You had that sinking feeling in your stomach again, didn’t you? The predictable self-inflicted mistake with multiple facepalm-worthy moments that leads to Juventus’ opponent drawing first blood, which in turn would mean that Andrea Pirlo’s squad would again have to try and figure out what’s going on after falling behind on the scoreboard.
But then, like he’s done so many times over the last two-plus decades, Gianluigi Buffon saved Juventus’ bacon — literally and figuratively.
Not only did Buffon’s first-half penalty save keep the game scoreless, but it allowed Juventus to actually play in front for what felt like the first time in weeks thanks to Adrien Rabiot’s opener. A couple of milestone goals later, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala each scoring their 100th goal in a Juventus shirt, and Juve were on their way to a much-refreshing 3-1 win over Sassuolo at the Mapei Stadium in a game that didn’t seem they play all that great but get the job done in a way they had done when they were still reigning champions.
The one problem: All four teams in front of Juventus in the Serie A standings were also victorious either Tuesday or Wednesday night — including Milan’s absolute thrashing of Torino — so we’re right where we were coming out of the weekend’s set of games. But, as you can probably know, there’s all of two games left in the season, and therefore Juve’s going to need even more help than before Wednesday night’s game if they want to somehow jump back into the top four.
But for Juventus to even have a chance at getting back into the top four, they first have to win their own game. Help may or may not come, but it doesn’t matter if they don’t take care of their own business these final two weeks of the 2020-21 season. Obviously the help didn’t arrive in Round 36, so that means we head to the final two games of the season with Juventus needing just as much if not more help than they did before.
The good thing about this win Wednesday night is that Juventus did it in the kind of fashion where they weren’t necessarily the better team for much of the game but they still got the job done. It was rather simple — especially in the first half: Sassuolo had more chances, they had more of the ball and they were dictating more of the play, but Juventus — through Rabiot and then Ronaldo — were much more clinical than the home side, and that’s why they were ahead 2-0 at the break. Sassuolo had twice as many shots as Juve in the first half, yet did you noticed that all but two of them were going anywhere but on frame?
Combine Sassuolo’s ineffectiveness in front of goal and Buffon’s penalty save and that was the chance for Juventus to take advantage of and go in front.
They did just that.
That is something we haven’t seen much of these last few weeks.
Seriously, how often have we seen Juventus play with a lead this month or in the last few weeks of April? It’s been a struggle, and the fact that they have had to dig themselves out of so many holes — and not successfully do it, too — is reflected in just how many points they have dropped the last couple of weeks (and months).
But this wasn’t one of those days. Did they get a little lucky? Sure, but they also took full advantage of the few scoring chances they had in the first half to build a lead and had their prime-time players lead the way. And it always helps when you 43-year-old goalkeeper continues to make this thing look easy and plays a major role in a Juventus win.
Not bad, Dad, not bad at all.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- RIP to Marlon’s ankles after that move Ronaldo put on him with his first touch of the ball right before his goal. You just knew after that he was going to score — and he did, rather easily. Pretty good, that.
- It took Ronaldo 131 games to score 100 goals in a Juventus jersey. Pretty good, that.
- This really was the full Adrien Rabiot experience in this game. His giveaway in the box directly led to Sassuolo’s penalty. He then scored Juve’s first goal and assisted on the second. He then forgot to track his player on Sassuolo’s goal in the second half. Some very good, some very bad and basically nothing in between.
- That said, Rabiot continued with his trend of only scoring really pretty goals, so there’s that.
- Buffon was one of Juve’s best players against Sassuolo. I don’t think anybody is going to object to that since he deserved to get the shutout even though he didn’t get the shutout. (That’s now 12 games Juventus hasn’t recorded a shutout, by the way.) I said it after the Milan loss and I will say it again here: With how much Wojciech Szczesny is struggling right now, Buffon needs to play more often than not. We know he will play in the Coppa Italia final because that’s been the case all season, but I don’t think many would mind Buffon starting in goal against Inter this weekend. For as much as I like Szczesny, Buffon is just the keeper that fills me with more confidence right now — and was even before his standout performance against Sassuolo.
- To steal a line from myself in previous post-game threads: Buffon made all of two saves, and man were both of them pretty as hell. As good as the stop on Domenico Berardi’s PK was, that second save right before halftime might have been better.
- Some of the passes Manuel Locatelli played in this game ... he’s good.
- Dejan Kulusevski’s pass to Dybala on La Joya’s goal ... that was pretty.
- Dybala’s RIGHT-FOOTED chip for the finish on his goal ... that was just as pretty.
- Kulusevski completed six key passes against Sassuolo. That’s a lot. His assist to Dybala was also his first assist since January. January, folks, January!
- And just for added measure, Kulusevski had a team-high five tackles. Could this be one of his best games in months? It seems like the numbers definitely suggest that.
- It really was pretty remarkable how much competent Juventus looked with two natural wingers playing as wingers in the 4-4-2 and just what they provided as they looked to hit Sassuolo on the counter. Kulusevski and Chiesa on the wings is a thing I want to see more of the final three games of the season.
- With all of that being said, “competent” is not a word you would use when describe the lead-up to Sassuolo’s penalty. There are things you can blame on Andrea Pirlo, but a team shooting itself in the foot like they did is just something that boils down to some players being really, really infuriating and not very good.
- Gianluigi Buffon completed more passes than Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt.
- Gianluigi Buffon completed just asmany pass as Arthur.
- In case you don’t know, Gianluigi Buffon is a goalkeeper.
- It was all of three days ago that Juventus saw Juan Cuadrado attempt 19 crosses and complee all of three of them. In this game, a very different game to that one against Milan, Juventus AS A TEAM attempted all of 15 crosses. Fifteen!
- Juventus winning — a change for the better!