If you’ve seen any of my writing since I started doing these recaps full-time three seasons ago, you’ll have no doubt seen some version of me talking about how the Stadio Luigi Ferraris has become Juventus’ bogey ground.
Does it feel like I’m beating a dead horse? Yeah, probably. But it’s worth talking about — especially recently. Juve had lost three of their last six trips to the Marassi going into Tuesday’s match against Genoa. Last year they lost both of their games there, and while that didn’t end up meaning too much (one came while Juve had huge league lead, the other was a dead rubber on the last day of the season), it was the continuation of a long-term trend. In the team’s eight years under Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri, Juve dropped points in the building at least once in six of them, losing three times to each along with one draw against Genoa. Even some of the wins have been ordeals, like the 2014-15 season against Genoa when Andrea Pirlo decided the match with an 89th minute free kick, or two seasons ago when Juve had to dig out of a 2-0 hole within six minutes.
But it was clear early on that this game wasn’t going to fit into the pattern. Maybe it was the lack of fans, robbing the place of its usual intimidating atmosphere. Maybe it’s the fact that Genoa is having a terrible year, entering the day only a point above the drop zone. Maybe — just maybe — it’s because Juventus are actually starting to come together. Whatever the reason, Juve dominated this game from the word “go,” forcing their old teammate Mattia Perin into a string of saves in the first half before generating three exquisite second-half goals to put a stylish stamp on what would eventually be a 3-1 victory.
Maurizio Sarri made just one change to his 4-3-3 from Friday’s game against Lecce. Wojciech Szczesny set himself up in goal, with Juan Cuadrado, Matthijs de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci, and Danilo arrayed in front of him. Miralem Pjanic got the start the day after his move to Barcelona was confirmed, with Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot flanking him in midfield. Federico Bernardeschi, Paulo Dybala, and Cristiano Ronaldo once again made up the attacking trident.
Genoa manager Davide Nicola’s starters came out in a 3-5-2 shape and were heavy on Juventus connections, starting with Perin in goal. Prospect and loanee Cristian Romero joined Adama Soumaoro and Andrea Masiello in the back three. Old boy Stefano Sturaro played as the left wing-back in place of the injured Domenico Criscito, with Paolo Ghiglione on the right. Francesco Cassata, Lasse Schone, and Valon Behrami made up the midfield, while the strike pair was made of Andrea Pinamonti and Andrea Favilli, another former Juventus prospect.
It took a few minutes for the game to get into a rhythm. Dybala had a pair of shots from distance that were blocked, but for the most part Juve played in Genoa’s half without presenting much threat. That changed when Bernardeschi forced a parry out of Perin with a long shot in the 12th minute, then Ronaldo forced an excellent flying stop from even farther out a minute later.
The siege had officially begun.
Juve came close numerous times over the course of the next half. In the 24th minute Ronaldo had a shot blocked just over, and de Ligt was similarly denied when the ensuing corner fell to him. Bernardeschi made a nice run to the byline that forced Perin to intercept his cross. Favilli nearly made things even worse when he got away with a hard challenge on De Ligt near the halfway line that probably should have been a second yellow card.
Perin kept on facing down shots and kept on proving equal to them. Rabiot made a nice run down the left channel and met a good cross from Cuadrado but put it right at the keeper, then two minutes before the break Dybala flicked a perfect pass with the outside of his left foot that sent Ronaldo down the other channel. The Portuguese hit a powerful angled drive toward the near post that Perin flew to tip over the bar in what was probably his best save of the day.
Genoa, meanwhile, were showing little to no ability to counter that. To be honest, I had to go hunting for evidence that they had a shot in the first period. They apparently had two, both of which were blocked but presented so little threat that I didn’t even mention them in my notes.
Unlike earlier games, where a goalless first half led to questions about whether or not Juventus would be able to pull the game out, there was a general sense that a goal was coming, and if it didn’t it would only be because Perin would’ve stood on his head.
It took just five minutes for it to arrive, courtesy of La Joya. Dybala took a simple pass from Cuadrado at the right corner of the box and slipped neatly passed Behrami. The Genoa defense sagged off him, giving him an easy route to his favorite spot in the right channel. Perin probably saw him unleash his trademark curlers from this spot in training dozens of times when they trained together at Juve — which is probably why Dybala decided on a low drive for the far post. Perin got down and managed to get a hand to it, but couldn’t move it, and it nestled into the net for Dybala’s 10th Serie A goal of the season and his fourth in as many games.
The visitors went right back on the attack. Bernardeschi really should’ve made it two four minutes after the opener when he missed with a header from another good Cuadrado cross, but by the 56th minute the lead was doubled, this time through Ronaldo. The move started with an interception by Danilo, and eventually the superstar latched on to a pass from Pjanic near midfield and surged forward into space. He had options, but also had space to line up, and he unleashed a 25-yard laser that was clocked at freeway speeds (105 km/h or 65 MPH) as it sailed past Perin’s dive. It was Ronaldo’s 24th goal of the season and his first in open play since the restart.
Play continued, and Nicola made a substitution, but nothing he could do could alter the one-way traffic. Sarri didn’t do him any favors when he introduced Douglas Costa in the 66th minute, and in the 73rd minute the Brazilian came up with maybe the best out of all three goals when he received a pass from Dybala, cut in a few steps, and hit a ball toward the back post. It looked like every other ball hit like that that would fly past the post. Perin gave up on it—then watched in despair as the ball took an outrageous bend and floated into the top corner. It was an incredible shot that gives Costa two real contenders for goal of the season.
The team seemed to lose a tiny bit of focus after all the glitz, because only three minutes after Costa’s stunner Genoa finally managed to put their first shot on target, and after recycling the ensuing corner kick substitute Davide Biraschi’s cross was subjected to some shambolic defending. Bonucci seemed to lose his footing and couldn’t get a head to it. It snuck between Rabiot’s legs to the feet of Pinamonti. Cuadrado was caught flat-footed and could only try to swipe it away, but couldn’t get to it. De Ligt came sliding in as a last line of defense, but Pinamonti beat him to the shot and got the ball over the shoulder of Szczesny and into the roof of the net.
That proved to be little more than a consolation, though Genoa was nearly handed a grandstand finish when a terrible back pass by Ramsey narrowly avoided a second Pinamonti goal, but aside from that the game cruised to a relatively inevitable finish.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 6.5. Made the one save that was makable—he was left out to dry on the goal. Scrambled to deal with an awful back pass from Ramsey. Other than that not much for him to do.
JUAN CUADRADO - 8.5. It’s amazing to think that a winger playing right-back has somehow become the fulcrum of the team. He led the team in touches, again, with a whopping 130. His stat line was boggling: one assist, three key passes, five tackles, three interceptions, 95.8 percent pass completion. And to think that he made a couple of great crosses that weren’t converted only to get his assist on a simple square pass.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 6.5. Didn’t have all that much defending to do but did the job he was asked to do. He’s becoming a rock back there.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 6. His slip was one of the problems on the goal, but other than that he did what he needed to. The fact that he and de Ligt’s combined combined for four of only five clearances the team registered all game was a testament to how the game went.
DANILO - 6. Perfectly adequate at left back, and it was his interception that started the move that led to Ronaldo’s goal.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 7.5. Looked good again, registering a pair of tackles and two key passes. Generally buzzed around like a general nuisance.
MIRALEM PJANIC - 7. He actually played one of his better games, making three key passes, made a pair of tackles, and blocked a shot. Definitely his best game in some time. Could getting the transfer over freed up his mind?
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. Made a pair of tackles and was moving better than he usually does, but he made a hash of the cross ahead of Pinamonti’s goal. Still, one of his better games in a Juve shirt.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 6. A little more end product and this rating would’ve been higher. He took more shots than he usually does, which is an encouraging sign, and also dropped back to defend when necessary. The move back to the wing has done wonders for him.
PAULO DYBALA - 8.5. A gorgeous goal and an assist to go with it. Overall he made four key passes to go along with three more shots. He’s been Juve’s best performer since the restart.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 8.5. On Friday, he could’ve had a hat trick because he missed two sitters. Against Genoa on Tuesday, he could’ve had a hat trick because Perin made a couple of really good saves. After four games that weren’t in top form, he hit the target with four of six shots, and that goal was something special. Easily his best game since the restart.
DOUGLAS COSTA - 8. What a goal. An absolutely incredible piece of skill. Also threw in a key pass and his speed is just at another gear.
GONZALO HIGUAIN - 6. Hit the target with his only shot and moved well.
AARON RAMSEY - 5.5. Made an absolutely terrible back pass that would’ve given Genoa life in the later stages. Can’t lose focus like that.
BLAISE MATUIDI - NR. On to close the game late.
MARCO OLIVIERI - NR. A late debut for the Under-23 player, might need a few more significant minutes later on.
Hey, look, everyone, it’s some Sarrismo!
This is certainly the closest we’ve come to the real thing, with the exception maybe of Juve’s games against Inter. The passes were quicker, the off-ball movement was, while not perfect, also improved. They created more space in the Bologna back line, and they did it the way Sarri wants it to be created, with passing and movement as opposed to dribbling. Their attitude also improved, with more intensity and fight than we’ve seen since the second Inter game. The first two league games of the year were crawling forward—this might’ve been an actual step.
The team handled things so well that Sarri didn’t really need to do much in the way of strategy. His substitutions were about minutes management as opposed to tactics. I’m not calling it a full-on breakout yet, but in this game I very much liked what I saw.
The result keeps Juventus four points ahead of Lazio, who came from behind to beat Torino 2-1 earlier in the day.
Speaking of Torino, Saturday is Derby day in Turin, as Juve welcomes the Granata to the Allianz Stadium for the (much delayed) return leg of the Derby della Mole. Juve won the first game in November, 1-0, on the strength of Matthijs de Ligt’s first Juventus goal. After that comes a trip to San Siro for a rematch with AC Milan.