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Juve survive Bologna siege in the fog

Juve outlasted their hosts on a night when you couldn’t always see what was going on.

Bologna FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

There were times on Saturday night where you could barely see what was going on on the pitch at the Renato Dall’Ara.

There were times where that wasn’t so much of an issue. After taking an early lead, Juventus spent much of the game hanging on to that lead with varying degrees of desperation. It was enough to make you want to cover your eyes and watch the game through your fingers — something that the fog almost did for you. There was serious consideration given to postponing this match due to the conditions, and at times the TV feed was almost completely consumed by the mist. It looked a little better when the shot went down to field level, but by the end of the game it really was only a little bit better.

It wasn’t quite the type of approach to a match one would’ve really wanted to see against a team like Bologna — who haven’t so much as taken a point off Juve since 2016 and were thrashed 4-1 on the last day of the 2020-21 season to help put Juve into the Champions League this season. By rights this game, in which Bolongna held possession for almost 60 percent of the time, should’ve been one that Juve would be able to boss.

Instead, Juve turtled for long stretches in the game, and against a better team than the Rossoblu would likely have been punished severely for some pretty elemental give aways deep in their own territory. But after all that, the Bianconeri were able to get the insurance goal that so desperately avoided them last week, and were able to guide the ship in with a 2-0 victory that, coupled with some other results from earlier in the day, allowed the team to gain vital ground in the race for the top four.

With Paulo Dybala injured, Massimiliano Allegri opted for a 4-3-3 setup. Wojciech Szczesny started in goal, with Juan Cuadrado, Matthijs de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci, and Luca Pellegrini arrayed in front of him. Weston McKennie, Arthur, and Adrien Rabiot made up the midfield, while Moise Kean was played ed on the left wing, working together with Federico Bernardeschi and Alvaro Morata.

Bologna’s Sinisa Mihajlovic countered with a 3-1-4-2. Lukasz Skorupski made it an all-Polish goalkeeping matchup, with Gary Medel, Adama Soumaroro, and Arthur Theate screening him. Nicolas Dominguez anchored the midfield in front of the defense, with Lorenzo De Silvestri, Roberto Soriano, Mattias Svanberg, and Aaron Hickey making up the final bank of four behind Musa Barrow and Marko Arnautovic.

Juve got things started early on. It began with what was a pretty lucky bounce, as Arthur’s attempt to find Kean with a pass in the sixth minute was intercepted but bounced right into Morata’s path. The Spanish striker took off and played a neat one-two with Bernardeschi. The winger nutmegged his man with a simple through ball that led Morata, who was just on the right side of the offside trap, A single touch was all that required to see Morata crush the ball over the shoulder of a stranded Skorupski.

Bologna FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Bologna had opportunities to respond quickly. They had a pair of free kicks in the minutes after the goal, but they ran short plays that fizzled out quickly. Meanwhile, Juve hunted for a second goal, with Rabiot perhaps being a little too selfish when he was in the channel and firing straight at Szczesny, then Morata doing the same with a layoff from McKennie a few minutes later.

But, after that second shot, Bologna started to get their handle on the game. Arnautovic registered their first shot in the 17th minute, but he was moving away from goal and couldn’t get any power on his header, which was easy for Szczesny to save. Five minutes later, Dominguez had a shot blocked, the rebound of which fell to Svanberg, who tried a bicycle kick that barely missed the post. By the last five minutes of the half Juve were well and truly hemmed in, but made it to the locker room with their lead intact.

As the second half started, Bologna quickly resumed their ascendant position, and Juve was left on the defend-and-counter for a full half as they hoped they could use one of those counters to put the game away. Ten minutes into the half, McKennie made a vital block to keep his team in front, while de Ligt and Bonucci were busy making multiple interventions and exhorting the team to give them some help earlier.

There was concern for Juve on the hour when Pellegrini dropped to the ground and stayed there, and he was replaced by Alex Sandro. It didn’t make too much of a difference to the overall flow of the game, though, and in the 66th minute Szczesny had his most important moment of the match, It came when Soriano fed Dominguez into the channel with a gorgeous ball, but the Argentine’s powerful shot was parried strongly behind for a corner.

Three minutes later, Juve managed to turn the run of play around and get that badly-needed insurance goal. It was triggered by Morata, who found Cuadrado with a cross-field pass. The versatile Colombian gave himself some space and tried to find the near post, only to get a deflection off Hickey that ballooned the ball past the keeper in upper far corner instead.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-BOLOGNA-JUVENTUS Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images

Juve were able to relax a bit for the last 20 minutes, and while Bologna were nominally on the front foot, they didn’t register a shot the remainder of the game, and were lucky not to lose by more late on, as late sub Kaio Jorge set up Cuadrado only to see Andreas Skov Olsen get enough of a touch on the ball to redirect it behind, and Skorupski denied Dejan Kulusevski with the last kick of the game.

Or at least I think that’s what happened. By the end of the game the fog had returned with a vengeance, and it was nearly impossible to make out what was going on on the far sideline from the main TV camera. But when Daniele Orsato blew his whistle to end the match, Juve had a much-needed victory, one that, pending the results of Sunday, could put them within five points of the top four.

LE PAGELLE

WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Strong coming off his line when necessary, and the one really dangerous save he had to make was made very well. He’s shaken off the doldrums and can be officially classified as back.

JUAN CUADRADO - 7.5. Another typically excellent day. His goal got the benefit of a deflection, but it was well-taken and timely, and he added in two key passes and added in five clearances on the defensive side.

MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 7.5. An absolute unit in the back. His counting stats — two tackles, one interception, two clearances — feel low given how well he played and the impact he had on the defense. Made several really important interventions and kept Bologna’s siege at bay until the insurance goal was had.

LEONARDO BONUCCI - 8. Made six clearances and was always in and around where the action was, starting from the opening moments when he made an excellent tackle to stop a streaking Barrow after about 15 seconds.

LUCA PELLEGRINI - 6. Continues to play well on both sides of the ball, posing a constant threat on the left side in attack and locking down his flank well. Hopefully his injury isn’t that severe and that the Christmas break will take care of it.

WESTON McKENNIE - 6. Worked hard on both ends of the field, making three tackles and registering a key pass in his return from injury. Juve need him to be dynamic in the midfield in order to be successful.

ARTHUR - 5.5. He just ... doesn’t do it for me, I have to be honest. He was pretty weak defensively, even in the early phases when he was supposedly fresh, and his insistence on making backwards and lateral passes is becoming mind-numbing.

ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. Found the target with two shots and made a pair of key passes, to go along with two tackles, two interceptions, and two clearances. But he lost the ball very close to his own goal on several occasions and was lucky not to be punished for it.

FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 6. That assist was really a thing of beauty, a sweet nutmeg that set Morata up perfectly. Struggled to make the same impact later in the game, but that was everyone defending for dear life.

ALVARO MORATA - 7.5. A sweetly-taken goal and a good assist capping of one of Morata’s best days in months. Hopefully we’re on the verge of another hot streak.

MOISE KEAN - 6. Only touched the ball 20 times, but he looked dynamic on the left side of the trident. He played out there with PSG last year and had some success, so hopefully we’ll see this a little more when Allegri is more inclined to attack.

SUBS

ALEX SANDRO - 6. Registered a key pass and a tackle and interception in place of Pellegini.

MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5.5. Was to be rested Saturday night, but had to come on for the last half hour after Arthur started to look done. His passing was a tiny bit off, only completing 87 percent. He looks gassed and needs this Christmas break to recuperate.

DEJAN KULUSEVSKI - 5.5. Hit the target with his only shot but was forced to defend for most of his 20 minutes on the field.

RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 5. A bad day at the offensive end, though the did hound a few guys in defense.

KAIO JORGE - NR. Nearly had his first Serie A assist when he set up Cuadrado late.

Bologna FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

MANAGER ANALYSIS

Using a 4-3-3 with Kean on the left side tells us two things: 1) Max Allegri is looking into alternatives to the 4-4-2 that wasn’t doing much of anything in the early parts of the year and 2) Dejan Kulusevski really is that far on the outs if he can’t get one of the wing spots in a 4-3-3.

At least, that’s what it looks like. It could just be that Allegri realizes how dynamic Kean can be out wide — he had a lot of success out there in the past and has the potential to do more than Mario Mandzukic could for Juve on that side. But for Kulusevski not to get a sniff as a starter in a formation like this? Rough.

Now, if only Allegri would try to use that formation to do something more than hold on to a 1-0 lead for dear life. A team better than Bologna would’ve gladly converted some of the opportunities they were afforded by bad giveaways in the defensive third, and it wasn’t until Juve’s second goal that we could all relax. 1-0 simply isn’t good enough, especially because this team can’t necessarily hold out the way that their predecessors on the BBC can.

But, a win’s a win. Gotta take it.

LOOKING AHEAD

Juve welcome Cagliari to the Allianz on Tuesday, the last game of the andata that doubles as the last game before the short Christmas break.