It’s always difficult to play in one game when another huge one is right around the corner. The temptation to look beyond the present, especially when faced with a team that ought to be brushed aside, is very real, and can cause problems before you even get to the crunch contest that awaits.
Juventus was presented with such a situation on the first midweek league game of the season on Wednesday — a visit from a Bologna team that had struggled mightily in the opening rounds of the season with the first really big game of the year, a home tilt against Napoli, to follow three days later.
But true champions keep their focus in situations like this, and that’s exactly what the Bianconeri did, getting goals from Paulo Dybala and Blaise Matuidi within the first 16 minutes as they cruised to a 2-0 victory with minimal effort.
Massimiliano Allegri was faced with the simultaneous tasks of both resting key players for the job ahead and putting together an effective lineup amidst an injury crisis. Sami Khedira and Mattia De Sciglio were still missing, with Leonardo Spinazzola still a long-term absentee and Douglas Costa out due to both injury and suspension. Allergi was also unexpectedly without forward Moise Kean, who suffered an allergic reaction on Tuesday and couldn’t participate.
Allegri’s solution to this was a blast from the past: the old 3-5-2 was back. Mattia Perin made his competitive debut for Juventus in goal. Andrea Barzagli, back from a leg injury, made his first start of the season and carried the captain’s armband, joining Leonardo Bonucci and Medhi Benatia in the back three. Rodrigo Bentancur, Miralem Pjanic, and Matuidi manned the middle of the park, with Juan Cuadrado playing as the right wing-back and Joao Cancelo on the left. Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo paired up together at the top of the formation for the first time.
Bologna coach Filippo Inzaghi had endured an awful start to the season before seeing his team unexpectedly overwhelm Roma last Sunday. He too was dealing with injury problems, missing four players to the training table and another one to suspension. He mirrored Allegri’s 3-5-2, with Lukasz Skorupski in goal behind Nehuen Paz, Danilo, and Arturo Calabresi. Ibrahima Mbaye and Mitchell Dijks flanked Ladislav Krejci, Adam Nagy, and Blerim Dzemaili in midfield, while Mattia Destro joined Diego Falcinelli up top.
Allegri’s men came out firing, and within two minutes Cancelo had cut inside from the left and unleashed the game’s first shot, which Skorupski parried away. A minute later, Juve had a penalty shout when Matuidi latched on to a beautiful ball over the top and was bowled over as he tried to control it. Referee Maurizio Mariani waved play on, and there was no move to check VAR on what really should have been a penalty kick.
Bologna got in a few passages of their own, and in the seventh minute worked an intricate free kick play that ended with a cross fizzing through everyone and out for a goal kick. A few minutes later Barzagli had to come across to intervene when Mbaye shook off Cancelo and got off a low cross. The Rossoblu continued to come, and Perin had to make his first intervention of the game when he punched a bouncing cross away from his goal.
When the ball went back the other way, though, the breakthrough came.
It was the 12th minute when Bonucci sent one of those beautiful balls over the top of his into the Bologna box. Dybala went up for it, and it ended up bouncing off his back and settling perfectly for Matuidi. Skorupski managed to parry the shot with his shin, but Dybala was in line for the rebound and hit an acrobatic right-footed (!!) volley to the far post that wrong-footed the keeper, who was scrambling to the near expecting the shot to come that way.
You could almost see the weight melting off the Argentine bomber’s shoulders. Suddenly he was everywhere, dropping deeper to pick up the ball and distribute it — and he was very much involved with Juve’s second.
The trigger of that goal, though, was an absolutely beautiful sliding challenge by Bentancur on the left flank. It really was excellent, a clinic in timing and patience on a challenge that could easily have gotten him booked had he gotten it wrong. After he gained the ball, he was back up and received an outlet pass through the middle of the field. As he bombed forward he unfortunately missed Ronaldo going up the right side with green field in front of him, but he did get the ball to Dybala on the left, who crossed it in to his strike partner. Ronaldo took what had to be an attempt at a shot from an acute angle but only succeeded in mishitting it across the face of the goal. Matuidi was there to latch on to the unintended cross, and from four yards and a tight angle he somehow managed to peg it into the roof of the goal for his second strike of the season.
Juve continued to press the action. Ronaldo was looking for more goals, and in the 27th minute he dribbled through Paz and fired a low shot that Skorupski saved well to his right. Two minutes later Perin was called into action for the first time when Falcinelli eventually got into a shooting position after Matuidi held up the Bologna attack for what seemed like forever.
In the 33rd minute, Pjanic got himself booked when he spiked Krejci going for a 50/50 ball, and two minutes later an error by Benatia allowed Falcinelli, who charged from the halfway line into the box and bought himself the space to shoot, but he fired wide. A few minutes after that, Matuidi released Ronaldo going the other way. A few years ago Ronaldo would had the pace to take the ball all the way with the room he had, but he was forced to pass the ball back into the middle, where Cancelo eventually got tangled with his own teammate and lost the ball.
Halftime came and went, and the game slowly saw the life ebb away. Destro had a chance to reinvigorate things eight minutes into the second period when he tried a standing overhead kick, but the effort was wide.
Juve gradually shifted into energy-saving mode. That didn’t mean they didn’t create chances. On the hour a little shimmy by Cancelo left Dzemaili in the dust, and he fired a curler with his right foot that met with a diving save by Skorupski. Thirteen minutes later, Ronaldo took a longish free kick — and fired it right into Bologna’s wall.
By that point Pjanic was off the field, having risked a second yellow enough times that Allegri replaced him with Emere Can.
Bologna were also game, and they earned a free kick in perfect shooting range in the 79th minute. Krejci’s effort was a good one, but Perin anticipated where it was going and got himself behind it, bouncing it once on the ground and then holding it tight.
Ronaldo nearly put it beyond all doubt with five minutes to go when he took a nifty feed from Dybala down the right channel, but he just missed the far post. Had he picked up his head he would have seen Federico Bernardeschi, on as a sub for Cuadrado, standing alone ready for a tap in.
A notable event came a minute later, when Barzagli made way for Alex Sandro. The cente back passed along the captaincy, and for the first time, Dybala donned the armband. At the same time Juve prospect Riccardo Orsolini made an appearance off the bench.
As stoppage time drew to a close Can was the victim of a double save by Skorupski, who impressively stopped the German’s first attempt from the left channel before having an easier time of it once the rebound was cycled back to him. There was very little else to do, and Mariani ended the game shortly thereafter.
MATTIA PERIN - 6.5. Had little to do overall, although Bologna did put five shots on his frame. Faced down everything he was presented with, but only had to touch the ball 28 times.
ANDREA BARZAGLI - 7. A great way to start his season. Cleaned up after Cuadrado a few times, and reminded us all why he’s called Il Muro. Also surprisingly led the team in long balls, completing 11 of 14.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 7. Didn’t try as many long balls as either of his defensive teammates, but the ones he did tended to be fantastic, including the one that led to the first goal.
MEDHI BENATIA - 6.5. Made a couple of small mistakes that drag his rating just a little bit. A better team may have punished him a little more. Also committed four fouls.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6. Played a few good long balls, but the bulk of the attacking moves came from the left today. Did release Bentancur on the counter that led to Matuidi’s goal.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 8. So subtle, but so beautiful. Wednesday night’s performance was a lot like what he did at the World Cup, and it was reminiscent of a young Claudio Marchisio — complete with an airmailed long shot or two. Tenacious in hunting the ball, and I really can’t say enough about that tackle that led to the second goal. It was a thing of beauty.
MIRALEM PJANIC - 5. One of the few lesser performances on the day, he really didn’t do much, and was liable to be sent off before getting hauled off by Allegri.
BLAISE MATUIDI - 8. Where are these goals coming from? A fantastic tally, plus a team-leading three tackles. Excellent game from the Frenchman.
JOAO CANCELO - 6.5. Tested Skorupski twice with good shots, and showed that he’ll make trouble when he’s on the right or the left. Did get beat on defense once or twice.
PAULO DYBALA - 9. This is the guy we expect to see. He was absolutely everywhere, with an impressive six key passes, that really pretty goal, and generally everywhere building up the attack.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 6. Needs to realize that he’s not going to dribble past everyone in Italy. Forced some long shots a little and is still working on his timing when combining with his teammates. Did come up with three key passes, so he’s not monopolizing the attack, but this was a less than stellar game.
EMERE CAN - 6. Not a bad outing. Almost had a goal late on, but needs to stop fouling in dangerous areas.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - NR. Caused his fair share of mayhem in a 14-minute cameo. He’ll be instrumental over the weekend.
ALEX SANDRO - NR. On to see things out at the end.
I was expecting a slog. Allegri had never really mastered the 3-5-2 the way Antonio Conte did, and whenever he used the formation the attacking moves tended to be choppy.
That was certainly not the case today. Juve was as free-flowing as they’ve been all season. Some must have had something to do with the fact that Bologna actually tried to play rather than park the bus, but there was something more to it. In the first place, there may have been more off-the-ball movement in this game than every other game combined, and the ball had a lot of zip as it went around the park.
Dybala’s exceptional performance is likely a sign that Allegri should look into using him as a seconda punta more often. He hasn’t played there in a long time, but it’s easily his best position, and jumped right back into it like a good pair of jeans. The freedom to move all over the field and direct the attack was a tonic. We’ll see what happens in the future, but if we want to see the best out of Dybala, perhaps it’s time for more of this.
It is a real shame that Kean was unavailable, because this game would have been perfect for him, but his time will come.
The first big game of the year looms with Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli coming to the Allianz Stadium. The Old Lady will look to avenge the last-gasp loss they took to the Partenopei in May.
After that, it’s back to the Champions League, with an early kickoff on Tuesday against Young Boys.