For all of the drama that the small number of Juventus’ games have provided this season, there was one situation this team had yet to find itself in: trailing on the scoreboard. With everything that happened in the second half against Napoli and then the second half against Atlético Madrid, Juventus never trailed on the scoreboard.
Come Saturday, and in about as strange of a way as you could think of, Juve did finally find themselves having to dig out of a hole and eliminate an early deficit.
The response was one you exactly wanted to see from the Italian champions. Aaron Ramsey’s first Juventus goal on his Serie A debut tied it before halftime, then Cristiano Ronaldo’s smooth finish from the penalty spot early in the second half proved to be the game winner in Juventus’ 2-1 victory over Hellas Verona at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.
And when it was all said and done, Juventus did what they needed to do the most: get back on the right foot after dropping points last weekend against Fiorentina and then again midweek in the Champions League group stage opener in Spain.
It also helps when you have Gigi Buffon — who tied Paolo Maldini with his 902nd appearance in all competitions — making stoppage-time saves that gives you flashbacks to the days when his age didn’t start with a “4.”
(Still not used to seeing him wearing a Juventus jersey with No. 77, though.)
The more things change ...
OK, so seeing Buffon make a game-saving shot stop is something that brought back plenty of nostalgia and all kinds of warm and fuzzy feelings. But it’s not like it’s exactly a good thing that Juve needed that big last-minute save from Buffon to ensure that they get back on track with three points. While Hellas Verona created chances, and a good number of them at that, Juve showed that there are still plenty of things to iron out when it comes to the adjustment to Maurizio Sarri’s system. They held the majority of the possession, but were again unable to completely put the game to bed, which obviously meant that Buffon’s big save took on that much more importance.
The good thing was that, even with some of the troubles that saw this game be surprisingly open and have lots of chances created, Juventus’ attack looked so much more dangerous than it did the last time it played an Italian opponent.
Paulo Dybala was creating chances.
Juan Cuadrado was very good for the second straight game. (Yes, that includes the first half he had against Atlético Madrid.)
Both of those two were combining with Ronaldo for some very nice interplay.
There was, a lot like the other games this season when Juve aren’t trying their best to blow a lead, plenty of glimpses of what this team could be when it fully feels comfortable with Sarri and hits its stride. That will obviously take time because nobody should even expect them to be a finished product or well-oiled machine under a new coach in a new system come the third weekend of September. But, they’re getting there. Slowly — and let’s hope that it becomes more and more surely as time goes on — they’re getting there.
It just so happened that, on this day, Juventus had to get a little bit of a smack in the mouth first before truly kicking things into gear.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- After all of his huffing and puffing about squad rotation, Sarri goes out and makes five changes from the starting lineup we’ve been seeing pretty much all season. So, yeah.
- There is always going to be the caveat that comes along with Aaron Ramsey involving his health and just how fit he can remain over the course of a season. But even in his first start of the season when he obviously didn’t have 90 minutes in his legs, we got the chance to see just what kind of addition Ramsey will be to Juventus’ midfield. It’s going to be fun to see him work his way into this team, that’s for sure.
- While Paulo Dybala didn’t get a goal, it was so, so pleasing to see him making runs into the box within minutes of one another rather than being wasted out wide or having to drop so deep that you think he’s part of the three-man midfield. Some of the combination play with Ronaldo was really dangerous, and playing much more of a central role as compared to last season on the right wing just suits Dybala so much more. He will get his goals, he will get his match fitness up and the confidence going again. Once that happens, watch out, folks.
- Death, taxes and Cristiano Ronaldo blasting free kicks straight into the wall while Miralem Pjanic stands a couple of feet away.
- Seriously, why is Ronaldo still taking the vast majority of Juventus’ free kicks? (We know why, but it’s still a question worth asking.)
- As good as Ramsey’s first Juventus start was, the opposite might be said when it comes to Merih Demiral. That was a winding road through both bad and good, highlighted by the penalty he gave away in the first half. Thank goodness he had somebody like Buffon to lead him through the ups and downs against Hellas Verona.
- Obviously Hellas Verona isn’t at the same level as Atlético Madrid, but Danilo ... wasn’t terrible. This is a step forward. Small step, but a positive step nonetheless.
- Sami Khedira: 100 percent pass success rate. TAKE THAT, HATERS. (It was 12 passes, but whatever. Let me get my jokes off.)
- Gonzalo Higuain got his nose busted a couple of minutes after coming on the field to replace Dybala. The announcers were giving him a hard time for being rather upset about it in the aftermath. But think about it: You just came on the field, you get sandwiched by a pair of Hellas Verona defenders trying to make something happen on a corner kick and then you’re bleeding regardless of what the medical staff tries to do. Who knows if it was more than just a bloody nose — like, I dunno, a concussion — but Pipa’s rage gets a pass.
- Seriously, Buffon back at Juventus making match-winning saves. What a guy.