Inter Milan might have thrown the first punch on Tuesday night, but it was Juventus that ended up getting back up off the mat and doing enough to win this fight.
Thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo first-half brace and some good, old-fashioned Inter comedy at the back, Juventus was able to bounce back after going a goal down and hang on after the halftime break to claim a 2-1 win in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals at the San Siro. While it might have looked like history could be repeating itself 2 1⁄2 weeks after Juventus were throttled by Inter in the same stadium, Andrea Pirlo’s squad was able to do exactly what they didn’t in the Jan. 17 loss to Inter — right the ship.
Call it a microcosm for how the team has bounced back over the last couple of weeks since the loss to Inter in Milan, but the fact that they had an immediate response in this game was the biggest thing they needed to do to make sure they headed back to Turin for the second leg with a couple away goals in their pocket and an advantage on the scoreline.
Just look at the immediate response Juve had to falling behind.
There was no wobbling, no sort of dip. Instead, Juventus pushed forward, earning a penalty kick all of 15 minutes after they fell behind. (Sure, there needed to be VAR to overturn the initial call, but anybody who saw it realized that it was simply a formality based on the replays.) Thanks to Ronaldo pressing and Inter’s breakdown in communication, the lead was Juve’s to take not so long after they tied it up. (That finish with the kiss off the post — beautiful.)
That was the kind of response you want to see every time your team falls behind.
And Juventus delivered just that when they needed it the most and be able to flip the scoreline in their favor well before halftime arrived.
Let’s face it, this game was wide open — especially as the second half went on — and could have easily had a couple more goals to it at the very least. But, as we’ve seen from Juventus in recent weeks, just because things are going a little haywire and things might not be totally routine it doesn’t always spell doom ahead of them. They obviously weren’t in complete control like games past the last two weeks, but what could have been a lot worse turned out to be simple moments when our hearts dropped into our stomachs.
This game was all over the place. The second half was especially all over the place, and how it proved to be 45-plus minutes without a goal is completely beyond me with how many chances that were created.
But, thankfully, Juventus didn’t do what they did against Inter 2 1⁄2 weeks ago. Because of that, Juve’s chances of making the Coppa Italia final once again this season are that much greater now with a home game awaiting them in the second leg. The away goals help, too.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Federico Bernardeschi’s cross on the movement that resulted in Juventus getting a penalty kick ... yeah, that wasn’t very good. Luckily there’s no sort of deal like in the NFL when the ball isn’t catchable. Juan Cuadrado could have had a Guinness World Record kind of vertical jump and he wouldn’t have come close to that cross.
- I talked on the most recent podcast about how Juve’s gotten better at preventing danger on opponents’ counterattacks. I’m sorry. Juventus did very bad at defending the counterattack that led to Inter’s opening goal. That was about the opposite of what you want to see them do defensively. It wasn’t just one guy — it was a handful of things that went wrong.
- Also, Gigi Buffon has got to do better with that shot. He’s better than that no matter how old he is these days.
- Buffon knows better than anybody one of the biggest keys for a goalkeeper is to have a short memory. And after that flub he had in the first half, he goes out and makes a great save against Matteo Darmian from point-blank range.
- Seriously, look at this penalty kick from Ronaldo. You want something that is completely unstoppable for a goalkeeper, here it is. That’s a shot that’s still going up when it hits the back of the net.
- What I’m trying to show with that picture is Samir Handanovic — who had a pretty rough first half! — had absolutely no chance of stopping that even though he gave it the honorary dive to his right. Better luck next time, pal.
- Also wish they had a picture available to us from behind Ronaldo when he was just about to make contact with the ball on his second goal. His momentum is taking him toward the goal line and had to hit it just right to make sure he didn’t put too much bend on the ball. He did all that he needed to do to to give Juve the lead on that.
- You want getting your money’s worth on a yellow card, the tackle Matthijs de Ligt had on Nico Barella was pretty much as good as it gets. That’s what happens when one player running at full stride collides with a dude built like a wall.
- Here’s your reminder that Barella is just 23 years old and only getting better. Inter’s got a gem on their hands with this kid.
- Some of Rodrigo Bentancur’s turnovers in this game ... come on, son.
- Merih Demiral was one of the culprits on Inter’s opening goal, but that goal line clearance may prove to be the difference between Juventus going to the Coppa Italia final or seeing their run end in the semifinals. Simply a great instinctual play to get there as everything was going to hell right in front of him.
- Juventus’ subs who came off the bench in the second half: Danilo, Alvaro Morata, Arthur, Giorgio Chiellini and Federico Chiesa. Man, it sure is fun when almost everybody is healthy on this team. (We miss you, Paulo, please come back soon.)
- Chiellini was basically going person to person after the final whistle giving out hugs. When you get a big win over your arch rivals, you’ve pretty much earned that from the captain.
- Good win. Even with all of the roller coaster-like moments in the second half, I’ll take it.