They never make it easy on us, do they?
Not even when Genoa, a team that started this midweek round of fixtures only one point ahead of the relegation zone, came to visit the Allianz Stadium. Genoa, whose win over the weekend against Brescia ended a seven-game winless streak that included six losses — a run that cost Aurelio Andreazzoli his job. New coach Thiago Motta produced a come-from-behind 3-1 victory — their first win since Sept. 1 — but is so inexperienced that he has only ever coached at the Under-19 level before his move to Genoa and doesn’t even have the required coaching badges, meeting the requirements through an assistant. The fact that Juve has had a rough recent history with the Grifone — only one win in their last four — didn’t seem to matter.
The expectation was a handy win.
But it’s never like that, is it?
Instead of taking the game at a canter, Juventus had to gut out a 2-1 win on a last-second penalty kick by Cristiano Ronaldo, despite having a man advantage for half an hour. That after losing a lead within minutes for the second game running, this time on a goal so bizarre that you’ll probably never see its like again in your lifetime.
Such is life right now for Juventini. The hope is that with time the tenets of Maurizio Sarri will settle in and make joyless games like this largely a thing of the past — but until then games like this will have to be endured.
It’s clear at this point that Sarri is settling into the 4-3-1-2 as his base formation. Gianluigi Buffon again rotated into the goalkeeper’s position. Daniele Rugani received his first starting assignment of the season alongside Leonardo Bonucci, while Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro bookended the two. Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi returned to the starting XI in midfield, flanking Rodrigo Bentancur, who filled in for the injured Miralem Pjanic in the regista position. Federico Bernardeschi stayed in the hole behind the strike pair, made up of Paulo Dybala and Ronaldo. Gonzalo Higuain joined Pjanic in the stands after the knock to the head he took against Lecce, but both Douglas Costa and Aaron Ramsey were back in the squad.
Motta countered that lineup with a 4-2-3-1 formation (insert 2-7-2 joke here) but was confronted by a minor selection crunch, as he was unable to select the likes of Stefano Sturaro, Domenico Criscito, Andrea Favilli, and more. Ionut Radu started in goal, with Paolo Ghiglione, Cristian Zapata, Juve loanee Cristian Romero, and Peter Ankerson. Lasse Schone and Federico Cassata formed the double pivot in midfield, while Goran Pandev, Kevin Augedelo, and Christian Kouame formed a bank behind Andrea Pinamonti’s lone striker.
The opening phases of the game were, quite frankly, utterly boring. It took 11 minutes for either side to record a shot, and the lone notable event was a yellow card given Cassata after the fourth after he hacked Dybala down. The fireworks finally started to come in the 17th, when Dybala controlled a defensive header with his chest and hit a gorgeous volley that Radu somehow just palmed over the bar.
That finally got Juventus in gear, and they proceeded to seal Genoa into their own half. Dybala came close again in the 34th minute after he recovered a ball Khedira had lost, then squeezed between Schone and Zapata down the right channel before taking aim at the far post. His low shot seemed destined for the net, but Radu was sharp and got down quickly, palming the ball past the post.
But the pressure was telling, and after Romero swept a Sandro cross out for a corner in the 36th minute, Bentancur stepped up to send in the delivery. Radu came out for it, but Bonucci had read the ball well and anticipated the keeper’s move, jumping ahead of him and heading the ball pretty much from between his hands and into the goal on a bounce.
But just like over the weekend against Lecce, the lead didn’t stay for long. After Buffon made an excellent save on a long free kick by Schone, Sandro made a horrible mistake, misplacing a simple pass that Aguedelo redirected into the path of Kouame. The Ivorian took a touch to settle it and reared back to shoot from inside the penalty arc. His right-footed shot was so badly mishit that he slammed it into his own plant leg, but that mistake ended up working to his advantage, as the self-deflection ended up popping the ball into the air and in at the near post as Buffon was diving to the far.
Juve almost came up with a response immediately after the restart when Ronaldo headed the ball into the net, but Dybala, who had supplied the cross, had been well offside when he received it.
The second half was barely five minutes old when Juve was handed a huge break. Cassata, trying to keep Dybala from breaking into the attacking third with the ball, grabbed on to his man. It was a small handful of his shirt, but referee Antonio Giua deemed it enough to rule it a professional foul, and duly showed him a second yellow card.
For the next six or seven minutes Genoa actually had the better of play after the expulsion, getting in a couple of passages of play, but were only able to muster one wild shot off target, and backup keeper Federico Marchetti was sent off from the bench for screaming at Giua after a foul call ended an attack. Soon, however, Juve found their footing and began pressing the man advantage. By this point the rain was intensifying rapidly, and around the hour mark Dybala and Ronaldo both tried to shoot from long in the hopes of getting a good skip off the wet grass. Dybala’s effort was blocked, while Ronaldo’s had little venom and was right at Radu.
Sarri added some more dynamism to the midfield to try to press the advantage, sending on Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot to replace Khedira and Matuidi. The siege began, and Dybala had a point-blank stab at a Cuadrado cross blocked by Zapata for a corner. Bernardeschi struck one well from 22 yards and Radu made an excellent save diving to his left. On the ensuing corner Ronaldo met Bentancur’s delivery and headed it straight at the Romanian goalie, but with such power that he nearly fumbled it over the line before recovering to hold it. In the 74th minute Ronaldo had a golden opportunity to regain the lead after a fantastic ball to the far post by Dybala, but headed wide on a chance that he cans 9 1⁄2 times out of 10.
With 11 minutes left, Costa was given his first run since his injury, replacing Bernardeschi and playing in the hole rather than moving out wide. With almost his first touch he ripped a long-range shot that just twisted past the corner of the goal. As Juve piled forward, substitute Sinan Gumus managed to break away with the ball. Rabiot slid in from behind and dispossessed him, but Giua ruled the tackle an infraction and gave the Frenchman, who had clearly contacted the ball, an extremely harsh second yellow card, making the game 10 vs. 10 for the remaining three minutes.
Four minutes of stoppage time were put up on the board, and halfway through that time Ronaldo thought he had the winner, tapping in from a cross from Cuadrado, but a quick VAR check determined that the Portuguese was offside, a quite inexplicable error given Ronaldo was looking down the line.
But he was able to redeem himself moments later. With the last minute of stoppage time ticking down, Ronaldo picked up a pass from Dybala on the right side of the penalty area. He was faced up with Ankerson, but Antonio Sanabria, who had come on in the 81st minute for Kouame, came in to help, but ended up being the game’s goat. He hooked Ronaldo by the right elbow—not a ton of contact, but enough to warrant a penalty. Ronaldo stepped up, and fired a low penalty to his left. Radu guessed right, but the ball was struck perfectly and it barely brushed his fingertips as it arrowed its way into the back of the net. Giua gave Genoa a minute or two on the other end, but a last-gasp corner came to nothing, and the final whistle ended the match.
GIANLUIGI BUFFON - 6.5. Made a really excellent save on Schone’s free kick, but other than that had very little to do. Absolutely not at fault on the goal. That was such a freak thing that you couldn’t expect anyone to do anything about that.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6.5. Made three key passes and an absurd seven tackles, many of which were upfield to keep the ball headed back toward Radu’s goal. His decision making in the final third was a little wonky early, but he grew into things.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 6.5. Great read on the corner kick to score the opener, and he had three key passes as Juve pressed the man advantage and he got closer and closer to goal to use his passing abilities to help the team.
DANIELE RUGANI - 5. Looked really shaky at times, which is to be expected when a guy waits two months to get a start. It’s going to be interesting to see how he and Merih Demiral stack up behind Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt, because neither has impressed in game action so far.
ALEX SANDRO - 5. A horrific pass led to the Genoa goal. It was a simple error that you can’t make that deep in your own half. It drags down his grade considerably.
SAMI KHEDIRA - 4. Made a pair of tackles but otherwise did very little. The biggest offensive highlight he was involved in came after Dybala picked up a ball that he lost. It’s still a mystery as to why he is starting given his lack of dynamism and the fact that he has to be replaced after 60 minutes every game.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 8. He was absolutely everywhere. Delivered the assist on Bonucci’s goal with a great corner delivery and almost had another in the second half on a Ronaldo header. Had five key passes, three tackles, three interceptions, and two clearances. Didn’t have the exact same effect in the position as Pjanic, but was very effective in his own way.
BLAISE MATUIDI - 5.5. Couldn’t generate much on the left side of midfield in terms of going forward, but had a good day recovering the ball until being pulled for a more offensive-minded player.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 6. Was denied a goal by a nice save, made a pair of key passes, and generally had a much better game than his last two.
PAULO DYBALA - 7.5. Robbed twice by great saves from Radu, and was creative and dangerous all night long. Four key passes, a team-leading three dribbles. He’s gaining confidence daily.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 6. Until the penalty he he’d been having a pretty poor game. Yes, he was credited with five key passes, but his finishing was shockingly poor, by his standards or anyone else’s. The header provided him by Dybala with 15 minutes left was almost a gimme.
AARON RAMSEY - 5. Didn’t have the influence we saw him have before his injury, but he was also in a less advanced position and didn’t really have the opportunity to play the same passes he does when he’s in the hole.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. Had three tackles and three dribbles in just under half an hour. Not docking him for being sent off, as the second yellow was a truly horrible call.
DOUGLAS COSTA - NR. Nearly put the team ahead with one of his first touches, and looked pretty good in the hole in a limited sample size. It’ll be interesting to see whether he’s deployed there regularly.
Sarri rotated a few guys Wednesday, specifically sitting de Ligt, but the biggest news involving the manager is the indication that he’s decided that the 4-3-1-2 is the best way forward for the team. In his post-match press conference he mentioned Costa’s past experiences as a trequartista during his time at Shakhtar Donetsk and talked about the 4-3-3’s negative effect on Dybala.
Given the latter’s resurgence playing the seconda punta position that suits him best, it’s not a surprise that Sarri wants to keep this setup in place, but he will have to iron out a few things. The use of Costa is one — we’ll have to see if he can play effectively in the middle or whether, like Bernardeschi, playing in the hole seems to take a little bit away from his game. The need to provide width in the attack will also need to be dealt with. Things were actually better in that regard today, but that improvement needs to become permanent.
The team won’t have to travel for their next game, but they will be the visiting team for the season’s first edition of the Derby della Mole. After that it’s a trip to Moscow for the return leg against Locomotiv, then a home date with AC Milan before the international break.