As I typed out the post-game thread from Juventus’ 2-0 win over Chievo on Saturday, one of the last points I made basically had this general point to it: Gonzalo Higuain is a streaky striker, so let’s see what his late-game header can do when it comes to the next couple of weeks.
It took all of about two minutes and change for us to get our answer three days later.
If that doesn’t remind you of the Pipita that took Serie A by storm and set the single-season goals record a few years ago, I don’t really know what does.
It proved to be the difference. Higuain’s second goal in as many games and two huge saves from the legend himself Gianluigi Buffon — including a first-half penalty stop of Papu Gomez — was what allowed Juventus to claim a 1-0 win over Atalanta in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals on a foggy Tuesday night in Bergamo.
The reason why Higuain’s third-minute goal — as well as Buffon’s two massive saves — was so vital?
Well, besides the fact that Juve go into the second leg with a crucial away goal and a 1-0 lead on aggregate is simply how the game played out.
Juventus were clearly on the front foot in the opening 45 minutes., with their best chances after taking a 1-0 lead coming on a shot Higuain blasted just over the crossbar and then a pair of Blaise Matuidi scoring opportunities.
However, once the second half arrived, Juve seemed much more content to sit back and try to hit Atalanta on the break. it was an effective strategy for the most part, I guess. Except for the fact that when Higuain did get sent through in on goal a handful of times in the second half, once he hit the attacking third, there was absolutely nobody there for him to pass the ball as two or three Atalanta players slowed everything down.
It almost came back to haunt them. Luckily Buffon’s final save of the night was almost as good as his stop on Gomez’s penalty attempt.
And ... exhale.
That was certainly a much more enjoyable game to watch than the previous two Juventus took part in since returning from their two-week holiday.
We can also officially say that Juve are one foot into their latest Coppa Italia final. That sounds good to me — especially knowing that the second leg is being played at a stadium where Juventus are virtually unbeatable ever since they started playing there.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- No Daniele Rugani.
- No Federico Bernardeschi — at least from the start.
- No Mattia Caldara.
- No Leonardo Spinazzola.
- No Riccardo Orsolini.
- If you wanted any of of these five players to be a part of their respective team’s starting lineup on Tuesday night, then you were left incredibly disappointed.
- Buffon’s first save as a 40-year-old man? Stopping a PK. What an amazing, amazing man he is.
- I want to think that the hug that Wojciech Szczesny gave Buffon a couple of moments after the final whistle is pretty much what all of us wanted to do if we had that same chance once the final whistle sounded.
- This was the kind of game where Mario Mandzukic playing out on the left wing was so vital to Juventus’ performance. I look no further than a play he made a little more than 20 minutes in as Atalanta are charging forward with what looks like a pretty decent counterattack. It’s 2-v-1, with the ‘1’ being Alex Sandro. Then, out of nowhere, in comes Mandzukic to break things up, end Atalanta’s venture forward and get the ball right back to one of his teammates. It’s that kind of stuff that Mandzukic brings to the table.
- And, just for the record, who finished as Juve’s leader in tackles on Tuesday night? That would be a certain Mario Mandzukic.
- At the age of 33, Giorgio Chiellini is having a damn good season. I’m not going to go into any kind of detail about why that’s the case, but I just feel like saying it.
- Let’s hope that Medhi Benatia, who himself is having quite a good season, had to come off late in the second half because he was flat exhausted instead of for injury-related reasons.
- People can refer to him as a “Bayern reject” all they want, but man Douglas Costa is so fun to watch when he’s in this kind of form. Just as Hunter said after the Chievo game, Juve just don’t have another player that can combine the kind of speed and skill that Costa has. That’s what makes him so unique and important to this team right now.
- In their last 12 games, the Juventus defense has allowed all of one goal. That seems like something that I’d like to see continue no matter who’s playing in goal.