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Patient Juve dominate possession and gain ground with win over Genoa

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Juve had to sustain a shock equalizer, but patience won out as they closed in on the leaders.

Genoa CFC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

The parked bus has been Juventus’ Achilles heel this season, as the Bianconeri repeatedly failed to break down a team that elects to set and organize their defense in front of them. This has been especially difficult for them on the road, where Juve had only won once, against top flight newcomers Spezia — and even that was a bit more of a slog than the 4-1 scoreline suggested.

On the back of their biggest win of the season at Barcelona, it was hoped that Juve would carry that momentum on into the Stadio Luigi Ferraris against a Genoa team that has completely faceplanted since a season-opening win against Crotone. Now in 19th, the Grifone came into the game off the back of four losses and a draw, the latter of which came on an equalizer deep into stoppage time — after they had gone in front at the very beginning of stoppage time.

It was a classic trap game, especially considering the fact that the Marassi tends to have a negative effect on Juve’s mojo. Fortunately, it was a trap they didn’t fall into. It took a lot of huffing and puffing against a team that at times had all 11 players defending, but they finally pulled away in the second half, only to concede a soft equalizer minutes later on Genoa’s first shot of the game. But that setback didn’t send them spiraling. They kept pushing and eventually earned a pair of penalties, both of which were duly dispatched by Cristiano Ronaldo to earn a 3-1 win that, coupled with AC Milan’s 2-2 draw against Parma later in the day, saw Juve gain ground on the leaders headed into a big stretch of games before Christmas.

Andrea Pirlo got a boost a few days before the game when Alvaro Morata’s two-game suspension for dissent after the Benevento game was halved on appeal, making the Spaniard available for Sunday’s game. But Pirlo started him on the bench, employing a 3-5-2 shape. Wojciech Szczesny returned to the starting XI, sitting behind the defensive line of Matthijs de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci, and Alex Sandro. Juan Cuadrado and Federico Chiesa were the wingbacks, surrounding the trio of Weston McKennie, Rodrigo Bentancur, and Adrien Rabiot. Paulo Dybala took Morata’s spot in the starting lineup beside Ronaldo.

Genoa coach Rolando Maran has already had to deal with more than he ever signed up for this year. The early-season COVID-19 outbreak that ravaged his team derailed things early, and coming into this game he was missing five starters due to injury. That left him to employ a 4-4-2 setup that saw a couple people marginally out of position and some youngsters mixed in. His starting XI also contained five players with Juventus connections, including three on active loans. Mattia Perin started in goal, screened by Edoardo Goldinaga, Mattia Bani, Andrea Masiello, and Luca Pellegrini. Lukas Lerager and Stefano Sturaro played wide in midfield, bookending Ivan Radovanovic and 19-year-old Nicolo Rovella. Marko Pjaca started up front alongside the up-and-coming Italy youth international Gianluca Scamacca.

Juventus had the ball in the back of the net inside of two minutes after Cuadrado bent in an excellent free kick, but Bonucci’s flick on was met with the hand of Rabiot, who received a somewhat harsh booking for the offense. Sturaro sent a free kick delivery into the wall two minutes later, and that was the last meaningful touch Genoa had near the Juventus box for nearly an hour.

The visitors proceeded to completely bottle their hosts in their own half for the rest of the game. Maran’s idea was clearly to absorb Juve attacks and counter. Unfortunately for him, his players forgot the latter part for the entirety of the first half. Juve buzzed around the attacking half and regained almost any outlet pass they tried to make. They forced an absurd number of corners, one of which, in the 10th minute, saw their best chance of the half to score. The delivery came in from the right and was flicked on by Sandro to McKennie, who tipped the ball into the air then leaped to head it into the net, only to have Perin palm it away.

Genoa CFC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Unfortunately, other clear-cut chances weren’t really coming. The passing in the final third was a little bit off — not at all helped by the fact that the pitch was in terrible condition — and the players often failed to control the ball when they did get put into dangerous spots, continually allowing Genoa to butt in for half-clearances and preventing them from seriously troubling Perin for much of the rest of the half. They finally called their on-loan keeper into action again late in the period, first when Ronaldo cut in but had his shot tamely deflected into Perin’s arms, and again a few minutes later when Dybala tried one of those far-post benders he likes, but put too much spin on it and it curled to Perin for an easy catch.

As the second half began Genoa managed to nudge their way into the Juve half a little bit more, but Juve were still very much dominating possession, but couldn’t quite come up with the incisive pass that would unlock the defense.

That changed 12 minutes after the restart. As opposed to much of the game, the scoring play started with the team going Route 1 instead of a long, involved buildup. The origin point was de Ligt, whose ball was flicked beautifully into the path of Dybala, who burst into a rare piece of open space. He took two touches to the inside to that spot that he loves to curl to the far post from — but instead clipped a low shot to the near that went under Bani’s leg and skittered past Perin.

You could practically see the weight lifted off the Argentine’s shoulders as he celebrated his first Serie A goal of the year.

Genoa CFC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Chiesa nearly had a quick-fire second within two minutes, but Ronaldo had been offside in the buildup and the goal was chalked off. That allowed Genoa to take advantage of a lapse in concentration and tie the score when Pellegrini chipped in a gorgeous ball to the far post and Sandro lost Sturaro behind him, who side-footed it across the face and into the net. In defiance of all the game’s trends, it was 1-1 with 29 minutes to go.

Juve didn’t let the lapse get to their heads, and they immediately pressed forward to try to get back into the lead. Juve had another goal chalked off for offside when Dybala was ruled offside trying to follow Ronaldo’s rebound, and the blasted pitch may have saved Perin when La Joya laid off for Cuadrado, who slipped as he made contact and popped a harmless shot into his arms.

Rovella took a shot from distance that Szczesny had to adjust himself in order to get down to stop, and then Ronaldo headed a good cross from Chiesa right at the keeper from point-blank range. But it was Genoa’s teenage midfielder that proved decisive with 15 minutes to go — just not the way he wanted to be. Defending Cuadrado on the right side, he went to ground as the Colombian dribbled into the box and clattered into him. He wasn’t anywhere close to the ball, and referee Marco Di Bello pointed to the spot. There was a delay in taking the penalty as Genoa substitute Valon Behrami baited McKennie into a shoving match, bringing out a yellow card for the American, but when it was finally time Ronaldo made no mistake, drilling his kick down the middle with Perin diving to his left.

Genoa tried to get themselves a second goal — something they haven’t done since their opening-week win — and Pellegrini may have had a chance had he elected to shoot from just outside the box rather than making the poorly-hit cross that Szczesny easily claimed. But Juve’s on-loan left-back made a big mistake two minutes from time when a poorly hit back pass ended up in no-man’s land between his keeper and Morata, who had come on in the 67th minute. Perin’s only chance was to beat the striker to it clean, but he didn’t and Morata went over. Di Bello held his whistle for a moment to make sure fellow sub Dejan Kulusevski didn’t take the advantage by putting the carom on target, but when it was knocked clear, he rightly pointed to the spot. Ronaldo stepped up again and again hit his shot centrally, this time into the roof of the net, while Perin again dove to his left.

At that point it was academic, and Juve saw out the three minutes of stoppage time to seal their first winning streak of the league campaign.

LE PAGELLE

WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 6. Stopped Rovella’s shot well but had one or two shaky moments passing on the rare occasion the ball got back to him. He was so untroubled in the first half that until Sturaro scored I wasn’t going to even give him a grade.

MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 6.5. Made an excellent long pass to initiate the move that led to Dybala’s goal, and played solidly in the back, although he did look a little winded late on.

LEONARDO BONUCCI - 7. Registered four interceptions and completed 92.3 percent of his passes, including eight of 11 long balls. He was part of the team effort that kept Genoa hemmed in their own half for huge chunks of time.

ALEX SANDRO - 6. Completely lost the plot on the Genoa goal when he lost Sturaro, but did well to get forward and support the attack, contributing a key pass and completing one of three crosses. Also won a team-high five aerials.

JUAN CUADRADO - 7.5. No assists on Sunday, but he did pick up two key passes and lead the team (both teams, for that matter) with five tackles, along with a pair of interceptions. He was triple-digits in touches and continues to be hugely influential to the team’s offensive production.

WESTON McKENNIE - 7. Continues to shine in midfield. The header for his assist was a peach, and he was key in the high press that hardly let Genoa get any purchase in attack. Finished with a total of three key passes.

RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 6. His passing left a lot to be desired, especially because he was essentially the regista, but he salvaged his day with a game-high five interceptions and a pair of tackles, helping Juve dominate possession.

ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. Another day buzzing around the midfield and recovering the ball, with three tackles and four interceptions to his credit, although he was less productive with the ball at his feet.

FEDERICO CHIESA - 7. Made three key passes and completed 97 percent overall. Even though he clearly feels a little awkward on the left, he’s growing into his role and his work rate is highly impressive.

PAULO DYBALA - 7. Boy, did he need that goal — and it was an excellent finish, too. He finished with four key passes to go along with the score, led the team with three dribbles, and even recorded an interception on defense. We’ll see if this helps him find his feet.

Genoa CFC v Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images

CRISTIANO RONALDO - 6. The penalties salvaged his day. Without them, his grad would’ve been at least a full point lower. He was way off, hitting passes all over the place and not being particularly troublesome from open play. The one time he really was he put a relatively free header right at the keeper when half a foot either side probably meant a goal.

SUBS

ALVARO MORATA - 6. Worked hard in the attacking third and was alert to Pellegrini’s mistake to force the second penalty.

DEJAN KULUSEVSKI - NR. Work rate was high as he came in to help see thins out.

FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - NR. Fresh legs on the left side got to a couple of loose balls first as Genoa were trying to claw level again.

RADU DRAGUSIN - NR. Marked his Serie A debut by committing two fouls in about four minutes of action. It was amusing, but I don’t think we’ll truly be able to evaluate him without seeing him in extended action.

MANAGER ANALYSIS

Pirlo was once again able to get the team into a second gear after the interval, and didn’t even really need to use a substitution to do it, as his charges just looked a little more focused when they came back out. His press was on full display, forcing Genoa into errant pass after errant pass and keeping them on their back foot almost the entire match. Aside from introducing Morata after the equalizer, there was little he really needed to do beside decide who were the best players to see out the game late.

He will have a few decisions to make in the upcoming days, as more than a few of the players have begun looking a little ragged after such an intense schedule over the last month. Ronaldo doesn’t look like himself despite his rest interval at Benevento 10 days ago, and de Ligt needed to be pressed into the lineup without being able to build too much stamina, and he looked a little beat when he was replaced by Dragusin after Ronaldo’s second penalty. Wednesday’s game against Atalanta certainly isn’t the time to give them rest, but with Parma and a struggling Fiorentina to follow it might not be a bad idea to get them some rest.

LOOKING AHEAD

Pirlo faces what will definitively be his biggest domestic test on Wednesday when Atalanta rolls into Turin. La Dea have held the Old Lady to draws in each of their last two trips to the Allianz, and are a danger at all times. With Gian Piero Gasperini highly unlikely to withdraw into a shell, it could be a fascinating game to watch.

After that, the Bianconeri head to Emilia-Romagna to face Parma, then head back home for a matchup with Fiorentina before the brief Christmas break.