Sparks flew on a frigid night in Allianz Stadium, but Juventus prevailed in Wednesday night’s track meet against Torino, 2-0, to reach the semifinals of the Coppa Italia. However, a share of missed opportunities and moments of drama made this victory more difficult than it needed to be.
It was never a matter of aggression or engagement — all 11 players for Juventus put forth the effort that lead to victory. The Old Lady simply failed to convert multiple scoring opportunities that could’ve blew the game wide open.
The first 15 minutes showed promising signs of aggression and creativity by Juve. Whether it was a pass too far, a bad touch or an inaccurate strike, Juventus had the momentum but couldn’t execute and break through to grab the game’s first goal. There was a brief flurry of chances between Juve and Torino with both midfields producing dangerous counter attacks in a frantic track meet. Juventus had a few uncharacteristic blunders that prevented them from finishing off an attacks like we’re used to.
But sometimes luck is on your side.
Juve took full advantage of a fortunate bounce when the ball ricocheted into the path of Douglas Costa, who unleashed a rocket off his left foot into the top-right corner of the net. Costa had been an enforcer offensively to that point, creating and zipping past defenders which is fitting that he was the recipient of a wide open blast.
A fast start to the match was exactly what Juve needed before Torino could gain any confidence. But Torino would continue to hang around.
Immediately after Juve’s opening goal, Paulo Dybala found himself with a golden opportunity when Torino’s defenders chose to cover the streaking men and leave Dybala wide open. Dybala only had the goalkeeper to beat, but skied the ball over the net and missed an easy opportunity. Missed shots and opportunities was the theme of the game for not only Dybala, but Juventus too.
Torino wasted no time in counter attacking when M’Baye Niang nearly equalized the score on a fluttering ball that beat Wojciech Szczesny but hit the far post. Niang’s shot turned out to be the best chance Torino had all night. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and Juventus was fortunate enough to be lucky twice in the first 16 minutes of the match.
Another great opportunity was presented for Juventus when Costa sent a terrific pass to Dybala, but he failed to leave his mark on the match by striking a ball into the arms of Vanja Milinkovic-Savic. Again, despite his excellent playmaking and creativity, Dybala struggled to finish all game and his body language got more animated as the game wore on. It’s difficult to watch No. 10 struggle to score after making it look so easy earlier in the season, but it’s become apparent that his mental state is in a tough place.
Juventus underachieved thus far with the numerous missed opportunities, but were firmly in control at halftime, 1-0.
Juventus came out of the tunnel hungry for a second goal and nearly got it. Unfortunately, Mario Mandzukic had an embarrassing lack of touch as the ball sent in by Dybala rolled right over Mandzukic’s feet. One of the easier goals of his career slipped away from his grasp, as Juve once again missed a golden opportunity. However, the Croatian would get his revenge.
Sami Khedira got away with a controversial no-call on Afriyie Acquah and regained possession before passing it to Dybala, who sent a ball that bounced off a couple of defenders and resulted in a gift-wrapped pass for Mandzukic to chip home. The ball glided over Milinkovic-Savic and gave Juve the much-needed second goal.
Shortly after, sparks flew for Torino’s side as they felt Khedira’s foul should’ve been called and possession shouldn’t have been awarded to Juve. Torino manager Siniša Mihajlović blew up on the referees before being tossed out of the game and sent into the locker room for a rare ejection. Torino’s frustration finally boiled over onto the field while the Bianconeri found themselves in cruise control after doubling their lead. Juventus pushed forward when they were presented opportunities, but refused to force pace in a commanding lead, closing out the game on a high note.
Torino stayed within striking distance for most of the match, but failed to really threaten Juventus. The Old Lady’s impressive winning streak is a reflection of the team’s improved form reminiscent of last year’s squad. Juventus isn’t at an elite level yet -- neither is Dybala — but they’re inching closer to that high level of play.
Wojciech Szczesny — 6. Was rarely challenged all night. Could’ve sat on a couch in goal and produced a clean sheet, but he continues to put himself in great position when defending.
Stefano Sturaro — 4. A nightmarish night for Sturaro who gave it his best but failed to provide any consistency or reliability before coming off at halftime due to a minor injury. A better team would’ve punished him for his deficiencies.
Daniele Rugani — 6. Rugani struggled with Niang early on, but settled in as the game progressed. His awareness needs to improve and his positioning still isn’t polished, but he’ll be great if he can continue to learn.
Giorgio Chiellini — 7.5. Another terrific night at the office for Chiellini. He defended, blocked, intercepted and tackled all night. He also pushed the ball well for the offense.
Kwadwo Asamoah — 5. Asamoah didn’t overly impress and was easily dispossessed, but he wasn’t a negative influence to the team.
Claudio Marchisio — 6. Marchisio didn’t greatly impact the game, but he brought balance and consistency to the midfield. He played terrific defensive until the moment he was substituted.
Miralem Pjanic — 6. There’s a noticeable difference for Juventus when Pjanic is on the field. He created and kept the offense organized, which played an important rule in Juve’s attacking rhythm.
Blaise Matuidi — 6.5. Matuidi turned in an all-around great performance. As per usual, the Energizer Bunny covered both sides of the field with a relentless motor. He hasn’t been too much of a scoring threat, but he’s found space and created for others — something a club can never have enough of.
Douglas Costa — 8. The man of the match. He had a stunning goal that gave Juventus the early lead. His dribbling, passing, pace and touch were outstanding. Despite his knack for dangerous creativity, he continues to provide solid defensive contributions. Juve are at their best when he’s on the field.
Paulo Dybala — 6. Dybala had a great game by exploiting space and delivered key passes in Juve’s attacks. However, he missed some golden opportunities to score and let his emotions get the best of him at times. He looked timid at times, lacking a decisive plan when he had an opportunity on goal.
Mario Mandzukic — 6. Mandzukic attacked spaces well and pressured all game without any result until he finally broke through and scored Juve’s second goal. However, he missed several good chances for goal and was lucky to have scored the goal that was gift-wrapped to him. The second goal scored for Juventus masked a tough day for Mandzukic.
Stephan Lichtsteiner — 6. Put in a good cross for Mandzukic that wasn’t converted. He a few good runs on offense, and looked more defensively reliable than Sturaro.
Sami Khedira — 6. Despite being surrounded by controversy on the field, he played with energy and aggression off the bench.
Gonzalo Higuain — NR.
Massimiliano Allegri — 7. There’s not much to pick apart from his tactics and substitutions. Allegri is throwing ideas against a wall and seeing what sticks by experimenting with different starting lineups. Juventus continues to improve and find their form as other teams — most notably, Inter Milan — are struggling. Tonight’s match wasn’t too impressive, but Juve took care of business, and that should receive very few complaints. Allegri needs to be a teacher and kind of a father figure to Dybala if the star forward is to regain his elite form and buy into staying with Juventus longterm.