striker floated his header well wide. Two minutes later, he again wasted a chance from an attack on the same side. In the 37th minute, he had perhaps his best chance when a through ball was teed up for him to go one-on-one with Buffon. Lichtsteiner managed to back just in time and make a sliding intervention for a corner kick, keeping Juve in the game.
Another mistake from Cuadrado led to another counter, but Chiellini managed to disrupt its rhythm enough for it to fizzle out. Juve then went back the other way, Higuain chipping a pass over for Dybala to run on to. Dybala tried to stab home but was denied by Perin, who recovered in time to scramble to his right and deny Mandzukic on the rebound for an impressive double save worthy of his opposite number.
It looked like the best chances of the half had been exhausted when Cuadrado again crossed into the box right on the stroke of halftime. Mandzukic’s shot was blocked out for a corner by Lazovic, but as Juve set themselves up for the set piece Banti again put his hand to his ear. Eventually he again trotted over to the sideline to check the VAR screen. Mandzukic’s shot had struck Lazovic’s arm. It was very close range, but the arm was in an unnatural position and as he returned to the field, Banti pointed to the spot.
It was officially the first time a VAR call had gone Juve’s way, and Dybala confidently dispatched the penalty into the roof of the net to send the game into the half at 2-2.
It was an excellent recovery, but Juve still had to finish the job — something it hadn’t done after an even steeper climb against Lazio in the Supercoppa.
There was reason to be concerned, as the Griffone arguably had the better of the first 15 minutes of the first half, forcing some good defensive work from both Rugani and Chiellini and even forcing the latter into being dispossessed close to his own box. Allegri dispatched new signing Blaise Matuidi to help beef up the midfield, and the tide began to turn toward’s Perin’s goal.
Higuain promptly put a Lichtsteiner cross way over, but shortly after the hour, Juve’s quality came to the fore. Mandzukic, standing a shade to the left of center, lofted a pretty pass into the path of Cuadrado. The Colombian had done next to nothing right up to this point, but expertly plucked the ball out of the air, controlled, and fired past Perin to give Juve their first lead of the game.
Now it was Genoa’s turn to chase the game, and they made a go of it. Cuadrado was booked for a dangerous challenge on Diego Laxalt, who a moment later spun Pjanic around and unleashed a shot that just slid wide. To give Juve an extra boost in defense Lichtsteiner was replaced by Andrea Barzagli.
As the game neared its conclusion Genoa turned in an all-out assault to reclaim the points they had in their grasp so early in the game. Buffon had to come out and smother the ball after Gianluca Lapadula made a heavy touch 10 minutes from time, then denied Raffaele Palladino’s low, angled drive to preserve the game in the 84th minute.
Insurance finally arrived in stoppage time, when Higuain’s simple pass to Dybala turned into an assist when La Joya fired a low drive to Perin’s near post to make the score 4-2. Buffon mishandled a punch moments later, but it was cleared, and the remainder of stoppage time became a simple formality.
GIANLUIGI BUFFON - 8. Needs time to whip this defense into shape without Leonardo Bonucci, but his excellent save on Palladino saved Juve’s then-precarious 3-2 lead. Always the leader.
STEPHAN LICHTSTEINER - 6. Didn’t have a spectacular afternoon, but did what was required of him and kept the back solid. It was telling that Genoa’s most dangerous attacks came from the opposite flank.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 6. Shaky on first few sequences but tightened up nicely as the game went on.
DANIELE RUGANI - 6.5. I am not holding the penalty against him because it never should have been given in the first place. Still finding his footing alongside Chiellini, but growing by the day. He’s the real deal.
ALEX SANDRO - 4.5. One of the most shocking things about this game was the performance of Alex Sandro. He was dispossessed several times, his crossing was really, really bad, and Genoa’s best attacks came down his flank. Not nearly the performance we’ve come to expect from him, though the was better after Matuidi came on.
SAMI KHEDIRA - 4. I hardly wrote Khedira into my notes until he was substituted. Didn’t do anything incredibly wrong but was totally invisible from an attacking perspective. Can’t see him starting for too much longer.
MIRALEM PJANIC - 6. I can’t go higher than that because his overall play, minus his assist, was pretty poor on the day.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6. Again, can’t really go higher. His goal was exquisite, but everything else he did made me bang my head against a table. You’re telling me that neither Costa nor Bernardeschi has settled in well enough to displace him as the starter?
PAULO DYBALA - 10. Dybala’s first hat trick for Juve came at an excellent time with the team struggling so much early. He says the No. 10 shirt is giving him luck. Here’s hoping it never runs out.
MARIO MANDZUKIC - 6.5. Extraordinary pass to assist Cuadrado’s goal and had a hand in earning the tying penalty. Defended well when in position, although Genoa’s counters usually happened when he was in no position to help.
GONZALO HIGUAIN - 6. His assist was a simple pass, but sometimes the simple is exactly what’s required. Made one other good pass to Dybala before Perin’s double save, but only completed 76.9 percent overall, and he’s still taking too many touches before shooting. Could have had a goal or two in the first half.
BLAISE MATUIDI - 7. Really changed things in midfield when he arrived in the 58th minute. Defended tenaciously and won the ball back on several occasions. His presence seemed to allow Sandro a bit more freedom on the left.
ANDREA BARZAGLI - 6. Didn’t do anything special from the positive or negative standpoint, but haven’t we figured out by now that he shouldn’t be at right back anymore?
RODRIGO BENTANCOUR - NR. Got roughly 10 minutes in his competitive debut. With Marchisio out he should be getting his chances.
MAX ALLEGRI - 6. Allegri was forced into playing Khedira, although we’ll likely see Matuidi as a starter before long. One thing that did confuse was the insertion of Barzagli for Lichtsteiner. It’s fairly obvious that Barza is a liability as a straight right back, but that’s exactly how he was used once he came on. With Juve up a goal and seemingly willing to soak up Genoa’s pressure at that stage in the game it may not have been the worst thing in the world since most of Genoa’s attacking was done in front of him, rather than forcing him to turn and chase. Still, he can’t be on the flank on a regular basis.
Also noteworthy is Allegri’s insistence on starting Cuadrado. By this point one of either Costa or Bernardeschi have to be fit and settled enough to be starting on that side. Cuadrado, his goal aside, did little other than give the ball away for the first hour. His talent is incredible, but he can’t harness with any consistency. It’s time he gave way for those that can.
There really isn’t much to go over here. Allegri stuck with the 4-2-3-1 and didn’t even modulate the formation very much, as is his wont when the situation calls for it. It was just straight “Five Star” for pretty much the entire match. He got away with it against a Genoa team tipped for the relegation battle this year, but he may have to come up with a different wrinkle against the big boys.
Juve have two weeks until their next contest, when Chievo comes to the J Stadium. Between now and then the international break will see a good portion of Juve’s players leave for their respective national teams over the international break.
Five players will suit up for Italy (Buffon, Chiellini, Barzagli, Rugani, and Bernardeschi). Others suiting up for their national teams will be Wojciech Szczesny (Poland), Medhi Benatia (Morocco), Lichtsteiner (Switzerland), Pjanic (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Khedira (Germany), Cuadrado (Colombia), Matuidi (France), Dybala (Argentina), and Mandzukic (Croatia).
After they return, Chievo will be next on the list — and lurking behind the Flying Donkeys is a major trip to the Camp Nou to open the Champions League campaign.
Saturday’s game was the kind of game that champions win, but make no mistake — to be so sluggish early against a team like Barca, even a version that looks to be more vulnerable than usual, means instant death.
Hopefully the Bianconeri will round into shape as the international break comes to a close and the season picks up.