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Juve barely need second gear as they start Coppa defense

Juventus began their fourth defense of the Coppa Italia with a textbook victory in Bologna.

Danilo Di Giovanni/Soccrates/Getty Images

They’re baaaaaack!

After the two-week break, Juventus are finally back in action, and their first test was a trip to Bologna to begin their quest for their fifth consecutive Coppa Italia.

Juve had met the Rossoblu in Serie A play in September at the Allianz Stadium, recording a workmanlike 2-0 victory with first-half goals by Paulo Dybala and Blaise Matuidi. Neither of those men played from the start on Saturday, but the Bianconeri put in the same kind of display, throttling Filippo Inzaghi’s men from the start and not allowing a shot on target as they easily advanced to the Coppa Italia quarterfinals by the same 2-0 score.

Massimiliano Allegri went into the match clearly looking to give some fringe players some more significant minutes, but he did give Wojciech Szczesny the start in goal, even though the Coppa has often been the domain of the backup the last seven years. Injuries prevented much in the way of rotation in the back. Medhi Benatia was supposed to get the start in the middle, but pulled up with a groin injury in warmups. Daniele Rugani likewise tweaked something, so Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci had to play. They were flanked by Mattia De Sciglio on the right and Leonardo Spinazzola, who made his long-awaited Juve debut as left back. Emre Can, Miralem Pjanic, and Sami Khedira formed the engine room in midfield. Up front, Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi got some welcome playing time on the wings, while teenage sensation Moise Kean made his first start in a Juventus shirt in place of the injured Mario Mandzukic. As Chiellini’s inclusion in the lineup was a last minute thing, Khedira retained the captain’s armband for the game.

Inzaghi is hanging by a thread at Bologna, and with big games against SPAL and Frosinone upcoming he used his first game of 2019 to get the feet of his two newest acquisitions wet. Angelo Da Costa took position in goal rather than usual keeper Lukasz Skorupski. He was behind a 3-5-2, screened by Arturo Calabresi, Danilo, and Filip Helander in defense. Roberto Soriano, back in Italy after a few years at Villarreal, was joined by Erick Pulgar and Mattias Svanberg in midfield, flanked by former Juve farmhand Federico Mattiello and Dutchman Mitchell Dijks on the wings. The perpetually misfiring Mattia Destro was paired with the other new arrival, Nicola Sansone, up front.

Almost immediately Juve ran riot at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara. The hosts were pinned into their own end almost as soon as referee Federico La Penna blew his whistle. Douglas Costa quickly became a force that was more than Mattiello could handle, and he set up De Sciglio to cross for Juve’s first shot of the game — a header by Kean that flew wide — with barely three minutes on the clock. The intense pressure paid, and in the ninth minute Da Costa tried to claim a long ball forward from De Sciglio, only to crash into Calabresi and spill the ball right into the feet of Bernardeschi, who slotted the ball into the empty net with little resistance from a desperate Danilo.

Unlike some games this year that saw Juve hang back after scoring an opener, this time the ball went right back into the Bologna half of the field, and 10 minutes after the opener Bonucci nearly poked home a dinked free kick by Pjanic, and just before the half-hour he thundered a header right at Da Costa from a corner.

Bologna had to try to feed on the scraps. They were nearly gifted an opportunity 15 minutes in when De Sciglio underhit a pass, but Bonucci blocked Destro’s effort. In the 26th minute, Sansone managed to get into the box and sent in a good pullback, but Svanberg totally scuffed it.

As the half went on Juve had their chances to extend the lead. Bernardeschi could have had a brace but was unable to control a beautiful ball forward by Pjanic. That was followed by a rather frightening moment involving Douglas Costa and Helander, who put his head in to try to get the ball away from the Brazilian’s attempt at a bicycle kick and got a boot to the face for his trouble. Bologna managed one one more chance at an equalizer in first half stoppages when Dijks latched on to a deflected cross at the back post, but couldn’t find the target with his shot.

The game was pretty much wrapped up four minutes into the second period. Bernardeschi initiated the move, putting Douglas Costa in through the right channel. The initial shot was blocked, but Kean kept moving and was in perfect position to simply tap the ball past Da Costa. It was his second goal as a Juve player, and both have come in Bologna.

The remaining 40 minutes or so of game time was uneventful. Inzaghi’s men got themselves in a bit more possession and actually ended up outshooting Juve 9-6, but none of them found the target, and by the end of the game Juve was passing the ball around to bleed the clock as their berth in the quarterfinals sharpened into focus.


WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - NR. There’s really no point in giving a rating here. I don’t think Szczesny touched a ball in play with his hands until the second half.

MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6.5. Made a couple of loose passes but kept things locked on his flank as usual.

LEONARDO BONUCCI - 6. A typical day in the middle, although he could have finished the day with a goal as well.

GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 7. An easy day, and he kept Sansone and Destro very quiet indeed.

LEONARDO SPINAZZOLA - 8. It is difficult to put into words just how astonished I was at how well Spinazzola played. This was the first game he’s played against senior players since March, and he was one of the best players on the field. With three competitions to worry about over (hopefully) the next five months, he should be kept on to back up Alex Sandro rather than loaned out.

EMRE CAN - 6. Nothing special, but did his job in midfield.

MIRALEM PJANIC - 7. Really kept the metronome of the midfield ticking today. Could’ve had multiple assists but his teammates couldn’t bury their chances.

SAMI KHEDIRA - 6. He was ... ok. Not great, but adequate to what he needed to do.

FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 7. Pounced on Da Costa’s mistake early and made a good pass in to set up the second. A great game and a big step in the right direction after his October injury derailed his hot form.

MOISE KEAN - 7. Was in great positions all night, and that paid off for his goal. He wasn’t perfect — his touch, in particular, was slightly rough — but he grew into the game and made the right decisions.

DOUGLAS COSTA - 7.5. A menace with his speed. Few Italian teams can deal with him in full force, and Bologna are not one of them.


CRISTIANO RONALDO - 6. A nice warmup for bigger games to come, but he didn’t have to do too much.

PAULO DYBALA - NR. On for the last 13 minutes to start greasing the wheels before the Supercoppa.

ALEX SANDRO - NR. On to spell Spinazzola’s legs at the end.


RICCARDO ORSOLINI - 6. Produced a little more push up the Bologna right side, and got into good positions for headers in the box as well. A pretty good sub appearance, given how badly throttled Bologna was in this game.


Allegri deployed a 4-3-3, but there was an interesting wrinkle in his wingers, both of whom would often show up on the same side of the field while the fullback on the other side pressed up for width there. It was an interesting twist up front, and it gave Costa another option to feed after his dribbles. Kean didn’t swing out wide the way Mandzukic does, but that’s not his game.

It’s to Allegri’s credit that he was trying to work some of the players that haven’t gotten a lot of minutes into this game. Over the next few months he’s going to need every single one of them, so getting to know what guys like Spinazzola and Kean can really do with extended runs is important.


The quarterfinals now loom, against the winner of Sunday’s match between Atalanta and Cagliari.

The next game on the docket comes Wednesday, as the team flies to (sigh) Saudi Arabia to take on AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana, before coming back home to Turin to begin the second half of the Serie A season the following Monday against Chievo.