While the theme of the 2019-20 season for Juventus has been about not living up to the high-octane potential that is Maurizio Sarri’s brand of football, there’s been some really good first-half performances sprinkled in. It’s been a wait since the last one of that kind, though. Not the kind of wait that exudes patience or one that is just a couple of days or weeks.
Instead, when was the last one?
Was it the Derby d’Italia against Inter back in October? Some time before that?
No matter when it was, the kind of dominant Juventus performance straight from the opening whistle hadn’t been around at all during the squad’s dip in on-field form ever since Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain lit up the San Siro two months ago.
That was until Sunday afternoon at Allianz Stadium.
Sarri unleashed the Dybala, Higuain and Cristiano trident up front that the Italian press has been clamoring for over the past couple of weeks. And, as we all hoped, it delivered the goods right from the opening whistle, with Ronaldo’s first-half brace leading the way in Juventus’ 3-1 win over Udnese as the Italian champions got back to their winning ways in Serie A after last weekend’s ass-kicking at the hands of Lazio.
This time around, it was Juventus doing the ass kicking.
At least in the first half.
While the second half will be remembered more for Gigi Buffon making a handful of really nice saves as his team (naturally) took their foot off the gas thanks to the comfortable three-goal halftime lead and then coughed up the clean sheet in stoppage time, Juventus’ opening 45 minutes was about as good as we’ve seen them play in the last seven or eight weeks. It was a dominant performance, with the Dybala-Higuain-Ronaldo trident doing about as much damage as any of us could have hoped for.
Juventus didn’t just dominate possession — it was somewhere in the 70s percentage-wise virtually the entire half — but they were about as aggressive going forward as we’ve seen in quite some time. It wasn’t just the fact that everybody was getting involved, but Juve actually made Udinese pay for trying to pack things in at the back and defend. Even with five defenders on the field, Udinese — which entered the game all of three points out of the relegation zone — really had no solution at all when it came to trying to stop Juventus’ attack.
Juve just came forward in waves. And the best part was that, unlike previous games, once Ronaldo got his second goal, there was no suddenly switch off to let the opposition back into the game. Instead, Leonardo Bonucci got his goal right before the half and that was essentially that.
Although we can’t take a whole hell of a lot out of this game considering that Udinese is not very good at all, just to see Juventus be dominant over the kind of side where they haven’t been very dominant against this season was refreshing to see. There were no self-inflicted wounds like we saw two weeks ago against Sassuolo until the very end when Buffon saw his second straight clean sheet suddenly go up in smoke.
What we heard about coming into the season was entertaining, offense-friendly and entertaining football coming from Juventus for the first time in years with Sarri now at the helm. It has been far from that for a large portion of the season. But, for at least 45 minutes on Sunday, we got a Juve side that was free-flowing and showing that it can do a lot of good when things are going right.
Sure, the opposition wasn’t very good, but Juve most certainly took care of business — and then some. That’s what you want to see. And that’s what we got, which was nice.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Pre-game thought No. 1: MERIH DEMIRAL!
- Pre-game thought No. 2: I’m sure glad I wrote those 330 words on Emre Can probably getting the start in the Juventus-Udinese match preview.
- Cristiano Ronaldo now has five goals in his last four games. He might not be on top form — there were still a few instances where an in-form Ronaldo would have done serious damage — but he’s getting there. If not for a really good Juan Musso save and the right upright in the second half, we’d be talking about Ronaldo scoring a hat trick and preparing for the onslaught of thinkpieces and hot takery videos about just how BACK he is.
- As the always-informative James Horncastle pointed out, through the first 15 minutes of the match, Juventus had 78 percent of the possession while Udinese had all of six passes in Juve’s half of the field. Six!
- Juventus in the first half: 401 passes attempted. That’s ... A LOT.
- Rodrigo Bentancur in the first half: 63 passes attempted, 60 passes completed. That’s a 95 percent pass completion rate if you don’t want to do the math in your head.
- I could be in favor of seeing Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot being in the same midfield while flanking Miralem Pjanic. Make it happen, Mister.
- Merih Demiral celebrates last-ditch tackles in the same way that a certain other Juventus defender celebrates last-ditch tackles. I know it’s only been two games in a row that we’ve seen Demiral play, but I want to see Demiral play a lot more. The only problem is, who will it be at the expense of? (Maybe Leonardo Bonucci could get a little more rest come the new year or maybe even midweek against Sampdoria ahead of the Supercoppa. That would be nice.)
- Paulo Dybala deserved a goal with the way he played.
- Gonzalo Higuain deserved a goal with the way he played.
- Dybala and Higuain played some of their best football of the season against Udinese and neither of them scored a goal. This game, man, it’s funny.
- Gigi Buffon — who was rightfully pissed off after Udinese’s goal — went from barely having to do anything in the first half to making one of his best saves of the season almost right out of halftime. Considering the last time he was playing at Allianz Stadium it resulted in people questioning him and how much he has left, I was quite happy to see him do that.
- I gotta admit, though: It was quite weird to see the captain’s armband change hands several times in the second half once Bonucci came off and see Buffon not be the guy who was wearing it for the rest of the game.
- Juventus are back in first place for at least a couple of hours. We’ve been down this road before this season. But I’m guessing that a few folks around here will be Fiorentina fans later tonight. So, as our friends at Viola Nation like to say, Forza Viola. (For today and today only.)