Matthijs de Ligt’s first two months worth of games in a Juventus jersey have been eventful, and I don’t think there’s a better way to describe them other than that. He arrived from Ajax with massive expectations, an equally massive transfer fee and the hope of being exactly like the player he was as he led Ajax to the Champions League semifinals last season.
It hasn’t been anything close to consistent.
There have been moments of good, but probably just about as many moments of bad.
Even de Ligt himself hasn’t shied away from talking about just how much of a learning experience these first few weeks and months with Juventus have been, how much his confidence has taken a hit since moving to Turin and what he needs to do to get better.
You know what might help get the boy’s confidence going again? A big role in a big win.
And what do you know, Saturday night proved to be just that kind of game.
It was de Ligt’s goal — his first in a Juventus jersey — that decided the first Derby della Mole of the 2019-20 season. Torino, already wobbling after a rough month of October, tried like hell to break a Juventus defense that has been far from prolific this season, a sign that both de Ligt’s transition to Serie A has been tough as well as the massive hole that Giorgio Chiellini’s absence continues to be.
But, when the final whistle sounded, this is what Torino’s offense had generated:
Nine total shots
Four shots on goal
Obviously, the save by Wojciech Szczesny right after de Ligt’s go-ahead goal ended up being what kept Juventus from another second-half gut punch right after grabbing the lead. But, a lot of the work done by de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci and the continued impressive showing at the fullback position by Juan Cuadrado is why Torino’s attack never really got going again after an impressive start to Saturday’s derby.
And it’s not like Juve’s attack was all that impressive, either.
That’s why this de Ligt goal is so important — both for the team as Juve jump back over Inter again following the latter’s comeback win earlier in the day and the player himself.
This was the kind of game and performance that de Ligt needed. He obviously got the goal that gave Juventus the win, but he was also an absolute rock at the back, leading all Juventus players with seven clearances and throwing in a pair of interceptions as well.
It’s good in the moment, and we’re going to find out before the next international break just how important it will be for de Ligt’s confidence going forward in the immediate future. Because if de Ligt’s form starts to turn for the better and start to resemble the kind of player we saw when Ajax eliminated Juventus from the Champions League quarterfinals last season, then Juve’s defense just became that much better in so many ways.
Just remember the first words the kid said when he got off the plane at the Turin airport back in July: His name is Matthijs and he’s really happy to be here.
We are, too, Matty. Now play like you did Saturday night more often. (Outside of the whole almost being called for another handball in the box thing, of course.)
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Leave it to this season, one filled with ugly kits galore, to go back to that regular home kit the game after they were the highlighter-inspired one-off home kit.
- I have a question. Please stand by.
- CAN SOMEBODY PLEASE DEMAGNETIZE MATTHIJS DE LIGT’S ARMS?
- Thank you. I just needed to get that out of my system before we continued.
- Federico Bernardeschi’s recent form represented by one picture from Saturday night:
- At some point Aaron Ramsey is going to be ready to completely return to the starting lineup, and it’s not like Bernardeschi’s form right now is going to make it a hard decision for Sarri. At least that’s from the outside looking in.
- This wasn’t the command game in the midfield from Miralem Pjanic that we’ve seen over much of the first two months this season. He didn’t touch the ball 100-something times and didn’t have what seemed like a 99.9 percent pass success rate. But what Pjanic did do with his 54 pass is record six key passes — which, by my count, is quite a lot.
- For the second straight game, Cristiano Ronaldo was not very good. That’s pretty much all I have to say about that.
- He did put a free kick on goal, though, so there’s something to brag about, I guess.
- As good as a finish as de Ligt’s goal was, the ability of Gonzalo Higuain to immediately recognize the small lane to get a pass off even before the ball got to him at the far post will be a completely underrated part of that sequence. Sarri does it again with making the right change up front, and it definitely paid off.
- I don’t know about you guys, but Mattia De Sciglio looked exactly like a player who hasn’t played in a competitive game in about two months. About that attempted pass that went out for a Torino corner kick ... yeah, let’s just leave it there.
- Your leading tackler against Torino? Juan Cuadrado, who was really good again. This thing with Cuadrado playing right back is continuing to work out quite well, and I am totally OK with it being a thing going forward. (Who knew I’d be writing that back when the season started in August, but here we are.)
- Has Rodrigo Bentancur officially become Sarri’s Swiss army knife in midfield? He filled in for Pjanic midweek, then started in the No. 6 spot Saturday night. He’s also been a trequartista recently. At some point I would love it if Sarri settles on a spot where Bentancur can settle into, but right now the most important thing for the Uruguayan is that he’s getting regular minutes — and that’s a good thing.
- That save by Szczesny right after de Ligt’s goal ... perfect.
- Torino, just as it has been so many times in recent derbies, is black and white. I’ll take it.