As the second half evolved this past Monday and you saw Juventus playing some of its best ball in weeks, it was only natural to hope that this was going to happen more often than it did over the course of the first half of the season. Juve had struggled mightily through pretty much all of November, a decent amount of December and was far from impressing for a large portion of the season to date.
For the first 45 minutes on Sunday night, we got our answer.
As if they just carried over their fine second-half form from six days earlier, Juve’s first-half blitz of Roma that included goals from Merih Demiral and Cristiano Ronaldo within the first 10 minutes of game time at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. It was, however, not exactly smooth sailing from then on out — especially in the second half, with Juventus choosing to try to sit on its two-goal lead rather than trying to recreate the first-half success and put Roma away. It was about as tense of a second half as Monday’s final 45 minutes against Cagliari’s wasn’t, as Juventus was able to hold on for a 2-1 win and exercise some of the club’s recent demons in the Italian capital.
At least we’ll always have that first half. That wonderful, wonderful second half.
Like the second half last week, it was another sign that the aggressiveness that Maurizio Sarri wants his team to play with is starting to truly sink in and take effect.
The second half was what it was: Sarri clearly thought that Juventus could hold onto its two-goal lead and chose to absorb the mounting Roma pressure rather than countering with what the plan was in the first half. Roma did plenty of good even without one of its best players, Nicolo Zaniolo on the field in the second half. And, for much of the final 45 minutes, Juventus’ defense bent but didn’t totally break outside of the VAR-centric penalty that made the final 20 minutes a lot more interesting than they had to be.
But, the internal optimist that I am, I’m going to see what Juventus did in the first half as another signal that things are starting to turn for the better. Did they get some help from Roma in the same kind of fashion they did from Cagliari six days earlier? Sure, but when you look at how fluid and how high-energy Sarri’s side was playing from the opening kickoff, it was pretty clear that they knew the chance to go two points clear of Inter in the standings was the only option available.
And thanks to that big first half, Juventus was able to get a win over Roma at the Stadio Olimpico for the first time since May 2014. Seriously, 2014! With how dominant Juve has been in Serie A over the last decade, it’s hard to believe it was 5 1⁄2 years between wins over Roma in Rome. But, sometimes that’s just reality of the situation. Same goes for Juventus being winter champions — again.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Prayer circle for Merih Demiral.
- Prayer circle for Nicolo Zaniolo after the prayer circle for Demiral. Although we already know that Zaniolo has suffered a torn ACL, which it didn’t look like until you saw him on the ground and in tears.
- They’re different — and competing — kit providers, but Juve should take some notes from what Roma continuously rolls out for away and third kits. Those blue kits are so pretty.
- To basically steal a line I feel like I’ve been using a lot this season: Paulo Dybala did so much good on the field he deserved a goal ... but he didn’t score a goal. It was his cross that lead to Demiral’s opener, he drew the foul that led to Ronaldo’s penalty kick and he just continued to be an overall fantastic performer once again this season. The stats about Dybala’s game probably won’t wow you or anything, but simply by the eye test, he had another fantastic showing.
- Matthijs de Ligt has barely played over the last six weeks and was forced to come on due to Demiral’s injury. In those 75 minutes or so of game time de Ligt played, he did the following: 7 clearances, 2 blocked shots and 1 incredible tackle on Edin Dzeko. If that’s the de Ligt we’re going to see in the second half of the season, then Juventus’ defense has improved by leaps and bounds.
- Not great at defending: Danilo, who had quite the adventurous time out at right back after he came on midway through the second half. I know we’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: At this point, Juan Cuadrado is Juventus’ best right back, and it’s a pretty easy decision, too.
- Although, if you wanted some defensively stability at the back, wouldn’t Mattia De Sciglio have been a better option for Sarri? This is just me thinking outloud here.
- Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey worked their tails off defensively on Sunday night — especially so in the first half when Juve’s press was really giving Roma some problems. It was good to see from Ramsey considering that he hasn’t exactly looked good as of late when given the chance to get some minutes.
- How cruel of VAR to call a penalty on a hand ball by Alex Sandro about a half-second after he got hit by the ball in the onions. It might have been the right call, but that’s just tough to take ... in more ways than one.
- Some of Roma’s best chances came after Juventus either turned the ball over with a terrible pass out of the back or just simply trying to do too much in the defensive third. We said it earlier in the season and we will say it again: Sometimes Juventus’ worst opponent tends to be Juventus itself.
- It’s funny how this calcio world works: Juventus fans are rooting for Atalanta on Saturday, and in turn Atalanta fans are rooting for Juventus on Sunday.
- Winter champions, though. (It’s not the biggest thing we want to celebrate this season, obviously, but knowing how much of a grind this first half of the season has been, it’s probably a little surprising to some that Juve are top of the table after the first 19 games.)