After months of managerial intrigue and transfer rumors, the clouds have parted, and there is soccer on the horizon for Juventus. The Bianconeri got back into training camp last week, and on Sunday they got preseason preparations started in earnest with their first game in the International Champions Cup against Tottenham Hotspur in Singapore.
Preseason friendlies like this tend to skew against Juventus, and Italian teams in general. Serie A is the last of the Big Five leagues to kick off their season — heck, the schedule isn’t even out yet — whereas opponents like Spurs, whose first game in the Premier League is in 20 days, are usually several weeks ahead in terms of fitness and tactical cohesion. On Sunday, though, Juve managed to hold their own against Mauricio Pochettino’s men, coming back from a goal down to lead 2-1 before Lucas Moura leveled the score shortly after Cristiano Ronaldo had put Juve ahead. The game looked set to go to the ICC-mandated penalty shootout when Harry Kane latched on to a giveaway at midfield and spotted Wojciech Szczesny off his line and launched the ball over the Pole’s head and into the net for the winning goal.
From start to finish the game had a quicker tempo than most preseason games, which gave us a really nice opportunity to see just how Maurizio Sarri’s new tactics are going to look in Turin. While we obviously didn’t see the system in full flight given the fact that the team’s only been training for a week, we certainly got some insights into how the coach wants to play.
The most apparent thing tactics-wise was the obvious emphasis on short passes and buildup from the back. The team rarely went Route 1 up the field, and the only time that the ball spent a significant amount of time in the air was when it was switched from side to side. Leonardo Bonucci, who started the game with the captain’s armband, didn’t often unleash those long passes that are his trademark, instead keeping it on the deck for the midfielders to move forward. Even goal kicks were kept short, taking full advantage of the rule change that no longer requires the ball to get beyond the penalty area before it’s touched.
Obviously, not everything was 100 percent on point. The decision making in passing was a step slow, allowing Spurs to cause some havoc with their press, especially in the defensive third, but that’s something that will surely get ironed out as time passes. Execution was another issue, as some of Spurs’ best chances came when Juventus gave the ball away. That included the opening goal, when Blaise Matuidi left a back pass far too short, triggering a four-on-three counterattack that brought a great save out of Gianluigi Buffon, who got the start in goal, but saw Erik Lamela stab home the rebound. Kane’s wondergoal winner was set up when Adrien Rabiot was caught out in possession by Moura in midfield.
But Juve grew into the game, and by the second half were creating some good-looking attacking moves. The equalizer, scored by Gonazlo Higuain, saw a neat passing move that included Ronaldo, Miralem Pjanic, and Federico Bernardeschi, whose one-touch layoff set up Higuain perfectly to beat Paulo Gazzaniga. The second goal came four minutes later when Mattia De Sciglio put a beautiful low ball into the box that Ronaldo hit first time into the net.
Spurs equalized not long after when Moura got inside of De Sciglio to slot home from a nice pass by Tanguy Ndombele on the midfielder’s very first touch of the game.
All in all, it was a decent first match back. Spurs played a mixture of their top players and youth products, but between the first half and the second they had some of their best players on the field at all times. For Juve to hang with them, and even look like they were really overpowering them for a stretch of the second half, was a good thing to see, and as training progresses, Sarri’s system becomes more ingrained, and some key players return from vacation after international service, the attack will flow quicker and the team as a whole could get pretty scary.
- Matthijs de Ligt came on for the first time as a Juventus player just after the hour mark, and just from a physical standpoint this kid looks 15 years older than he is. He’s an absolute mountain of a human being. If I were to hit him I’d probably cease to exist. He had a somewhat mixed showing, getting beaten a few times on the run by Kane but making an excellent tackle in the penalty area against the very-shift Moura.
- Higuain’s goal was a great one, but he also looked a step slow and a little overweight. He had a fantastic chance to put Juve into the lead late but missed the target entirely. At the end of the day I think he’s got to go elsewhere, otherwise he’d just be hampering the development of Moise Kean.
- Joao Cancelo is infuriating. He created a couple of really great chances on the front end, but he was abused a few times by Son Heung-min, and there were times when he had tucked almost to the edge of the penalty arc, leaving swaths of space on the right. Combine that with the stellar effort he showed in training earlier in the week (please note extreme sarcasm) and it makes you wonder if he’s worth it.
- Rabiot was pretty anonymous after coming on at halftime. It’s his first game so there can’t be much judgement, but it’ll be worth watching him in his next outing to see how much he’s adjusted to Sarri’s designs.
- For a first game, not bad at all, especially against a team very much ahead in terms of training time. It’ll be really fun to see how things begin to look as the system takes hold.