For 180 seconds, the Juventus-Udinese game was close. For the other 5,400, it was not so close.
This was pretty much textbook Bianconeri: Take care of business and turn up the heat on Napoli. Mission accomplished. Maybe it wasn’t the most entertaining game of all time, but I thought there was pretty good stuff in all three phases. Giorgio Chiellini brought his customized kit that had sown in it a Maxi Lopez-sized pocket, Claudio Marchisio looked like smooth as melted chocolate, and Paulo Dybala did the thing where he scores a bunch of goals and makes everyone else look like they’ve just started playing calcio two weeks ago.
The turn of the year has meant — injuries notwithstanding — really good things for Max Allegri’s men, and this was another step in the right direction. Juve didn’t look gassed despite a midweek trip to London (that game seems so long ago!), and they didn’t look unfocused or emotionally tired, either. That’s all really, really good.
Plus, nobody got injured! Or at least I think nobody got injured.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- Alternate title for today’s piece: “A Gentleman’s Agreement.”
- Both fullbacks were really freaking good. I’m 100 percent on “Team Renew Kwadwo Asamoah’s Contract.” He’s having really a renaissance season, I think, and whereas earlier in the season it was kind of like, “Oh, that was decent, he was solid defensively,” I feel like he’s turning in some damn good performances now. He doesn’t get tired. He’s pretty fast. He has like two and a half moves. Pretty good!
- Then there’s Mattia De Sciglio. Boy, are we glad he’s back. Like we pretty much all noted, MDS was absolutely lit against Udinese. He’s a rock defensively, and his offensive forays are disciplined and well-constructed. It’s a wonder we got through Spurs without him — thanks for filling in, Stephan — but if we’re serious about advancing further in the Champions League I think we’ll need De Sciglio playing like he did.
- Both goals were essentially hockey-assisted from the fullbacks to Gonzalo Higuain. On the first, a whipped-in ball from MDS was perfectly targeted to Pipita, who was then fouled, the consequence of which was Dybala’s gem of a free kick. On the second goal, the hockey assist came from the other side: Asamoah sent a cruise missile to No. 9, who held up and dished perfectly to No. 10. It’s an interesting parallel between the two goals.
- Daniele Rugani: Very good.
- King Kong: Very good.
- Douglas Costa: Very good.
- Il Principino: Very, very good. It’s a very viable question to ask: Why doesn’t Marchisio play more, especially when he looks so much more comfortable regista-ing than Miralem Pjanic? And why does the German still play in the midfield? Maybe it’s Marchisio’s fitness — hopefully that’s the answer, and not some stupid Allegri-Marchisio grudge or some weird other thing — and hopefully the Juve product is rounding back into full form, because we looked composed as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 out there.
- But really, have we seen very many games all that year when Juve looked so fluid, so confident, so in control?
- Huge “lol” for Lorenzo Insigne in the 67th minute getting way too cheeky and missing a virtually wide-open chance for Napoli.
Onto the awards:
For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.
By gosh, I’m going to give Stefano Sturaro an award. It’s my absolute right to! Danny doesn’t force-feed me award winners each week! Therefore the seldom-earned Lingotto Award goes to none other than Juve’s, um, No. 27, and I actually think he deserved it.
The statistics are not sexy; it’s true. And it’s not surprising. But Sturaro ran like hell all over the pitch, didn’t do a whole bunch of stupid things, and he won the ball back on a number of occasions. He was like a poor man’s Blaise Matuidi, but that’s kind of exactly why he’s still on the team — I think? Anyway, if he can offer performances like this I think it’s worth keeping the Italian on the squad. He’s a fine semi-destroyer midfielder against mid-table Serie A sides, and sometimes that’s what you need when you’re resting your dudes.
(That said, if Everton or whomever wanted to pay, like, 30 million for him, then let’s do it!)
The Shroud of Turin Award
For the player who was never really there.
Sami Khedira is the friendliest ghost you know. He always says “hello,” and he’s really glad to meet you. He’s kind to every living creature.
Real question: is Khedira ... Juve’s worst midfielder?
Italian Cuisine Award
For the best collective unit, given different strengths.
I feel like Higuain and La Joya deserve to split the award, even though Pipita — against Allegri’s wishes, and due to the two Argentines’ “gentleman’s agreement” — missed a penalty. It wasn’t terribly taken, and it was well saved, but c’mon man! Make the thing go into the back of the net.
But anyway, Higuain was splendid besides that — especially his hold-up play, which earned the penalty which led to the first goal, and which created the space for the second goal’s assist. His runs were great, his touch was great, and he was absolutely connected by secret Argentine telepathy with his strike mate.
Speaking of No. 10: Hello, Mr. Dybala, it’s good to have you back. Little tiny Paulito now has four goals in three games, three of which were game-winners. It’s not just like he’s scoring goals; and it’s not just like he’s scoring really cool goals. They’ve all been extremely, extremely important to Juve’s various targets, and just these four have displayed Dybala’s sheer skill and dynamism.
He’s scored with his left foot and his right foot, on a free kick and — quite literally against Lazio — with three quarters of his body dragged to the ground. He’s faced and defeated the goalkeeper one-v-one, and he’s danced through back likes like a water bug.
Andiamo, my friends. Juve have a Wednesday home tie versus Atalanta on Wednesday and then travel to cellar dwellers SPAL on Saturday. If the lads can get through those two games with two wines, they’ll have earned a Serie A lead, a UCL quarterfinal berth, and a well-deserved rest.