After Wednesday’s big win over Napoli, Juventus absolutely had to follow it up with another victory. Giving the Partenopei back the ground they had just gained would’ve crushed whatever positive feeling and momentum they had just gained right back and, with a huge game against Atalanta coming next week, putting their top four status back in extreme peril.
So it was a great relief to Juventini everywhere when the team came out of the gate roaring against Genoa on Sunday. They took the lead in less than five minutes, and kept the visitors on their back foot, doubling their lead before half an hour had gone by. Some changes and a far more positive attitude — along with some really lackluster marking on a corner — saw Genoa get themselves back into it moments after the restart, but Juve always looked good for another goal, and they picked one up with 20 minutes left. An unfortunate injury left the Grifone down to 10 men not long after, and Juve were left to ease themselves to a 3-1 victory.
Andrea Pirlo made two changes to the team that beat Napoli midweek. Unlike Wednesday, his hybrid approach returned, this time seemingly pairing a 4-4-2 in defense with a 3-4-3 going forward. Wojciech Szczesny returned to the starting goalkeeper position, with Juan Cuadrado, Matthijs de Ligt, Giorgio Chiellini, and Danilo in front of him. Dejan Kulusevski, Rodrigo Bentancur, Adrien Rabiot, and Federico Chiesa formed the midfield bank, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata at the top of the formation.
Genoa manager Davide Ballardini gave Juve a scare in January in the Coppa Italia, and he countered with his characteristic 3-5-2, one that was heavy on Juventus connections. That started in goal with Mattia Perin, who is still on loan from the Bianconeri. He was screened by Andrea Masiello, Domenico Criscito, and Ivan Radovanovic. Davide Biraschi and Davide Zappacosta served as wingbacks, wrapped around the midfield trio of Milan Badelj, Valon Behrami, and 19-year-old Juve loanee Nicolo Rovella. Gianluca Scamacca joined the venerable Goran Pandev at the tip of the spear.
Juve were up in the blink of an eye. It was the fourth minute when Ronaldo airmailed a cross all the way across the field to Cuadrado. Rovella stepped up to defend him, and Cuadrado made him look like the teenager he is, easily getting past him and blowing past him before laying it back. Kulusevski chased the pass down and clipped a gorgeous first-time curler into the top corner that gave Perin absolutely no chance.
They kept up the pressure, and in the 11th minute Morata sprung Ronaldo on a counter, but the Portuguese pulled his shot wide of the post as he went against the grain. Genoa could only muster a 35-yard effort that Biraschi put into orbit in the first 20 minutes before Cuadrado was whistled for a handball just outside the left side of the penalty area — and I mean just outside. Scamacca tried to go for goal with the free kick but never got it dip and sent it soaring over the bar.
Two minutes later, Juve doubled the lead with a thunderbolt of a counterattack. Behrami had been battling Chiesa for a bouncing ball and headed it back toward Radovanovic, but Chiesa kept on chasing the ball and jumped the Serbian in the center circle. Chiesa charged down the field and into the right channel. His shot toward the far post was well saved by Perin, and it looked like the opportunity would go begging when Ronaldo somehow hit the rebound off the upright from a yard or so away. But that rebound rolled back to the trailing Morata, who rifled the third bite at the apple under Perin to finally put it away.
Juve continued to dominate things, and Perin was forced into more saves as the half continued. Rabiot took a nice setup by Chiesa and hit a nice right-footed shot that was parried away by a flying save, then the keeper got down to deny Kulusevski at the near post. Genoa finally managed to put a scare into the hosts when Scamacca squeezed between Chiellini and de Ligt on the turn and broke into the penalty area, but Szczesny raced out and made himself big to deny the young Italy U21 striker.
Both coaches made changes over the break, with Ballardini sending on Paolo Ghiglione and another Juve loanee, Marko Pjaca, while Pirlo sent on Alex Sandro for Cuadrado, who had been booked in the first half. The changes clearly favored the visiting team, and they pulled one back just as quickly as Juve had gotten in front at the start of the game. This time Scamacca wouldn’t be denied, shaking off the attention of de Ligt, who hit the ground after some minimal contact, and the forward headed into the upper corner.
It was Genoa’s turn to keep up the pressure, and Pjaca was presented with two excellent chances to take a stab at his parent club around five mintues later, but he saw the first denied by a good one-handed save on the stretch and the second he ballooned over from an incredible position after beating Chiellini in the middle of the box.
Ronaldo responded to that by pushing another shot just wide, then Chiesa sprang forward on another strong counter, but made a terrible decision and badly overhit it for Morata, allowing Perin to scramble out to smother the play.
Ballardini sensed the opening and was aggressive with his subs, sending in Miha Zajc, Eldor Shommurodov, and Filippo Melegoni all before the 70th minute. Unfortunately for him, one of Pirlo’s changes made the difference only a minute after he made his last sub. It was Weston McKennie, who had just come on for Kulusevski, who waltzed through Genoa’s offside trap so easily that he actually had a look behind him to make sure the referee’s arm wasn’t raised, before striding into the channel, opening up his body and tapping it past Perin. Genoa’s defenders were dumbfounded, but Ghiglione had been playing him on on the far side of the field.
The goal took the wind out of the visitors’ sails, and Zappacosta then went down injured, and had to leave the field, leaving them to finish the last 15 minutes with 10 men. Juve tried to push for a fourth and nearly had one when Paulo Dybala fed an excellent pass to Sandro at the penalty spot, but he couldn’t quite control it at first and by the time he could shoot Perin was in the way and made the save. The Brazilian also came close to adding some window dressing in stoppage time when he cut inside from the right in the aftermath of a corner and fired for goal. His shot took a deflection and just missed falling under the crossbar, skimming the roof of the net on its way past. The final whistle sounded seconds later, and Juve kept themselves rolling headed into a crunch contest next week.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Answered critics after the Torino game with a solid performance, making two really good saves, the first on Scamacca and the second on Pjaca. Only had to face three shots on target total.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6.5. Made Rovella look silly when he set up Kulusevski and had two key passes overall to go along with a tackle and an interception. Pulled at halftime, likely due to the yellow card he received so he wouldn’t be at risk of missing the Atalanta game.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 6.5. This was going to be a bigger number, but he was a little weak on the Scamacca goal. He was quite excellent beyond that, reading passing lanes perfectly and constantly stepping out from the back to intercept passes. How he was only given credit for a single interception is beyond me. He also added two tackles and three clearances
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 6. Got beaten a little too easily by Scamacca in the first half and Pjaca in the second, but was solid beyond those two incidents and had four clearances.
DANILO - 7. Understated but excellent on the day, with three key passes and an assist, and also led the team with five clearances. Never got beaten.
DEJAN KULUSEVSKI - 7. That goal was an absolute peach, and a prime example of just what he can do if he manages to settle. Spent a lot of the day farther advanced up the right wing, and he made more danger than he’s made in quit some time, hitting the target with both his shots, making a key pass, and finding the mark with two of three crosses.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 7. It wasn’t flashy, but this might’ve been Bentancur’s best game of the season. He made a team-high five key passes, completed 91.3 percent of his passes, and was accurate with all four of his long passes.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 7. Made a team-high four tackles and two interceptions, along with a key pass and forcing a smart save out of Perin. He and Bentancur have suddenly meshed in midfield the last two games.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 7. His energy is boundless, and his pressing caused massive problems for anyone he zeroed in on. Some better decision-making on his part could’ve put the game away sooner with that second-half counterattack.
ALVARO MORATA - 7. Made two key passes as well as his goal, and also made a pair of tackles tracking back. Hopefully this was a big game for his confidence.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 5.5. The algorithm on WhoScored declared Ronaldo man of the match. This is why algorithms shouldn’t run the world. With the rest of the team playing pretty well around him, Ronaldo really didn’t do all that much. He wasn’t involved in buildup play and was lucky Morata was behind him to tuck the ball away after he put the ball into the post from with the goal open from a yard away.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. Came close to scoring with a pair of late shots and added in a key pass to go along with a pair of clearances, a tackle, and an interception.
PAULO DYBALA - 6. Provided some creativity up front and was active in the attacking third, having a couple of shots charged down and nearly creating a goal for Sandro late on.
WESTON McKENNIE - 7. Excellently taken goal, and he had a key pass and two tackles to boot—all in 23 minutes of work.
ARTHUR - 6. Held possession well and completed 95.2 percent of his passes.
AARON RAMSEY - NR. On to close the game out late.
After beating Napoli on Wednesday with a straight 4-4-2, I wasn’t expecting a hybrid, morphing setup Sunday, much less one that morphed into something that Pirlo hasn’t actually used in a game before. Rather than the 3-5-2 that has been the shape going forward, today’s attacking formation was more of a 3-4-3, with Kulusevski playing much higher up and Ronaldo wide on the other side around Morata. The result was one of the best halves of football Juve has played all year, completely dominating proceedings and putting up two goals in just 22 minutes.
Pirlo’s clearly on to something here, and it’ll be interesting to see if he keeps up with this new look as time goes on. These last two games have showed that the players are finally starting to understand what their coach wants of them, and the results have been — dare we say it — really fun to watch over the last week. With only eight games left and their top four spot still not close to secure, it’s imperative that the team keep this momentum going to keep themselves in the top four.
With their win, Juve maintain their position in third place, three points ahead of Napoli in fifth and one ahead of Atalanta. They’re only one point behind AC Milan for second.
The trip to Atalanta is set for next Sunday, followed by a midweek fixture against relegation strugglers Parma.