Nineteen years and one day ago, Juventus announced the signing of Gianluigi Buffon from Parma for a then-record fee for a goalkeeper. Buffon no longer holds that record — it was broken twice in quick succession in 2018 by Alisson Becker and Kepa Arrizabalaga — but he can lay claim to a lot of other ones, and he’s still gaining a few, even as a backup at the age of 42.
On Saturday, 14 years to the day that he had helped lead Italy to a berth in the 2006 World Cup final with a dazzling performance in the semis against Germany (and, in so doing, essentially making me a Juventino), he added yet another accolade to his resume when he played his 648th career game in Serie A, passing another footballing immortal, Paolo Maldini, to become the most-capped player in the history of Serie A. When you added in his 17 Ligue 1 games for Paris Saint-Germain last year, it was his 665th game in one of the top five European leagues, also a record he set today.
While it seemed slightly wrong not to have the fans at the Allianz Stadium there to salute the occasion, the club wore patches on their sleeves that read “648 Buffon” to recognize the feat. But it was fitting that he broke the record in the Derby della Mole, one of the biggest games of the year on Juve’s calendar.
Anything can happen in a derby, but Torino came in struggling. They’d lost eight of their last 10 league games coming into Saturday and were hanging somewhat precariously only six points above the drop zone, and one good run from the three teams below them could suck them deep into the relegation battle. They’ve replaced their coach since the last time the teams met in November, when Juve won 1-0 at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, with Matthijs de Ligt’s first Juventus goal supplying the only margin. Saturday’s game was somewhat closer than the scoreline suggested, but by the end Juventus sent their city rivals packing by a comfortable 4-1 score. Perhaps just as momentous was the news that came from Rome several hours later — a loss by Lazio saw Juve’s lead in the league stretch to seven points.
Buffon anchored a 4-3-3 lineup that Maurizio Sarri has kept mostly intact since league play resumed. Juan Cuadrado, de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci, and Danilo formed the defensive line in front of the legend, with Rodrigo Bentancur, Miralem Pjanic, and Adrien Rabiot in midfield. Federico Bernardeschi, Paulo Dybala, and Cristiano Ronaldo once again joined together in attack.
Moreno Longo of Torino sent his side out in a 3-4-2-1 setup. Buffon’s old Italy backup Salvatore Sirigu started in goal behind the back three of Lyanco, Bremer, and Armando Izzo. Lorenzo De Silvestri and Ole Aina served as the wingbacks, bookending the midfield duo of Soualiho Meite and Sasa Lukic. Alex Berenguer and Simone Verdi supported striker and captain Andrea Belotti.
The visitors didn’t have any time to settle in to the game before Paulo Dybala decked them in the mouth. He took a pass from Cuadrado and darted into the right channel, faking out Lyanco so badly that he ended up on the ground. Izzo tried next but ended up on his own backside, and Dybala’s shot, which he probably meant to go to the far post, deflected off the defenders foot to instead float over a diving Sirigu and into the net to open the scoring inside of three minutes.
Juve caused Torino a lot of problems with an aggressive high press — frankly, perhaps, too aggressive for a game played in the heat of a July day in Italy. Torino didn’t back down and counter-pressed when Juve had possession in their own half, making for an interesting first half of play. Juve got the better of these exchanges for the most part and generated far more dangerous chances. Bentancur nearly got on the scoresheet when he flicked a corner toward the far post, missing it by inches. Danilo then took a run, loading up on a long shot that forced Sirigu to parry it into the ground before collecting it. The Granata did manage a few forays into Juventus territory though, and Verdi nearly combined with Berenguer to equalize in the 15th minute, with the former just missing the latter with a very good cross.
Ronaldo has become a lot livelier in the last few games, and he came close to doubling the lead in the 18th minute when he took a good long ball from Pjanic and forced a good save out of Sirigu. The rebound came back to him and he popped it up in the air for Bernardeschi, whose attempt at a bicycle kick flew over.
A little more than 10 minutes later Ronaldo was heavily involved in the second goal. Torino had started pushing forward and a string of corners, but Dybala triggered a counterattack and sent Ronaldo rushing down the middle. He pushed all the way into the box before tapping a pass to Cuadrado on his right. The Colombian directed traffic for a second, then jinked his way to the corner of the six yard box and flashed a shot that shot by Sirigu and snapped the net just behind the far post.
Torino responded and forced Buffon into his first action in the 32nd minute, with Verdi shooting across goal from the right channel and Buffon diving for a good parry. But it was a video review — and an awful call — that got Torino back into the game in stoppages.
The incident happened in the second minute of added time, when de Ligt blocked a shot by Verdi. The ball deflected off of the defender’s thigh and off his hand. This, by definition, is not a handball, but referee Fabio Maresca was called to the VAR screen the next time play stopped, and he somehow saw fit to give the penalty, as well as a yellow card to de Ligt, which puts him over the suspension threshold for Tuesday’s game against AC Milan. Belotti stepped up to the ill-gotten spot kick and converted, shooting low to his left and beating Buffon, who had guessed the right way, with power.
The second half started a lot sloppier. Five minutes in Berenguer forced a smart save out of Buffon and saw a scramble in front of goal that saw Belotti slice the rebound off the bar and Verdi finally head the ball into the net — but Belotti had been well offside and the flag went up before any significant celebrating could happen.
Sarri made a couple quick changes early in the half, including the introduction of Douglas Costa for Bernardeschi in the 55th minute. Costa had barely been on the field 20 seconds when he unleashed a long range curler that would’ve rivaled his goal from Tuesday against Genoa but it didn’t quite curl enough.
Five minutes later there was a miracle.
After a handball by Aina gave Juve a free kick just outside the penalty arc on the left side. Pjanic had already been withdrawn, so this would likely be a Ronaldo free kick, and visions of the first 42 attempts he’s made in a Juventus uniform — all of them unsuccessful — ran through the heads of most fans. But then it happened: Ronaldo lifted a beautiful kick that curled up over the wall and then down beneath the crossbar, with Sirigu flapping helplessly at the wind. It was his first direct free kick goal in a Juventus uniform, and it also brought a little bit of history, as it made him the first Juventus player to score 25 times in league play since Omar Sivori in 1961 — an incredible statistic given how many excellent goalscorers Juve has had since then.
With that, the game that seemed seemed to be getting tighter unwound. Torino had a few more chances to try to set up a grandstand finish, but Juve had even more chances to extend the lead even further. That came to a head three minutes from time when substitute Koffi Djidji panicked and turned a cross from Costa into his own net. The margin nearly got even wider within a minute when Costa got to the six-yard box and forced a point-blank save out of Sirigu. Ronaldo even had another potshot with the last kick of the game that was blocked around the post, and Maresca blew the final whistle without even bothering with the resulting corner, sending the teams into the locker room and Juve to wait for news from the captiol.
GIANLUIGI BUFFON - 8. Made all the saves he needed to make and marshaled the defense with his usual aplomb while adding another record to his collection.
JUAN CUADRADO - 9. This dude really has become the team’s lynchpin from the right back spot and it’s a little hilarious. His numbers today were insane. A goal, an assist, two key passes, five tackles, an interception, and a clearance. He had 98 touches, and no other player on the team had more than 68. Freakin’ Juan, man.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 7. I’m not downgrading him for the penalty, because it really shouldn’t have been called. He made a tackle, two interceptions, and a team-leading five clearances, while displaying both strength and skill. This kid’s gonna be an absolute stud.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 7. Helped keep Belotti very quiet, limiting him to only one shot from open play. Also had a key pass and hit five of his seven long passes.
DANILO - 7.5. An understated but excellent game from the Brazilian. He tied for the team lead in dribbles and took four shots, one of which forced a good save and another that nearly looped under the bar off a deflection. He also defended well, intercepting two passes and registering two clearances.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 7. Led the team with a whopping six tackles, but his passing was a little off, completing only 77.3 percent of his attempts. Still, his energy in the middle of the field is phenomenal.
MIRALEM PJANIC - 6.5. Made three key passes before being replaced very early in the second half. It was hard to tell whether he was gassed or possibly had tweaked something. A good game for him, though.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 7. One of his better games. Made three tackles in midfield and completed 91.3 percent of his passes. If he starts turning in games like this on the regular he might be very useful for the run-in.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 5.5. Tons of energy, but not a lot of end product. He needs to sharpen up that part of his game. Didn’t hit the target with any of his attempts. Sometimes he tries to make the simple elaborate. Only made 32 touches.
PAULO DYBALA - 8. Another gorgeous goal along with three key passes. He’s now scored in five straight league games dating back to before the shutdown. Apart from Cuadrado, he’s been the most important performer on the team since the restart. He’ll be suspended for Tuesday’s game after getting booked for diving late, but it might not be a bad thing for him to get some rest with Atalanta and Lazio looming.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 8.5. He did it, guys! He scored a free kick! ALIENS! Seriously, though, this was a great performance by him and he’s started to finally hit his stride after a rough opening to the restart in the Coppa Italia. I actually was worried he’d found Cuadrado too late on the counter, but Juan proved his judgement to be correct. He finished the day with three key passes to go with his goal and assist.
BLAISE MATUIDI - 6. He was adequate enough, although he did manage to gum up a three-on-one break by putting the ball into the one place that the defender could make a play on it.
DOUGLAS COSTA - 7. Another sterling outing as a super sub. He came close to two goals—one going just wide and the other well saved by Sirigu — and forced the own goal with a good cross that caused the defender to panic under no pressure. He’s going to be devastating against tired legs, although it’s possible he starts on Tuesday.
GONZALO HIGUAIN - NR. I don’t give a number to guys who play less than 15 minutes on principle, but dang did Higuain do a lot with the 10 he had. He made three key passes on only 13 touches, and he’ll probably start against Milan with Dybala out.
Maurizio Sarri still hasn’t quite mastered this whole five-sub thing. He overused it in the first game back and since then has been more moderate, but if there was ever a day to take advantage of having more changes to make it was this one, played in the heat of the day in Italy in July. Especially once the game was really well in hand it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to maybe give the kids some minutes while people kick up their heels. Instead, Sarri only ever used three changes despite the heat. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea to run Daniele Rugani out there to warm him up once de Ligt got his card, as he’ll probably be needed on Tuesday.
In terms of overall game strategy, it wasn’t necessarily a surprise that Sarri deployed his press so hard so early, but given the conditions it would perhaps have been wiser to be a little more judicious with it. That being said, the team is in better condition than it was at the beginning of the restart and there wasn’t a total slump in the second half as there has been in a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, things are looking better by the game as the team has started clicking. It’s still not perfect, but there is definitely an upward trend happening here.
Lazio’s 3-0 loss to Milan — their first home loss of the season — means that Juve are now seven points clear at the top of the table. With two of their next four games against Atalanta and Lazio, that means that they could conceivably lose both of those games and still control their own destiny if they win the rest of their games.
Of course, the next game is against Milan at the San Siro, who have looked in good form and whose highly organized defense thwarted them in the first game after the restart. We’ll see if Juve has developed the ability to break them down in the month since. After that, they welcome Atalanta to the Allianz Stadium and the real work begins.