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Late Sassuolo counterattack ends Juve’s unbeaten streak

The Bianconeri failed to capitalize in the final third for most of the night, leaving the door open for a late goal as Sassuolo grabbed its first ever victory in Turin.

Juventus v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Chris Ricco/Getty Images

It just took a few moments for Juventus fans to have their emotions shift from belief to that familiar hopelessness from just a couple of months ago. It was not the worst performance of the season, but it may be the worst result to date and it stopped Juventus’ race to a potential top-four spot dead in its tracks.

For now.

Juventus looked poised to capture a come-from-behind victory with a dominant display in the first 30 minutes of the second half, but after the score was leveled, there were very little threats toward Sassuolo’s goal — and the visitors took advantage. Maxime Lopez found himself all alone in front of Mattia Perin and his perfectly placed chip went into the corner of the net, handing the Neroverdi a 2-1 win in Turin, their first-ever victory at Allianz Stadium.

It was a match Juventus wanted to win and Max Allegri made that very clear in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday. And even though there was big-time squad rotation from Sunday’s Derby d’Italia, it was still a starting XI that should have been good enough to get the job done. There were six changes made to the initial lineup, starting in between the posts with Perin getting the start over Wojciech Szczesny. Matthijs de Ligt returned to the back line, joining Leonardo Bonucci and Danilo. Mattia De Sciglio got the start at left back, momentarily giving Alex Sandro a break that wouldn’t last very long. Weston McKennie and Manuel Locatelli were back in the center of midfield with Adrien Rabiot back on the left. Federico Chiesa started on the right side of midfield with Paulo Dybala returning to start up top with Alvaro Morata.

The lineup came out on the front foot right away with several chances coming for the hosts in the first few minutes.

Chiesa was on set piece duty early on, putting in a great free kick from the right wing and finding Bonucci behind the defense but the defender’s volley somehow completely missed the target. Less than a minute later, Morata ran in behind the defense but failed to even get a shot away. Fortunately for both players, they were saved from embarrassment with each chance being flagged for offside.

And that was a theme for the night for Juventus. Sassuolo caught the Juventus attack in an offside position eight times which would bring an abrupt end to several threatening spells. Meanwhile, the visitors weren’t caught in an offside position a single time despite Juventus defenders spending most of their time near the halfway line.

Sassuolo had a good response to the early Juventus pressure and there was a much more balanced flow to the match. Domenico Berardi had the first chance of the night for the visitors in the 19th minute and nearly found the back of the net with his dangerous left foot, but a full-stretch effort from Perin got just enough of the ball to push the shot wide of the post.

McKennie and Chiesa continued to be the threatening force in the first half hour for Juventus, linking up together well on the right side. First, McKennie made an overlapping run just outside the box and played a great cut back cross to find Rabiot but his attempt was a mishit and got blocked before it could sail into the stands anyway. A few minutes later, it was Chiesa who made the overlapping run, getting the ball from McKennie but his cross was cleared away for one of Juventus’ four empty corner kicks on the evening.

The closest Juventus came to taking the lead in the first half was off the boot of Dybala. A patient buildup was almost wasted by a poor touch from Locatelli, but the Italian managed to win the ball back and squeeze it through to Dybala who cut inside and shot from 20 yards, only to see his strike bounce off the outside of Andrea Consigli’s right post.

Just a couple of minutes before the break, Sassuolo opened the scoring with a perfect counter attack against the run of play. Alex Sandro, who came on for an injured De Sciglio, was easily beaten on the left side and as the last line of defense, de Ligt stumbled just a bit trying to follow two runs into the box on his own. Gregoire Defrel picked out Davide Frattesi’s run into the box and he put a cool finish into the bottom corner.

Allegri countered with a halftime change, subbing in Juan Cuadrado for Rabiot and shifting Chiesa to the left side for a much more attacking form to the 4-4-2. Chiesa continued to threaten from his new side, linking up with Sandro early on but Chiesa’s cross into the box was way too close to Consigli who stopped the ball before Morata could even think of a shot.

Sandro became a threat again a few minutes later, getting on the end of a Dybala free kick. He managed to lose his mark in the box, but his header was well over the bar, which may not have mattered as he appeared to be in an offside position.

The threat from the left side continued when Sandro had the opportunity to pick out a cross and it floated over everybody before finding Cuadrado in an acre of space inside the box. The Colombian struck the ball well and beat Consigli, but Kaan Ayhan was in perfect position to block the shot and clear the ball off the line. It was Juventus’ first shot on target in the match.

Less than a minute later, it was Dybala who got into a good position in front of goal but his shot from the left side of the box was pushed into the air by Consigli. Cuadrado won a header to set up another chance but Chiesa’s quick-reaction header could not be guided on target and it was another chance wasted.

Morata found the back of the net in the 63rd minute after Cuadrado won the ball back before Sassuolo could counter, but the referee deemed Cuadrado’s sliding challenge to be a foul and Juventus was still waiting for its equalizer. That was the final touch of the game for Morata with Kaio Jorge entering to get his first extended minutes off the bench.

The Brazilian made an immediate impact and nearly pulled off the goal of the season when he attempted an overhead kick on a late cross from Cuadrado. He just missed out on making the perfect contact with the ball though and his hit sailed harmlessly high and wide of the goal.

Juventus finally found its breakthrough in the 76th minute when Dybala whipped in a perfect free kick and McKennie rose well above his defender to head the ball past Consigli to level the score.

But that was about it in terms of attacking the Sassuolo goal. Allegri was still going for the win, subbing in Dejan Kulusevski for Danilo while Arthur replaced Locatelli, but Sassuolo was not allowing much through its defense for the rest of the night. Juventus showed plenty of energy and even some urgency to get forward but they struggled to create anything with the ball at their feet.

Eventually, that urgency without the lack of results would come back to bite the home side. In the final portion of the five added minutes for stoppage time, Sassuolo saw an opportunity to break when the Juventus half was nearly empty. Berardi played a perfect ball around McKennie, who was the last man back for Juve, and into the path of Lopez. McKennie could not get back quick enough to shut down the chance and Lopez was not wasting that opportunity, sealing the victory for Sassuolo.

The defeat ended Juventus’ streak of nine consecutive unbeaten matches. It also dropped the Old Lady to seventh in the league table with Sassuolo pushing up to ninth, just one point off its opponents.

LA PAGELLE

MATTIA PERIN – 6.5. Perin made a terrific save in the first half and definitely gets points for that. It’s also hard to put blame on him for either of Sassuolo’s goals, but it’s also not great to be beaten twice with such limited chances. Feel like he could’ve done more to get his defense organized at times, too.

DANILO – 6.5. Had a couple of crucial blocks and had a pretty decent night with his distribution, completing 50 of his 54 passes. He even got forward and made a decent connection with an attempted volley even though it ended up well wide of the target.

LEONARDO BONUCCI – 6. This was a pretty average night for Bonucci. Not awful in defense when he was in position but he strayed from his spot as he does. Mostly good with his passing including connecting on several long balls, but the ones he missed were nearly detrimental.

MATTHIJS DE LIGT – 6.5. De Ligt had some shaky touches but for the most part he was his physical and imposing self. A couple of interceptions paired with some strong tackles and a couple of aerial duels won. He didn’t look great on Sassuolo’s first goal, but at least he was where he was supposed to be, just had too much to deal with.

MATTIA DE SCIGLIO – NA. This guy can’t catch a break. Playing well and playing with confidence only to get another injury. It was fun while it lasted.

FEDERICO CHIESA – 6. He wasn’t as threatening as he has been in the past, but he did make a couple of really good runs to open up some chances for the attack. Didn’t have the final touch in the box though and wasted some good opportunities.

WESTON MCKENNIE – 7.5. This game wasn’t too different than a normal Weston game. His positioning was threatening, he linked well with the attackers and his pressing was very useful. The difference this time was he actually found a finishing touch for once and we have all been waiting on that for a while.

Juventus v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

MANUEL LOCATELLI – 5.5. Another disappointing day on the ball for Locatelli and it may be because he’s in need of a deserved break. He was a little slow in decision making with his passes, left a counter attack on the table with a lazy touch in the second half. Defense wasn’t even at its best either, being dribbled past 11 times and called for three fouls.

ADRIEN RABIOT – 6. He’s just not a left midfielder, so can we stop trying this nonsense? Somehow he registered a 100 percent accuracy with his passes, but also never threatened with those passes. He had two great opportunities on goal, one being a very weak unmarked header and the other being a shanked first-time shot from 15 yards out. He was fine.

PAULO DYBALA – 7.5. The kind of game that was begging for Dybala to have a better striker in front of him. He came back often to get on the ball to try to break the Sassuolo line with dribbles or passes. He was very threatening with the ball at his feet and got a deserved assist. Only gripe may be needing to look for his own shot more often. One off the post and one forcing a good save from Consigli. Good things happen when he shoots.

ALVARO MORATA – 5. Quite the Houdini act from Morata in this one, a game where a striker could have been a game changer with all the chances in Sassuolo’s third. 17 touches, eight pass attempts and zero shots in 63 minutes for the Spaniard. Yikes.

SUBS

ALEX SANDRO – 6.5. For a man that was thrown in during an expected off night, Sandro did pretty well. He was not great defensively on the first Sassuolo goal but he responded well. He looked threatening from the left side and did a lot of good things to start the second half when Juventus needed a goal.

JUAN CUADRADO – 7. Cuadrado coming off the bench doesn’t exactly seem fair at times. That’s a lot of energy and skill to come flying at a defense. He made three key passes in the second half alone, three successful dribbles and a rocket for a shot on target that really deserved a goal.

KAIO JORGE – 6. There’s no doubt he was the more threatening of the two strikers in this game but that’s not saying a lot. He was great when Juve was still chasing a goal but like the rest of the attack, didn’t do a whole lot in the final 20 minutes.

ARTHUR – 6. There was a lot of dribbling. There was some impressive dribbling too to be fair but still, a lot of dribbling. Not a whole lot really going on for him though.

DEJAN KULUSEVSKI – 5.5. Could go with the N/A here but when you need a goal and you sub on an extra attacker for the final 15 minutes, you really need to see more than what Kulusevski showed us. Just eight touches, no key passes, one dribble and lost possession three times. That ain’t it.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-JUVENTUS-SASSUOLO Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

MANAGER ANALYSIS

This may be the first time this season where points have been dropped without any glaring issues from Allegri’s tactics or personnel selection. I mean, sure, there is still the whole 4-4-2 thing happening and Rabiot was put on the left side again, which I will disagree with every single time. But, in his defense, the shape and the formation looked pretty good. It pressed well, won possession back up the field and set up the attack in good positions for something to happen. The defense was all out of sorts at times and I’m not sure if it was the case of the early change, more attacking instructions for Danilo or just the goalkeeper switch, but something was off and it’s hard to judge if that was due to tactics.

It seemed to be a pretty good night from the touchline for Allegri when it came to his substitution choices as well. Sandro was the easy choice for the early sub, but quickly going to Cuadrado at the break was a bit unexpected and paid off. Morata clearly did not have it in this one and even though Kaio Jorge wasn’t great, it was a big choice for Allegri to go to the young Brazilian in a big spot for the final half hour.

LOOKING AHEAD

It’s another quick turnaround for Juventus with just two days off coming and now a very important three points up for grabs on the squad’s road trip to face Hellas Verona on Saturday. They will then return back home for another Champions League matchday, the competition where things are still good, when Juventus hosts Zenit next Tuesday.