In typical Coppa Italia fashion, Andrea Pirlo rolled out a starting lineup on Wednesday night that was almost entirely different than the one that he used a few days earlier over the weekend against Bologna. And knowing who the opponent was, this was the opportunity for Juventus to both rest the regulars as well as move on in the Coppa Italia despite all of the changes that were made.
Priority No. 1 achieved.
Priority No. 2 achieved as well.
Juventus, as expected, were victorious over Serie B side SPAL in the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia, beating the visitors 4-0 thanks in large part to first-half goals from Alvaro Morata and Gianluca Frabotta. The makeshift lineup with more players under the age of 22 than first team veterans prevented any kind of craziness from happening where the big-time underdog was able to hang around and cause any late-game stupidity like we saw the last time Juventus took the field in the Coppa Italia.
It was very much the kind of no-frills, business-like effort you wanted to see despite the fact that so many regulars were either sitting on the bench or simply not called up for the match to begin with.
But even with all of the changes and playing a team that was going to sit back, the gulf in quality was apparent. Outside of a few chances that SPAL had, this was always going to be determined by just how well Juventus was able to break down the opposing defense more than anything else. SPAL were going to sit back, they were going to try and hit Juve on the counter and their best chance to try and shock the Coppa Italia world again like they did against Sassuolo was to have Juve turn into its own worst enemy.
That didn’t happen.
And that’s good.
So much of these kinds of games are about not playing down to the level of competition that Juve’s facing. Even with so many kids in the starting lineup, they were still facing a team that is basically on the fringe of being a Serie A-worthy squad and was only relegated to Serie B last season. SPAL rolled out players that we know — seriously, Sergio Flocarri, still going at 39 years old! — and have Serie A experience to their names. But, even with that, the gulf in quality was evident, and the last thing we needed to see was Juve struggling to get anything done and just barely winning 1-0 or something of that ilk.
No worries there.
With this new-look lineup, Juventus played well. Sure, some might grade it on a curve because there wasn’t the same caliber of players we saw during the two wins previous to this game, but the fact still remains that a team that has never played together before in a competitive game worked pretty well together in the grand scheme of things. There were a few moments where SPAL might have caught Juve on the counter or a few scoring chances by a Juventus player weren’t converted when they probably should have, but they controlled this game as much as any outing in recent weeks.
With so many new faces on the field, that was a pleasant surprise.
Basically, Juventus needed to get the job done against a team that was already playing with house money. Pirlo’s squad did just that and won with plenty of room to spare. Plus, we got to see some potential players from the youth ranks for the future contribute to the win in the process. I’ll take that every day of the week.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- I mean, just look at this guy. He makes the away kit look even better for a keeper.
- You’ll also notice that Buffon is wearing the captain’s armband again for the first time since he made his return to the club a couple of summers ago. Just like riding a bike.
- Buffon made his debut before the following Juve starters were born: Radu Dragusin, Matthijs de Ligt, Merih Demiral, Gianluca Frabotta, Nicolo Fagioli, Dejan Kulusevski.
- Juventus’ starting backline consisted of three very young but large humans. I wonder how many plates they’re going to have at the post-game dinner. Probably more than just a couple.
- The announcer on the ESPN+ stream said Leonardo Bonucci is “a master of the defensive arts” and I had a good laugh. You probably will, too.
- Nico Fagioli has been a player hyped up by the Italian media — especially the Turin-based Tuttosport — as a player who could be a contributor to come out of Juve’s youth system. And while one might expect him to be out on loan somewhere next season after spending this year with the Under-23 team, you can see why he’s so highly thought of. And you had to like the way he held off the ball on Frabotta’s goal. That’s some pretty good awareness for a youngster like Fagioli is.
- Also, it must have been pretty cool for Fagioli to make his debut only a handful of months after serving as a ball boy during some of the first post-restart games at Allianz Stadium.
- That hit from Frabotta ... my goodness. He probably can’t strike the ball any better than that. Pretty good hit for your first goal at the senior level.
- Alvaro Morata, no matter how many minutes he plays in his recent starts, always leaves the field like he has been run through an absolute gauntlet. The guy’s workrate has always been good, but lately it just seems like he’s taken it up a notch. He’s working so damn hard both on and off the ball — I love it. And that PK he took was pretty slick and calmly taken as well.
- Good on Kulusevski for getting a goal with his right foot. As much as he favors his left — for obvious reasons — the more confidence he can get using his right, even better he will be.
- Of course Federico Bernadreschi gets injured and has to be subbed off at halftime in a game where he was playing rather well. The guy just can’t catch a break at all these days.
- Alex Sandro back!
- Aaron Ramsey .. oof. So much for those good games he had in the first half of the season. I don’t know what Sergio’s latest midfield rankings will look like in the next Grab Bag, but I doubt Ramsey is going to be all that high up there. (Inside information, I know.)
- Federico Chiesa’s reactionary faces to calls he doesn’t like — the best.
- Chiesa walking in a goal in the final seconds of the game — also the best.
- The average age of Juventus’ lineup when the final whistle sounded, sans Gigi Buffon: 22.8 years old. That’s something you might only get to see in the Coppa Italia this season, but still pretty refreshing based on how we’ve talked about this roster being in transition the last year or so.