If you were to simply look at the starting lineup Juventus trotted out there against Parma in Saturday evening’s season opener, you might have thought it was Max Allegri making the decisions. There was a midfield Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi. Gonzalo Higuain was preferred to Paulo Dybala. And, just to put the icing on the cake, we got a little Mattia De Sciglio.
But there was no Max at the Stadio Tardini.
Hell, there was no Maurizio Sarri, the man tasked with picking up where Allegri’s Juve left off.
The difference, though, was how Juventus played. There was no slow and methodical build-up or anything like that from which we saw from Allegri’s side in past years. Instead, Juventus’ first real chance to show off what Sarri has implemented was there for everybody to see — the quick passing, the quick movement and the easy-on-the-eyes style. The result was a 1-0 win over Parma, a result that obviously could have been much, much bigger than that if not for some VAR-related shenanigans after just barely ruling Cristiano Ronaldo offside late in the first half.
Although, let’s be honest here, people: With all the talk of an improved style, improved quality at certain positions, how perfectly ironic was it that a pair of central defenders, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, combined to score the first goal of the season? And, with the kind of finish that Chiellini had?
It was ... such an ugly goal it was a great goal.
Or something like that.
No matter what, though, it was an opening 45 minutes where the real difference between Allegri’s Juve and what Sarri wants to see take place was on display. Sure, the game became rather ugly and somewhat distorted in the second half — and I would like to think that it being close to 90 degrees at the Tardini and the opening week of the season having something to do with it. The first half, that was where Sarrismo in bianconero was being shown off and shining for a good portion of the 45 minutes even though Juve only had one goal to show for it.
The second half? A little more Allegri-ish, if you ask me.
But, Juventus did enough to get the three points and didn’t totally stink up the joint from opening kickoff to final whistle.
There’s obviously tons of room for improvement, but they also showed a little bit of what they can be, too. That’s maybe what matters most in all of this as we wait for Juve’s manager to stop dealing with pneumonia.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- This was Juventus’ bench to start the game:
Buffon, Pinsoglio, de Ligt, Demiral, Danilo, Emre Can, Rabiot, Bentancur, Cuadrado, Bernardeschi, Dybala, Mandzukic
Where does a starting lineup of players from that unit finish in Serie A?
- All the talk about Sarri coming in and there being a huge improvement in the quality of offensive chances that Juventus will now (hopefully) be creating, the grand total of shots Parma recorded Saturday was all of ... eight — and more than half of those came during the final 10 minutes or so when they actually were finding some success going forward. Other than that, Parma went nearly 70 minutes (give or take) in between attempts on goal, which is something that we couldn’t always say against mid- or lower-table clubs last season. As Juve continue to learn Sarri’s system and get the intricacies down, having defensive solidarity is going to be pretty important.
- Speaking of Sarri’s system, I’m pretty sure one of the biggest beneficiaries of it is going to be Miralem Pjanic. And in terms of first (official) impressions, Pjanic was certainly one of Juve’s best players on the field Saturday. It wasn’t just the passing, either. Pjanic’s defensive coverage and overall tackling was maybe one of the more impressive things to come out of this game. He finished with a team-high total (5) in tackles, something that obviously didn’t happen a whole heck of a lot last season. And when you combine that with a passing percentage over 91 percent, I think we’ll take that pretty much every game from Pjanic.
- Gonzalo Higuain was a surprise starter to many. But, hey, he had a productive day, playing the role of supplier rather than goal scorer for much of the day. I’m not sure what to really expect from Higuain these days, but if he will be making contributions like he did against Parma more often than not going forward, I can’t really call him being around a total wash.
- Wojciech Szczesny didn’t have to do a whole heck of a lot in the overall picture of things, with his only busy spell being Parma’s late-game rush. He did, though, control his box pretty damn well, which is something that continues to impress me about Juve’s No. 1.
- Even though Ronaldo’s goal was oh-so-close to being onside, it was just another reminder of what Douglas Costa can do whenever he gets a little bit of open green grass in front of him. Man that boy is fast.
- Speaking of Douglas Costa, how do you like seeing him tracking back and making vital tackles in the box? That was pretty damn cool to see — and pretty damn important, too.
- Sami Khedira ... wasn’t terrible?
- No offense to Brother Sami or Blaise Matuidi, but I am very much looking forward to the first time we get a midfield where Pjanic is flanked by Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot. That midfield has the chance to be really, really fun to watch.
- I would like to think that Costa coming up with cramps (hopefully) meant that Juventus’ substitution plan had to be altered. Because, if not, that game — especially that second half — needed some Paulo Dybala.
- Napoli in the home opener next weekend. I’m guessing it will be just a liiiiiiiiiiiittle bit more intense even though Maurizio Sarri won’t be on the sideline screaming instructions and simultaneously thinking of how many cigarettes he’s going to have after the game.