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Mandzukic leads Juve past Parma

Juve took an ugly game to head into the international break with a perfect record

Parma Calcio v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

The last time Juventus played a game at the Stadio Ennio Tardini, it was a match between two teams going in opposite directions. Juve were cruising toward their fourth straight scudetto and closing in on their first trip to the UEFA Champions League final since the 2002-03 season. Parma were staring oblivion in the face after a series of incompetent owners — culminating in a charlatan named Giampiero Manenti — bankrupted the club. Dissolution and reformation in Serie D was all but certain.

Parma won that game 1-0. Juve had such an enormous lead in the league at that point that they were able to take their foot off the gas and focus on the Champions League, but it did provide a little bit of joy to a team and fan base that were bracing for a time in the wilderness.

But Parma has recovered magnificently. The phoenix club that took their place immediately rose to the challenge and has won three successive promotions to get back to the top flight at the soonest possible moment. They roared to a 2-0 lead in their opener against Udinese only to fumble the lead for a draw, and welcomed Juve to the Tardini for the first time since their demotion for their third match on Saturday. They’ve played well each time out so far, and gave the seven-time defending champions a good run in their first meeting in four years, but Juve eventually overpowered them and slogged their way to a 2-1 win.

As he did last week, Massimiliano Allegri sent his team out in a 4-3-3. Wojciech Szczesny started in goal. The defensive screen in front of him included a surprise addition: Juan Cuadrado. The Colombian started at right back, with Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, and Alex Sandro joining him. Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, and Blaise Matuidi took their places in midfield for the second straight game, as did Federico Bernardeschi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Mario Mandzukic up front.

The Crusaders were sent out by Roberto D’Aversa in a matching 4-3-3. Luigi Sepe stood in goal, protected by Simone Iacoponi, Riccardo Gagliolo, Bruno Alves, and Massimo Gobbi. Antonino Barilla, Luca Rigoni, and Leo Stulac took the midfield, and Gervinho, Roberto Inglese, and Antonio Di Gaudio made up the attacking trident.

For the second time in three weeks, Juve put a tally on the scoreboard before the fans had been able to get into their seats. It started with Cuadrado, who put an early cross in for Mandzukic. The Croatian met it and headed it into Iacoponi’s back. The ball proceeded to bounce into the air and landed right back at his feet, and he promptly deposited the ball past Sepe for his second goal of the year.

Parma Calcio v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Here’s the thing about early goals and Juventus, though: They tend not to expand on them — and Parma started putting pressure on right away. In the sixth minute, Cuadrado took a bad angle after a Juventus corner and allowed a counterattack to form. A minute later he gave the ball away with a short field, allowing Di Gaudio to get into the box, only for his shot to be blocked by Bonucci.

Cuadrado redeemed himself somewhat two minutes after that. Gervinho had wriggled through Matuidi and Chiellini in the right channel, putting himself in great shooting position. A desperate sliding challenge by Sandro ended up poking the ball away from him but into the path of Di Gaudio, whose shot was blocked by the Colombian at full stretch for a corner.

Sepe spilled a shot from Khedira in the 11th minute, but Bernardeschi was flagged offside as he tried to follow up. On the other end, Stulac beat Szczesny with a swerving free kick but slammed it off the crossbar.

Juve got in on their own direct free kick game in the 18th minute, when Bernardeschi found the target with a curler from an acute angle on the right wing, forcing Sepe to punch the ball away. Three minutes later the winger sought Ronaldo at the back post but put too much power on his cross.

Ronaldo had an accidental assist last week against Lazio, and he nearly had another one in the 26th minute when he headed toward goal from a corner. The header was always going wide, but Bonucci made a valiant attempt to redirect it at full stretch but just couldn’t get to it. Stulac was dangerous again on the other end just short of the half-hour, firing a long-range shot that skipped off the ground but Szczesny played it well and punched away the short hop.

Then started a series of events that led to Parma’s equalizer. The first link in the chain came in the 30th minute, when Cuadrado chased down a loose ball after a corner. He and Stulac both slid in to gain possession and crashed into each other hard. Cuadrado came off the worse, staying down for several minutes after taking a knee-to-knee blow. When play restarted, Gobbi received a pass down his side. Khedira and Bernardeschi seemed muddled as to who was filling in in Cuadrado’s position, giving the Parma full-back the room to cross. As the ball came in, Bonucci lost track of his man behind him, and Inglese flicked a centering header past a surprised Szczesny, leaving an easy tap-in from three feet for Gervinho.

The already-electric atmoshpere at the Tardini ratcheted up, but Juve responded well. Bernardeschi was especially lively in the last five minutes of the half. In the 41st he popped up on the back side of a play to charge to the end line, but there was no one to receive the cross. A minute before the half he was on the receiving end of a slick pass by Pjanic and burst into the box, but Sepe saved his shot at point blank range. With seconds left in stoppage time Gervinho blew past Cuadrado and got into the box, squaring for Rigoni. Szczesny made a fantastic reaction save and Chiellini rushed in to clear the rebound.

Juve broke quickly out of the half. Ronaldo cut in from the left side into shooting position, but Gagliolo got into his path for the block, and he skied the followup. Khedira then searched for Ronaldo with a through ball, but too much on it and Sepe was able to claim. Bernardeschi was the next man presented with a good opportunity in the first five minutes, getting a great feed after Chiellini bombed forward on one of those runs of his, but as he got into the channel he got bowled over. It was a close thing, but it looked like the defender got to the ball, and referee Daniele Doveri waved away appeals for a penalty.

Khedira then got a turn, and blasted the ball way over in a good position. Ronaldo then put another ball wide, and Allegri had had enough of the status quo. Bernardeschi had put in another good shift, but he was sacrificed for Douglas Costa.

By this point, though, things were looking seriously wonky. It was almost as if the team was trying to force the ball to Ronaldo in order to get him his first goal of the season. When he did get the ball, the off-the-ball movement seemed to die, as if the rest of the team waited for Ronaldo to do his thing. In the 57th minute he dribbled through three men, but his final touch was a bit too long and was hacked away.

One of the few times the off-the-ball movement was on point, Juve retook the lead. It started with Sandro, who freed himself up to slide an angled ball into the box. Mandzukic deftly back-heeled the ball to Matuidi. The Frenchman isn’t always a sure thing on the attack, but on this occasion he fired an angled shot into the top corner at the near post to put his team up 2-1.

Parma Calcio v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

There were still 35 minutes left, and it would certainly have been nice for Juve to salt the game away. But it was back to the same old thing. Ronaldo cut inside again in the 63rd minute, but didn’t pull the trigger despite being in good position. Costa put a cross/shot into the mixer three minutes later that looked goal-bound, but it was kicked away at the last second. The Brazilian then picked a pocket in midfield and broke away, with Ronaldo on his left and Khedira on his right. The midfielder was in better position, but Costa went to Ronaldo instead, and when the star tried to lay a cross over to the German he put it over his head.

Costa continued to stamp his mark on the game and came closest to adding an insurance goal with 18 minutes left, when he picked up a cleared corner, cut inside at the top of the box, and unleashed a curler that had Sepe stranded but thwacked off the post.

Parma worked hard for a second equalizer in the closing phases. They had help as Juve started getting lax in their passing. A lazy square ball by Ronaldo was intercepted and led to a counter that was capped by Gaudio shooting wide. Costa wasted a beautiful move when he jinked two defenders only to put his pass way too far past Mandzukic. In the 82nd minute the ball they nearly got there. Stulac had a shot blocked by Matuidi, and the followup saw a cross curl away as it went across the goal.

Ronaldo had another close call in the 87th minute on a Costa cross from the left, but Sepe punched just in time. Paulo Dybala, on for his 100th career game for Juve, tried to feed his new teammate through the middle with no luck, then burst through himself but was forced into a tight angle before he could shoot. Parma had one last opportunity with a free kick as stoppage time ended, but Szczesny plucked the ball out of the air, and Doveri blew his whistle, and another drab victory came to an end.


WOJCEICH SZCZESNY - 7. Made a couple of smart saves. The stop on Stulac’s skipping effort in the first half was particularly impressive. Earning his place so far.

JUAN CUADRADO - 6.5. Provided some good support going forward and was the catalyst on Mandzukic’s opener, but let a few too many plays get behind him. Better defensively at the spot than Joao Cancelo has been, but not by much.

LEONARDO BONUCCI - 5.5. This is two games out of three where bad marking on his part has led to a goal. Needs to get back into shape before the bigger games start coming after the break.

GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 6. A quiet day for the captain. Not forced into a ton of big interventions, although he made one of the biggest plays of the game right before the half to keep the game tied.

ALEX SANDRO - 6. Got the hockey assist on the winner and was solid on the left flank in defense, but needs to see better results on his crosses. Zero of 11 complete is a bad look.

SAMI KHEDIRA - 5. Yes, he completed 95 percent of his passes, but what did those passes do, exactly? Made a pair of tackles as well but for the most part was completely invisible.

MIRALEM PJANIC - 6. Made four key passes and completed every pass he tried, but he’s not passing the eye test so far. An early booking may have played a part in him looking less aggressive than usual.

BLAISE MATUIDI - 7. Never stops when in pursuit of the ball, and his goal was a thing of beauty from a player that doesn’t pull out shots like that too often.

FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 7. The best player on the team over the first three weeks. A constant bother down the right side. Had some of the best chances of the first half.

MARIO MANDZUKIC - 8. Balls seem to just pop up right in front of him these days. Turned in three key passes as well, and his assist was a thing of absolute beauty, and if you ever had reason to question his commitment (you don’t), watch his reaction when Parma equalized.

CRISTIANO RONALDO - 5. Unlike the first two weeks, where he played well and was denied by bad fortune and great goalkeeping, this week Ronaldo was pretty bad. He only found the target once in eight shots, and that was a long-range effort that was directly at Sepe with little power. He still has some adapting to do, but he seems like he’s pressing right now. It will come.


DOUGLAS COSTA - 7. What more can be said about this dude? He was all over the place in his 36 minutes. Curled a beauty off the post and had three tackles and an interception to go along with his five dribbles on the offensive end.

EMERE CAN - 6. Solid midfield work in place of a booked Pjanic. It’ll be fun to see what he can do in a full game.

PAULO DYBALA - NR. Made some good moves in the 11 minutes he was on the field and flowed between the lines well.


It’s going to be a challenge fitting all these outstanding forwards into the lineup, but Paulo Dybala needs to be on the field in games like this. His ability to link the midfield and the forwards and to create from the front are crucial in games against teams like Parma, who will look to set up shop in defense and stay organized. It’s hard to get him out there in a 4-3-3, but Allegri needs to do some more tinkering. Watch this space over the break for a suggestion of how.

On the Ronaldo front, it was interesting watching where he and Mandzukic were placed as the game went on. For the first 30 minutes, I was almost convinced that Ronaldo had been instructed to play as the center-forward and leave the wing to Mandzukic, before the first visible switch between the two of them. The Croatian is hot right now and can’t be taken off the field, but it’s worth keeping track of when and how the two players switch positions as a given game goes on. If they switch frequently enough it will be hard for opposing defenses to find a reference point to the attack — but if they spend big chunks in one place or the other, other teams will be able to key in and stop up both of them.

But the biggest concern about this game was the lack of movement. It looked like the team was content standing around and moving at a walking pace while whoever was on the ball made their decisions about how to proceed, especially in the second half. It only gets worse when Ronaldo has the ball at his feet—things just seemed to screech to a halt. No one was moving, and more importantly no one was making the defense move to open any holes. The whole team was, for the most part, static. This needs to be rectified or we’re going to see a lot more games like this.


It’s international break time!

Juve’s international players will scatter as UEFA embarks on its brand-new Nations League tournament, while the South Americans have friendlies scheduled. When everything is done, Sassuolo comes to the Allianz Stadium, looking to do better than the 7-0 hammering Juve laid on them on their last trip.