If you’ve read these match summaries over the last few years, you’ll probably have notice a recurring theme: When Juventus goes to Genoa, bad things happen.
The Stadio Luigi Ferraris has been a veritable house of horrors for the Bianconeri over the years. They lost both of their games at the stadium last year. The year before, they fell behind 2-0 in the first seven minutes before eventually storming back to beat Genoa, then a few months later lost to Sampdoria 3-2 in a game that boasted one of the most flattering scorelines — for the losers, that is — in the history of Serie A. Since Juve’s eight-year reign at the top of Serie A began, they have lost at least one game at the Marassi in five of those seasons, and have dropped points overall in six of them. Even the majority of the wins have been close-run affairs. Something about that building seems to suck out Juve’s mojo.
One could be forgiven, then, for having misgivings about Wednesday’s match against Samp. A midweek fixutre with a trophy game looming on Sunday could easily see Juve lose focus and perhaps give Inter an opening to open up another lead in Serie A. The club’s Marassi malaise — and the fact that the hosts were riding high after a late victory in the Derby della Lanterna over the weekend — could certainly have complicated matters even more.
Fortunately, the result went finally went Juve’s way. Maurizio Sarri stuck with the Big Three trident that he experimented with against Udinese over the weekend and it again paid dividends. Despite another worrying moment of madness in the back, two superlative goals from Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo gave Juve their first road win against the Blucerchiati in three seasons by a 2-1 scoreline, keeping the pressure up on Inter, who, ironically, play Genoa on Saturday.
Sarri had some players back in the fold after suspensions on the weekend, but still had some absences to deal with. Chief among these was Rodrigo Bentancur, who was serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation. He was also missing Wojciech Szczesny for the second straight game due to a shoulder issue. That meant that the man at the base of Sarri’s 4-3-1-2 was once again Gianluigi Buffon, who in starting marked a pair of milestones. He made his 479th Serie A appearance for Juventus, breaking the club record set by Alessandro Del Piero, as well as equalling Paolo Maldini’s record for Serie A appearances overall with 647. In front of him was the defensive line of Danilo, Merih Demiral, Leonardo Bonucci, and Alex Sandro. Miralem Pjanic returned from a suspension of his own to anchor the midfield with Adrien Rabiot and Blaise Matuidi, while Dybala slotted into the hole behind Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain up front.
Sampdoria was chock-full of Juventus connections, starting with Claudio Ranieri, who had taken over from Eusebio Di Francesco when he was fired after a poor start to the season. The goalkeeper was former Juve academy product Emil Audero. He sat behind a 4-4-2 formation, with Jeison Murillo, Omar Colley, Alex Ferrari, and Nicola Murru in defense. Fabio Depaoli, Morten Thorsby, Karol Linetty, and Jakub Jankto formed the midfield band, while Gaston Ramierez and Gianluca Caprari formed the strike pair. Surprisingly, both Fabio Quagliarella and Manolo Gabbiadini — a player Juve used to have rights to on co-ownership and whose late goal had been the difference against Genoa — were rested at the start.
Demiral was making his third start in the row, but early on he showed just how much more he had to learn when he allowed Murru to catch him in possession deep in his own half. The Turkey international sprinted back to recover and ended up bundling the full-back over, but referee Gianluca Rocchi ruled that Murru had been looking for the contact and declined to award a penalty.
Juve took the game by the scruff of the neck early and kept Samp pinned back on defense, although they created precious few true chances. They moved the ball around in the attacking half and forced some desperate defending by the hosts in the 11th-minute pull-back by Dybala that went just behind Higuain and was scooped away just before Matuidi was able to charge in for a shot. Two minutes later Higuain was put in behind by a beautiful Ronaldo ball, but controlled the ball with his arm and play was whistled back.
Samp finally got a bolt in 18 minutes in, when a cross from Murillo found Ramirez unmarked. Had it been Quagliarella in the middle things may have been different, but fortunately Ramirez isn’t a natural header of the ball. Still, it came very close, just flying over the bar. Mere moments later, Juve grabbed the lead.
It was a gorgeous strike, coming from a cross by Alex Sandro. Dybala was completely alone on the right side of the box and he had all day to measure the ball up. He hit a skipping volley that was placed absolutely perfectly. Audero had absolutely no chance, and the Argentine was mobbed by his teammates.
Juve continued to push for a second, but couldn’t make much of their possession truly pay. Audero got careless in possession and his clearance ended up being blocked by Ronaldo, but the ricochet flew away from the goal.
Samp had been defending hard for more than half an hour and taken only one shot when their opportunity suddenly came. Juve were trying to build from the back after a free kick and Sampdoria took the opportunity to press high. Sandro got caught in that press and gave the ball away on his flank. Ramirez’s attempt to square it into the box clanked off Depaoli’s foot, but an overcompensating Sandro stabbed at the ball and sent it rolling across his own box and into the path of Caprari, who stroked the ball in to level the score out of nowhere.
Juve tried to engineer a quick response and almost got it only six minutes after Caprari scored when Ronaldo lifted a pretty pass to the far post from the right, but it was a fraction to far for both Higuain and Dybala, both of whom tried to slide to poke it home. Ronaldo then decided to take things into his own hands on the stroke of halftime — and boy did he ever. Again the move started on the left. Sandro, who had gone from hero to goat after providing assists for both teams, took the chance for redemption and lofted another beautiful ball, this time toward the back post. Ronaldo was waiting, and he produced one of the best headed goals you can ever see. He leaped 71 centimeters (just under 28 inches!) into the air and remained airborne for a full second. At the leap’s apex, he met the ball at an acute angle only about three meters from goal, but steered it around Audero and into the net for his 10th goal of the season.
It hadn’t quite been the dominant showing from the Udinese game, but the first half had been quite successful. Unfortunately, the game did have another parallel to the weekend’s tilt: a second-half slowdown, this time in a game that was very much in the balance. Samp got in a shot on target only seven minutes into the half, but Jankto’s effort, which slipped through a mass of bodies on its way, was right at Buffon. Three minutes later at the other end, Juve had their best opportunity to salt the game away early when Dybala put in an excellent cross from the right side, but it hit Matuidi in the shoulder and bounced behind for a goal kick.
Extended possession continued to elude Ranieri’s men, but they were starting to do a bit more with what they did have. Gabbiadini had been inserted on the hour mark to give a little more oomph to the attack, and 10 minutes after his entrance his flick on from a cross barely eluded a fully-extended Ramirez. Samp finally started to create some real continuous possession as the closing stages of the game arrived, but they weren’t able to do much with it. They may have gotten a little more dangerous had Quagliarella come on, but an injury to Murru forced Ranieri to burn his final change to replace him.
Ronaldo had a pair of opportunities to kill the game off in the dying moments, first after rounding Audero and the second after cutting in from the left side. Both passes were provided by Aaron Ramsey, but on the former run the Portuguese was a fraction offside, and on the second he fired wide of the far post. Rocchi added a somewhat excessive six minutes of stoppage time, but Samp’s hopes of getting an equalizer were severely hampered two minutes into the added time when Caprari, who had earlier been booked for a clash with Demiral, tried to ward off the center-back as he tried to control the ball and put his arm somewhere close to the defender’s face. Demiral immediately dropped to the grass holding his face, and the striker was immediately shown a second yellow. It was more than harsh — Demiral had barely been touched, but had bought the card with his reaction. One last free kick delivery from Ramierez bounced through the box untouched, and at the end of the six minutes Rocchi signalled for everyone to head to the locker room.
GIANLUIGI BUFFON - 7. Took good command of the penalty area and handled everything that came his way with relative ease. He had no chance on Caprari’s goal. His next outing will be the record-breaker.
DANILO - 5.5. Awkward going forward and never really did pose a threat, although he was solid enough on defense.
MERIH DEMIRAL - 6. Played pretty well in the back, but also ran some risks and lost Ramirez when he had that near-miss header in the first half. Ran a couple of unnecessary risks and could’ve cost the team big early when he lost the ball to Murru. His talent is obvious, but the gem needs polish.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 7. Led the team with five clearances and made 15 successful long passes. Helped build from the back effectively.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. Sandro recorded two fantastic assists, but had a complete brain fart in between to gift Caprari his goal. Had three key passes overall and a pair of tackles as well. Came off late after being treated for what looked like a quad or groin injury.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. The only midfielder to record a key pass, but he was losing possession far too much.
MIRALEM PJANIC - 6. Wasn’t particularly dominant and didn’t make much trouble in the attack on his own, but did make sure that the Big Three for them to go wild.
BLAISE MATUIDI - 6. Excellent working without the ball, leading the team in tackles. But he didn’t make much in the way of attacking noise apart from screwing up Dybala’s cross in the second half,
PAULO DYBALA - 8. Tied with Sandro for the team lead with three key passes, and my god what a goal he scored.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 8. He just now touched down on the streets of Genoa. It was a fantastic header, and he also supplied for his teammates as well. He’s starting to round into form.
GONZALO HIGUAIN - 5.5. Not quite the excellence we’ve seen out of him early on, but he’s also played a boatload of minutes lately. If this trio continues to play this way, he’ll see much better games than this.
AARON RAMSEY - 6. Linked nicely with Ronaldo and set him up twice in good spots late on.
DOUGLAS COSTA - NR. Still finding his feet as he gets back from injury. His touch and his passing were a wee bit off tonight.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - NR. Good defense on the left flank for the last 10 minutes after Sandro left.
The last two games have been very encouraging. Rather than seeing Sarrismo for only isolated passages of play, the last two games we’ve seen entire halves of it. There has also been a drop off in the second half, which is worrying, but ultimately the point over the last few days has to be that progress is finally being made. If the acquisition of the system was still stagnant, we’d be seeing more of what we saw in October and November. Now, we’re finally seeing things come together, even if only for the first 45 minutes. If this keeps up, by the time the business end of the season in February and march, we might be looking at an entirely different team.
With the win, Juve pull three points ahead of Inter, who play Genoa on Saturday.
League play is over for 2019, but there’s still one more date on Juve’s calendar: the Supercoppa Italiana, which will be played in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. It’s a chance for Juve to get some quick revenge on Lazio after their loss in Rome two weeks ago.