The hugs and smiles were flowing before kickoff as Max Allegri and Jose Mourinho, two of the most renowned tacticians in football, met on the touchline prior to their latest showdown. But once the first whistle was blown, it was all business. And as it turned out, it was Allegri who came out with the three points this time behind another vintage performance led by the defense, as Juventus kept its third consecutive clean sheet to claim a 1-0 victory over Roma.
Allegri made a few changes in the team’s first game back from the October international break — not just with the starting personnel, but some position changes as well. The most noticeable, of course, was Federico Bernardeschi starting as the left midfielder instead of Adrien Rabiot, who was out after his positive COVID-19 diagnosis last week. Juan Cuadrado returned on the opposite side as the two wingers supported Federico Chiesa and Moise Kean in the attack. Rodrigo Bentancur took on the more attacking role in the midfield, pairing with Manuel Locatelli in the middle. Matthijs de Ligt was not called up due to muscle fatigue, so Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci took the starting spots on the back line. Danilo returned to his hybrid right back position, while Mattia De Sciglio played left back.
To no one’s surprise, Mourinho stuck with his 4-2-3-1 setup and had his most popular XI take the field to start the match. Gianluca Mancini and Roger Ibanez anchored the defense in front of goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Rick Karsdorp and Matias Viña took up the fullback positions. Jordan Veretout and Bryan Cristante started in the back of the midfield together for the seventh time in eight league matches. Lorenzo Pellegrini, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Nicolò Zaniolo filled up the attacking midfield roles, supporting striker Tammy Abraham.
While the left side of Juventus’ starting lineup did not initially bring a lot of confidence, it was clear from the starting whistle that Bernardeschi was going to bring more to the table than Juventus has seen from that position most of the season. Within the game’s first 30 seconds, he found his way into the box and put a shot on target, albeit a weak one that was comfortably saved by Patricio.
Roma’s first chance came a few minutes later when Karsdorp drew a foul against De Sciglio to earn a free kick near the touchline. Pellegrini’s ball into the box was met by Mancini on the back post but his header was from a tight angle and Szczesny comfortably pushed the ball away to safety.
The opener came in the 16th minute with Juventus making the most of a good spell of possession. Cuadrado picked out De Sciglio with a long pass to switch the play and the right-footed left back cut inside before picking out one of his best crosses during his time as a Juventus player. Three players had a chance to get on the end of the cross, but Bentancur was the first to meet the ball, heading it directly into the head of Kean who definitely deliberately directed the ball on goal and beat Patricio from close range.
It was a confusing moment that took several replays to figure out, but Kean was officially given the goal and Bentancur walked away with an assist.
Bentancur or Kean?!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 17, 2021
Juventus do not mind, it’s the opening goal pic.twitter.com/3nsS7wWpu0
Zaniolo was the source of any threat for Roma in the game’s early stages, dribbling past defenders and even flattening Bonucci with a strong shot into the defender’s chest. Unfortunately for Roma (and football fans in general), the young star went down again in the 20th minute and needed treatment before eventually subbing out for Stephen El Shaarawy a few minutes later.
El Shaarawy did come in and make an immediate impact for Roma as the visitors got on to the front foot after Kean’s goal. He forced a save from Szczesny on a driven shot from distance. A few minutes later, the Italian winger created space for himself on the left with a fantastic turn past Danilo and played a cross into Abraham, who sent his header on target but it was comfortably caught by Szczesny.
Roma had its best chance of the night just before the halftime whistle as a penalty kick was awarded from a very confusing play inside of Szczesny’s box. It was still unclear whether the penalty was called for Danilo’s tackle on Abraham or Szczesny making minimum contact on Mkhitaryan on the edge of the 6-yard box. Even though the penalty was awarded, Roma was rightfully upset after putting the ball into the net just after the whistle, but because the referee did not play the advantage, the goal would have to be earned from the spot.
After a few moments, VAR confirmed the penalty call and Veretout stepped up to take the shot, looking to extend his streak to 14 consecutive makes. However, his low driven shot did not go far enough into the corner and Szczesny made the save look easy before the rebound was knocked away eventually for a goal kick.
A HUGE penalty save from Wojciech Szczęsny pic.twitter.com/pItrP3qvNJ— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 17, 2021
The second half started similarly to the first half, with Bernardeschi surprisingly taking the first chance, this time threatening the goal even more. Chiesa picked out his fellow countryman with a cross from the left side and as he does, Bernardeschi went for the spectacular with an overhead kick, which forced Patricio into an awkward save. The rebound bounced out to Kean, but his rushed attempt beat both the keeper and the crossbar, flying into the stands.
Juventus started to hold more of the ball throughout the second half and limited Roma’s opportunities through the first quarter hour. Veretout came closest once again when his curler from just outside the box nearly found the bottom right corner but it went wide, not appearing to worry Szczesny too much.
Roma certainly began to show some more desperation in the final 20 minutes of the match and found some extra space with some runs into the box. Viña created the best chance for himself, cutting into the box and beating two defenders before seeing his shot on goal blocked by Chiellini and go out for a corner kick.
That was the theme for the rest of the night as Roma struggled to find that final touch to grab an equalizer. Cristante saw one of his efforts nearly deflect into the net off of Bonucci but the bounce fell wide of the right post. Cristante nearly provided an assist in stoppage time but his flicked-on header from a set piece was over the rest of his teammates inside the box.
Four yellow cards were handed out in the final 10 minutes as Juventus bogged down the game and held its ground to keep ahold of its narrow lead and earn its fourth consecutive league victory.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY – 8.5. The big moment was obviously the penalty save, but the man finally looked confident and comfortable in goal for the first time this season. He came out when he was needed, he made solid punches, made the saves he needed to make and kept another clean sheet. Brilliant night from Tek.
DANILO – 7.5. He was once again a consistent piece of the back line. Made several key clearances and blocks in the box. Even completed 62 passes at a 91 percent clip. Did get a pretty lazy yellow card late in the match, but overall solid match.
LEONARDO BONUCCI – 8. It started to feel like Bonucci was just a magnet for the ball on any of Roma’s attempted shots. One nearly deflected in and one nearly killed him but he got the job done. Masterpiece distribution as always, completing 12 of 19 long balls.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI – 7.5. If Bonucci was the one blocking shots, Chiellini was the only cleaning up all of those blocked shots and deflections. He gave away some meaningless corners but he was not allowing the ball to sit around anywhere near Szczesny’s goal.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO – 7.5. I admit, I did not want to see MDS in the lineup, but he was good. There were times where I questioned his decision making, but for the most part, he backed it up. Good night passing the ball, deserved an assist and finished with three key passes. Also solid defensively which was a pleasant surprise.
JUAN CUADRADO – 6. Not too many opportunities for the Colombian to make an impact in this one but his switch to MDS created the game’s lone goal. He then tried it throughout the rest of the match and never connected again. He also was not his best at dribbling at defenders like he normally is. Not a great night and was a bit silent but no major mistakes.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR – 6.5. The man who somehow walked away with an assist on Kean’s goal. His positioning was solid as he became the attacking player in the midfield duo. Played the role well but didn’t find the final touch very often. Much better in the second half.
MANUEL LOCATELLI – 6.5. Locatelli was certainly a big help defensively and had some bright moments as always. However, his passing was not at the level we are used to seeing. Several misplaced balls. 90 minutes and no key passes is not something we will see from this man very often.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI – 7. I know some people will have wanted to see him more active and while he did seem to disappear at times, when the ball was at his feet, he may have been the most dangerous Juve player. Was inches away from a couple of worldies. I’ll take this performance every time from Bernardeschi.
MOISE KEAN – 6.5. Very limited touches for Kean on the night (just 22), but he did what was asked of him. He was the outlet for balls played in behind the Roma defense. Maybe should have had a brace but he will take the goal where he definitely knew what happened.
FEDERICO CHIESA – 5.5. It was certainly a weird night for Mr. Chiesa. Passes were a bit sloppy and there was a lack of assertiveness with the ball at its feet that we are not used to seeing. In his defense, there weren’t many opportunities for him to do anything, but still, not his best night.
DEJAN KULUSEVSKI – 6.5. The Swede got just 20 minutes against Roma but he looked threatening, maybe more so than either of the two starting strikers. He was never scared to try to dribble at the defense, as usual, and he even provided some help to his own defense.
ALVARO MORATA – NA. Morata also got 20 minutes but I’m not sure there was enough to give him a fair rating on this game. Certainly thought he was coming in to provide the work rates on both ends of the field but even that was a little disappointing. Didn’t want to punish him too much, but do better when you get more minutes, Alvaro.
ARTHUR – 6.5. A season debut for the Brazilian! And he was all about having the ball at his feet in this one. He averaged more than a touch per minute and connected on 12 of 14 pass attempts in his short time on the field. He drew three fouls in just 17 minutes.
ALEX SANDRO – NA. He touched the ball twice. And made two successful passes. So that’s fun.
I was ready to go in on Allegri in this portion of the recap when I saw the starting lineup. And I’m not completely convinced it was the correct XI still — Luca Pellegrini over MDS every day of the week for backup left back — but this was certainly vintage Allegri.
The defense was set in stone and even with such a narrow lead on the scoreboard, there were very few times I thought Roma looked like they could break through. Everything was so perfectly organized in the back and there were very few moments of panic. Sure, that comes with the veterans on the backline but it also comes from scheme and tactics.
There were some questions in the attack and I would have liked to see Juventus push a little more for that second goal when the spells of possession did come in the second half. There are several good options in this attack and it felt like they were all wasted for about 85 minutes of this match. I did say it was a pretty comfortable one-goal lead but even the most comfortable one-goal lead is still just a one-goal lead. Push for that second one when the chances come.
Credit where credit is due when it comes to the selection. I have already made it known I am against the 4-4-2, but it was the right call for this match and for this particular starting XI. Bernardeschi looked way more natural as a left midfielder than he did on the right side before the international break. And he definitely looked better in that position than Rabiot usually does.
It’s a quick turnaround this week as we have another Champions League matchday to deal with. Juventus will take the long trip to Zenit to square off with the Russian champions on Wednesday. Just a draw would make sure Juventus stays on top of the group. Then it’s another quick turnaround and another big game next weekend with Juventus hitting the road again Sunday, this time for the first Derby d’Italia of the season.