In the seven years since the Allianz Stadium opened its doors, it has served as a fortress. Only seven visitors have ever won a game here: Inter, AC Milan, Sampdoria, Udinese, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Lazio.
Lazio were the last Serie A team to post a win at the Stadium. Their come-from-behind 2-1 victory, which had followed a 2-2 draw against Atalanta in which Juve blew a 2-0 lead, had opened up some serious questions about Massimiliano Allegri’s back line. Simone Inzaghi’s men had also beaten Juve in the Supercoppa to open the year, and the win at the Allianz had set them up as a rarity over the last few years — a team that seemingly had Juventus’ number.
Paulo Dybala’s last-gasp winner in Rome in last season’s return fixture started the process of taking that number back, and on Saturday the team completed its work, clamping down on the capital club for a 2-0 win, allowing only two shots on target, and reducing Ciro Immobile, who scored four times in three games between the teams last year, to an afterthought.
The revenge factor would have given this game heft regardless, but in practice it was clearly secondary to the day’s main event: Cristiano Ronaldo’s home debut. The excitement in the stadium was palpable, and the roar of the call-and-response between the announcer and crowd that traditionally takes place as the lineups are being announced was deafening. Juventini were finally about to see their new phenom play for real.
After leading the line last week at Chievo, Ronaldo was nominally deployed in his favored left wing spot for Game 2. Together with Federico Bernardeschi he bookended Mario Mandzukic in a 4-3-3. Blaise Matuidi received his first start of the season alongside Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira in midfield, while the rear guard was the same: Joao Cancelo, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, and Alex Sandro screening Wojceich Szczesny in goal.
Inzaghi sent his team out in a 3-5-1-1. The underrated Thomas Strakosha stood between the sticks, with Wallace, Stefan Radu, and summer signing Francesco Acerbi in front of him. Adam Marusic and Senad Lulic served as wing-backs around Lucas Leiva, Marco Parolo, and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, while Luis Alberto, now wearing the No. 10 shirt after the departure of Felipe Anderson, was stationed in the hole behind Immobile.
The game kicked off to great expectations, but the first phases of the match were rather dull. Juve wasn’t doing much of anything in terms of stringing together passes or keeping possession. Four minutes in Sandro badly mishit a pass that was meant to switch fields to Cancelo but only got halfway across the pitch before being intercepted, and shortly after that some terrible control by Matuidi in midfield allowed Lazio to keep up some pressure.
The game’s first semblance of a scoring chance, however, was created by Juve, on a nice ball long ball by Bernardeschi towards Ronaldo, who couldn’t quite get into position to give his header any power or direction, instead skimming it wide off the top of his head.
Lazio hadn’t really threatened much despite Juve’s lack of rhythm, but that changed thanks to one of Pjanic’s occasional defensive-third brain farts. This time a nonchalant pass in the 11th minute was intercepted right at the top of the box and ended up at the feet of Lulic, who whipped in a good low shot that Szczesny did well to push past the post as it skipped off the turf. Two corners followed in quick succession, and Szczesny came very close to gifting Lazio the breakthrough when he whiffed on his attempt to punch it away, but Wallace missed what would have been a sure goal at the back post.
Five minutes later, Marusic got a little too much space in front of the box, but his shot was incredibly tame and easily smothered by Szczesny. It would be the last Lazio shot that would find the target.
That shot seemed like the fulcrum on which the game turned. In the 17th minute, Strakosha almost gifted Ronaldo his first goal with some loose footwork, but managed to clear the ball out for a throw. Juve restarted play and cycled the ball to Mandzukic, who would consistently swap placed with Ronaldo on the left. His cross found Bernardeschi, but his header went way over.
The next opportunity came two minutes later — and came a whisker away from scoring. It started with a patented Bonucci long ball that found Matuidi, who laid the ball square toward Ronaldo. He missed it, but the ball rolled to Khedira, who took a touch to get it into position and then fired point blank. The ball would have gone in but for the sliding Acerbi, who got just enough on the ball to deflect it off of the post. Bernardeschi recovered, cut inside, and unleashed a cross-shot that looked like it avoided a lunging Ronaldo — in actuality it brushed off his hand — before being turned behind by Strakosha for a corner.
For the next 10 minutes there wasn’t a ton of action, save a tight-angled volley by Lulic that went wide. But on the half hour, Juve broke open the score.
Bernardeschi’s excellent first half continued, and his cross to the back post found Mandzukic in the left channel. He tried to head the ball into the mix, but his effort was blocked by Wallace — right into the path of Pjanic, who made up for a lackluster performance to that point by one-timing a low shot that bent away from Strakosha and nestled into the net.
The goal seemed to kick-start Lazio. Immobile got into the box four minutes after the goal but missed just wide, and then Parolo managed to get in behind the defense to chase after a long pass, only for Szczesny to read the danger and come charging out of the box to clear it long. Less than a minute later, Milinkovic-Savic took one from 25 yards out, but missed well off to the left.
The Poland international came off his line again a few minutes later, claiming the ball as Immobile and Bonucci tangled in front of him. All three hit the deck, and as he was securing the ball Szczesny looked to have accidentally punched Bonucci in the kidney, because he was down for a good minute afterwards. Interestingly enough, the man who was sent to warm up in case Bonucci couldn’t continue was Daniele Rugani — perhaps a sign that he’s managed to get himself higher in the pecking order at center back.
Once play resumed, Ronaldo managed to put his first shot on target in the match, but it was deflected harmlessly into Strakosha’s arms. Lazio put up a last flurry, but good defensive efforts from Bonucci and Khedira disrupted a few attacks, although just before stoppage time Lulic managed to get himself around Cancelo but didn’t have enough room to cross before putting the ball out for a goal kick.
Lazio had the better of possession in the opening phases of the second half, but Juve had the better end product. Five minutes into the second period Ronaldo dribbled his way into the box and put the ball across for Mandzukic, but the pass was slightly behind him. He then tried to flip a ball to Khedira in the channel, but the midfielder misread him and was going the wrong way. Seconds later Matuidi launched a ball so far over the bar it will probably cause some commotion when it hits the International Space Station in a few days’ time.
Lazio continued to put balls into fairly dangerous positions, but without any end result. Alberto’s through ball for Immobile in the 57th minute was intercepted by Bonucci, and moments later Sandro deftly controlled a cross in his own box with his chest before booming it out of harm’s way.
Chiellini made a rare mistake when he drove into the midfield only to lose the ball, which eventually fell to Alberto, whose shot missed the mark. That was just before the hour, and a minute later Allegri dipped into his bench to extend the lead, sending on Douglas Costa for a fading Bernardeschi.
Ronaldo had a big chance for his first goal in the 63rd minute when he was fouled about 26 yards or so from goal, but his free kick never came close to making it over the wall. He pursued his rebound and scooped a ball over for Chiellini, whose header was tipped over by yet another Strakosha save.
Cancelo had been having a few defensive problems, but was also growing into the game as an offensive force down the wing. In the 67th minute he combined well with Costa to send in a cross, then somehow managed to dribble through three defenders in close quarters before sending in another ball, creating a half chance out of nothing at all.
In the 71st minute Ronaldo was once again robbed by a brilliant save. He created the shot out of almost nowhere while dribbling against Marusic, and Strakosha somehow managed to tip the thunderclap shot over the bar with one hand. By our math, that’s at least three goals he’s been robbed of by fantastic saves by Strakosha and Stefano Sorrentino in last week’s opener.
Four minutes later Juve salted the game away, and Ronaldo did manage a first for him at Juventus — although not the one everyone was waiting for. It started out of another combination between Costa and Cancelo that put the Portuguese into all kinds of space on the overlap. He crossed it on the ground toward an onrushing Ronaldo. Strakosha sprawled after it but was only able to tip it onto Ronaldo’s foot, but he was so close to the goalie that he couldn’t get out of his own way, and he back-heeled his own shot into the air. Fortunately, Mandzukic was right behind him, and the big Croatian pounced to slam the ball home and double the lead — off Ronaldo’s first Juventus assist.
WOJCEICH SZCZESNY - 7. Proactive in coming out for balls, both inside the box and out. Had very little to do in terms of shotstopping.
JOAO CANCELO - 6. Much better than last week, but still has a lot of work to do defensively. Yes, he made three tackles and an interception, but he still let people get by him far too easily, and if Senad Lulic is doing that to him on a regular basis, better players will have a lot of fun with him.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 7.5. Hardly let Lazio have a sniff. Made two tackles and consistently interrupted Lazio’s moves, especially in the first half. Started a couple of moves with that passing of his.
GIORGIO CHIELLNI - 7.5. Made seven clearances and turned Immobile into a non-factor.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. Adequate performance overall. Not fantastic, but much closer to his usual standard than most of what he did last year.
BLAISE MATUIDI - 6. The opposite of Cancelo. Made a whopping seven tackles, easily leading the team, but gets a downgrade for his difficulties going forward, which too often killed attacking moves.
MIRALEM PJANIC - 6.5. Largely anonymous for the first half hour, but the goal was a thing of beauty and he had two key passes besides. Hopefully the twinge he felt before he was subbed off is nothing to speak of.
SAMI KHEDIRA - 6. Solid if unspectacular. Made no major errors and did come up with a good track-back play defending a counterattack at the end of the first half.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 7. Easily the most dangerous Juventus player in the first half. Started multiple sequences that led to chances, including on the first goal. Making a real statement for playing time in a talented group of wingers.
MARIO MANDZUKIC - 7. Made his usual defensive contributions and was on the spot to put in the second goal of the game.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 6.5. Took a bit to get into the game, but was more and more dangerous as the game went on. Roamed free in the attacking third and spent as much time on the left as he did in the middle. Would have had a goal but for an amazing Strakosha save, and notched his first assist with Juve.
DOUGLAS COSTA - 7. In half an hour he had as many key passes as as Ronaldo did. Instant jumpstart to the offense.
EMERE CAN - 6. Three tackles in 22 minutes. His energy is impressive. Watching him earn his place in the team will be fascinating.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - NR. In his customary five minutes of work nearly added a third with a nice strike that just dipped too late. Brought his customary energy to everything.
Eyes are going to be on Max Allegri all year as he works out the proper system to integrate Ronaldo. The 4-3-3 used Saturday is likely to be the answer against teams that are a genuine threat. The third midfielder gives Juve a lot more stability, as shown by how few shots Lazio put on target. Things aren’t particularly fluid right now, but that’s a product of trying to introduce the new signings as well as the regaining of fitness after a World Cup year.
Still, that begs the question of what to do with Paulo Dybala. It was a little surprising not to see him at all in the home opener, and his ability to move between the lines would have been valuable in certain portions of the game, when Lazio managed to press the team into some mistakes. But in a 4-3-3, he has no genuine position, except perhaps as a false nine, so either he’s going to have to adapt or Allegri is going to have to do something creative with him.
That said, he is currently pushing all the right buttons. The production will come from Ronaldo, but Allegri will need to put him into the right positions to maximize both him and his teammates.
A trip to Parma looms in a week’s time. The last time these two teams met at the Stadio Ennio Tardini the Seventh Sister was careening toward bankruptcy, but pulled out a 1-0 victory against a team that was in cruise control in Serie A to conserve energy for a run to the Champions League final. Since then, Parma have become only the second team to score three consecutive promotions, and have earned their rightful place in Serie A.
After that, we get the first international break of the year, before Sassuolo makes a visit to Turin.