There are games that fly by, with end-to-end action and halves of football where you rarely even realize how much time has past until you hear the whistle sound for halftime. But based on what we saw in the first half on Tuesday night in Turin, the first half felt more like a two-hour slog than 45 minutes of actual encouraging play from a Juventus team that was just as shorthanded as ever during this injury-hit stretch.
If you felt the same way, then your feelings about the second half weren’t filled with all that much optimism.
But Andrea Pirlo, a guy who is under the microscope as much as ever these days, much the switches that unlocked Juventus’ play. At long last, things looked relatively competent again.
Led by Alvaro Morata recording his first Serie A goal since before Christmas on his first touch of the game, Federico Chiesa’s acrobatic finish and — wait for it — an influential Federico Bernardeschi appearance off the bench, Juventus turned what was an absolutely terrible first half into a strong second-half performance to claim a 3-0 win over Spezia at Allianz Stadium. Cristiano Ronaldo put the cherry on top of the strong second half with a late goal, becoming the first player in Europe’s top 5 leagues to reach the 20-goal mark in each of the last 12 seasons. (That’s good, right?)
And just because the second half was a completely unpredictable period of time, Wojciech Szczesny stopped a penalty kick for the final touch of the game to keep the shutout intact.
Not bad considering what we saw to begin this game.
Not bad for Pirlo to give this team the kick in the ass it needed.
But in the second half we saw what has been lacking in recent weeks: A reference point up front in Morata that provides Juventus with a second true and dangerous goal scoring threat to stretch a defense. And not only that, this team just needed a shot in the arm to try and bring some energy to the table.
You look at how they started the second half, and it was better than what we saw to close the opening 45 minutes. But when Morata and Bernadeschi came on — and then quickly combined to give Juventus the lead — that is what flipped this game. Once Juve got the opening goal, they were on their way. And unlike in the draw against Hellas Verona this past Saturday night, they actually added onto their lead — which, considering what we saw a few days ago, was a welcome sight.
But, in a vacuum, this performance is almost like a microcosm of the season. There’s been some good like what we saw in the second half. There’s been some bad like what we saw in the first half. It’s been inconsistent, up and down, and a mixed bag of what we see from this team on a game-by-game and week-to-week basis.
For 45 minutes on Tuesday night, though, Juventus played rather well and Pirlo made the changes he needed to make to finally kick things into gear. That’s more than what we can say about the last time Juve played, which is an improvement that I’ll take at this point.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- So now we get to add Matthijs de Ligt to the injury list. How fun these last couple of weeks have been. SO MUCH FUN LOOK AT ALL THE FUN WE ARE HAVING.
- Also fun: Seeing Weston McKennie clearly limping after being subbed off early in the second half. The hip ain’t right, and obviously his cooling form is a product of that.
- Editor’s note: the last two bullet points aren’t actually meant to be taken as “fun.”
- I said it when Gigi Buffon did it, and I will say it now that Wojciech Szczesny has done it. When your away kit is this good, you need to wear it more often — even if you’re the starting goalkeeper. I mean, just look how badass this is as a keeper kit:
- That stoppage-time penalty save felt like the only thing that Szczesny had to do in this game. It seriously was one of those nights where he coulda pulled a Buffon from 2012 or 2013 where if he had put his feet up and started reading a book it wouldn’t really have made much of a difference. Then one save and the shutout is still intact. Good work, Tek.
- The run Rodrigo Bentancur made to provide the assist on Ronaldo’s goal ... please, son, more of that going forward because that was really refreshing to see.
- Federico Chiesa is fun and the goal he scored was a pretty damn good for his last contribution before being taken off. He continues to deliver and be one of this team’s best players despite everything else going on around him. He’s really taken his game to another level the last couple of months. For a player who has battled inconsistency in his young career, this could be the sign that things are changing for the better.
- So, that brings us to this poll question (and I know we haven’t had many of these lately):
What would you rather have your last touch of the game be like?
This poll is closed
A goal like Chiesa scored vs. Spezia
Saving a PK like Szczesny did vs. Spezia
- Merih Demiral, up until being called for a penalty in the final minute of stoppage time, was easily one of Juventus’ best players. (And, forget the PK call, he was still damn good regardless.) That couldn’t have been easy to go from thinking you’re starting alongside your buddy de Ligt to being in the leading spot of the back three. Sure, Alex Sandro was captain, but this was Demiral leading the way defensively — and he delivered.
- Adrien Rabiot had a man bun in the first half.
- Adrien Rabiot ditched the man bun in the second half.
- Spot the difference of the last two sentences and see if it coincides with Juve playing better as the game went on.
- There was a shot of Paulo Dybala clapping in the stands after Ronaldo’s goal and it made me sad. I miss seeing Paulo on the field, and hopefully he can come back soon. This team needs him for the simple fact of being able to not run their most important goal scorers into the ground the next few months.
- This might surprise you based on what you watched, but Gianluca Frabotta attempted four crosses and didn’t complete one of them. Oh well. (He’ll also be suspended for the Lazio game this weekend after getting a yellow card against Spezia, so that doesn’t do us any favors in terms of the depth crunch.)
- As I write this, WhoScored says Federico Bernardeschi completed seven passes. According to WhoScored, three of those passes were key passes. Not a bad ratio, if you ask me.
- I personally enjoy seeing Juventus celebrating a win compared to being a grump all day like I was on Saturday. I have no idea what this team can do the rest of the season, but at least they can do what they did in the second half every now and then. That’s better than nothing.
- I dunno about you guys, but I’m gonna be a big Udinese and Parma fan the next couple of days. Feel free to follow along if you would like.