Last year, Juventus played a struggling team from Genoa in the round of 16 of the Coppa Italia, went up 2-0 and were in complete control, then collapsed and allowed Genoa to equalize in the second half, eventually needing a very late winner in extra time to go through.
On Tuesday, Juventus were matched up against the other team from Genoa, Sampdoria, who were facing similar struggles, in the round of 16 in the Coppa Italia. They went up 2-0 and were in complete control. Then a defensive lapse saw Samp halve the deficit, then miss a golden chance for an equalizer moments later. It was beginning to look like déjà vu all over again.
Then, unlike last year, Juve got their footing back and clamped down hard. They took advantage of a major mistake to get the goal back relatively quickly, then put the game away on a penalty to make the last 10 minutes academic. The 4-1 victory put Juve easily into the Coppa Italia quarterfinals, and hopefully put some big momentum into their sails as they head into a crunch league game with AC Milan on Sunday.
Juve came into the game carrying multiple odd suspensions. Massimiliano Allegri had been handed a suspension the last time he had coached in the Coppa, when Juve were eliminated by Atalanta in 2018-19, so again delegated touchline duties to top assistant Marco Landucci. Matthijs de Ligt had hit the suspension threshold for yellow cards in last year’s final, ruling him out of this game. Strangest of all was Moise Kean, who had been sent off while playing for Everton in the English League Cup in August, a suspension that was cross-honored for the Coppa. The club was also without Leonardo Bonucci and Federico Bernardeschi, who tweaked something during training the morning of the game and was held out as a precaution.
Landucci promoted four Under-23 players for the game, including two who have already seen some time this season in Matias Soulé and Koni De Winter, but none of them were in the starting lineup despite some pre-game speculation. Instead, we saw a 4-4-2 setup with a mix of regulars and second-line players. The Coppa is traditionally the domain of the club’s No. 2 keeper, and Mattia Perin was duly handed the gloves for this match. In defense, Danilo made his first appearance since suffering an injury in November, playing out of position at center-back along with Daniele Rugani. Mattia De Sciglio and Alex Sandro flanked the pair at fullback. Juan Cuadrado took the captain’s armband, joining Arthur, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot in midfield. Alvaro Morata and Dejan Kulusevski formed up at the top.
Samp came in as a team in crisis. They were winless in their last five games, and had lost their last three. That run of form had seen them fall to within four points of the relegation zone and caused coach Roberto D’Aversa to receive his marching orders the day before the game. With his permanent replacement still unsigned, primavera coach Felice Tufano took the reins. They were missing a raft of players due to injuries, suspensions, and international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, a list that notably included Fabio Quagliarella, Maya Yoshida, Omar Colley, Mikkel Damsgaard, Albin Ekdal, and Emil Audero.
Tufano sent out a 3-5-2 setup, with Wladimiro Falcone setting up in goal. Bartosz Bereszynski, Giangiacomo Magnani, and Nicola Murru formed the back three, with Andrea Conti and Tommaso Augello serving as wing-backs. Kristoffer Askildsen, Tomas Rincon, and Morten Thorsby teamed up in midfield, with Ernesto Torregrossa and Francesco Caputo serving as the strike pair.
Samp actually managed the team’s first shot in the second minute when Thorsby nodded wide on a free kick, but from that point on Juve put this game into a vice. Locatelli and Arthur completely dominated the midfield, with Arthur orchestrating the game from deep while Locatelli pushed forward and became a constant menace. The Blucerchiati were out and out under siege, at one point facing five corner kicks and a free kick from the wing in the space of four minutes. Falcone was making save after save, some easy and some more difficult.
The Samp keeper was finally beaten in the 25th minute. He was ill-served by his captain Bereszynski, who first gave away a free kick right at the edge of the penalty arc when he hacked Morata in the back of the leg when Spaniard had already passed the ball, then was poorly positioned as the wall in front of Juan Cuadrado’s low free kick broke down, redirecting the ball and carrying it just past Falcone as the keeper tried to change direction to get the ball.
Unlike Juve’s usual instinct to turtle up once they had broken the scoring, tonight they poured forward in search of more. They thought they had one in less than 60 seconds when Morata and Cuadrado played a neat one-two to tee up the Spaniard in the box for an excellent finish into the far corner, but referee Francesco Forneau was called to the VAR monitor, and it became clear that Rabiot had fouled Rincon as he gained the ball to start the move, and the goal was properly chalked off.
But Falcone’s nightmare wasn’t over, and the ball continually sought out ways to get to his goal. In the 39th minute Rugani reacted to a cross from Cuadrado that slipped past the scrum in front of goal and stabbed it forward, but it was just too close to Falcone, who managed a kick save. He made a similar stop in first half stoppage time, this one a better one off of Morata, leaving his legs out as he had dived the other way.
As Juve has so often seen over the course of the years, the keeper was standing on his head, somehow keeping the scoreline at 1-0 despite a sustained assault that had lasted the entire half with hardly any respite.
But Falcone’s luck finally ran out in the 52nd minute. After yet another corner was delivered to the near post, Sandro got the ball back to Cuadrado, who laid off to Arthur. The Brazilian’s ball into the box was excellent, and Rugani got his goal, jumping over the defenders to bounce a header across the face of goal and past the dive of Falcone.
It was 2-0 and Juve was dominant. Given the way the game was going, it was hard to conceive of a way Juventus could blow things. So of course they let Samp right back into it when they completely switched off when Augello managed to get a cross into the box. The ball flew all the way to the other side of the field untouched to Conti, who had been left alone by Alex Sandro. The left-back tried to recover, but Conti had all day to load up and fire at Perin, who got a hand to it but could only push it onto the inside of the post, from whence it bounced into the net.
It was a shocking goal, from Samp’s first shot on target. Smelling blood, Tufano immediately inserted Antonio Candreva and Manolo Gabbiadini into the fray, and less than a minute after the first goal Samp probably should have gone level when Askildsen got away from the newly-introduced Giorgio Chiellini and got himself a free header off another Augello cross only to turn it wide.
Juve suddenly looked like they were in the process of a collective brain fart, but unlike the year before against Sampdoria’s crosstown rivals, they managed to recover themselves and reassert control in relatively short order when Falcone, who had stood on his head all game, left a pass for Magnani well short. Locatelli sniffed it out and slid in to intercept the pass, leaving the ball sitting perfectly for Paulo Dybala, who had come on with Chiellini. Juve’s No. 10 made no mistake, and this time he celebrated with his teammates after blasting home to restore the two-goal lead.
Having been duly warned, Juve kept turning the screw, forcing Falcone into even more saves. Back in control, Landucci saw fit to give a debut to 21-year-old prospect Marley Aké. The young Marseille product made a quick impact, dribbling past Augello on the right boundary line of the penalty area and forcing the wing-back into fouling him. Dybala picked up the ball but passed it off to Morata, who duly dispatched the spot-kick to his left, hitting it just right to get it past the keeper, who guessed his direction correctly.
Falcone had to make two more saves in the last 13 minutes of the game, bringing his total up to 11, and he saw Rabiot hit the post from a tight angle as he fought to keep some semblance of respectability to the scoreline. It was likely a welcome respite when Forneau’s whistle pierced the air for the final time, confirming Juve’s trip to the quarterfinal once again.
MATTIA PERIN - 6. There was hardly anything for him to do. Did as much as he could to prevent Conti’s goal, but he’d been left badly exposed by his defense. Other than that, there simply wasn’t any danger presented to his goal.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6.5. Had a pair of key passes along with two interceptions, and even loaded up to shoot from distance in the first half. Dude is riding a high of confidence after some good performances and it shows.
DANILO - 6. It was great to see him play again. Hardly needed to register any counting stats on the defensive end, and he completed 91 percent of his passes, including a fantastic threaded pass from his own end that put Rabiot into an instant danger spot early in the second half.
DANIELE RUGANI - 7. Had more shots on target himself than Sampdoria did as a team. Did what he needed to do defensively and was on the spot for good shots, forcing a great save and scoring a good headed goal. He’s stepped up in a big way this month.
ALEX SANDRO - 5.5. Left Conti alone on the goal and then didn’t do enough to close him down. He only won three out of seven ground duels, got himself booked, and was simply one of the weaker players on the field in a game that his team dominated.
JUAN CUADRADO - 8. The captain’s armband supercharged his already excellent form. His free kick was a cheeky attempt to get under the wall that worked, and he added three key passes to that goal. He completed 91 percent of his passes, put all three of his shots on target, and added a pair of interceptions on the defensive end. With Danilo back, he can be moved forward and truly focus on attacking again.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 8. We’re going to discuss the merits of moving him forward later on, but preview: it was a huge deal. He was aggressive, incisive, and pulled brilliant passes out of absolutely nowhere. He touched the ball 102 times and finished the day with six key passes, including the assist on Dybala’s goal when he jumped Falcone’s pass. A brilliant game, and he’s been showing himself worth everything the team paid for him.
ARTHUR - 7.5. Very likely his best game as a Juventus player. He had 104 touches, including three key passes and the assist on what proved to be the winning goal with a feathery cross for Rugani. If he plays like this all the time, maybe you can start thinking of losing Arsenal’s number.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. Bounced the ball off the woodwork late and threatened a few times carrying the ball out of midfield. Generally good in terms of keeping things going on his side of midfield while Juve was attacking.
DEJAN KULUSEVSKI - 6. Looked generally better than he did on Saturday. His decision making was a little sharper, his first touch was a little better, and he even used his right foot with relatively little hesitation a few times. Hit the target with both his shots but didn’t get the kind of bend on them that can make his goals special.
ALVARO MORATA - 6.5. Was denied by one fantastic save by Falcone and put away his penalty with aplomb. Added two key passes and hit the target with all three of his shots and showed a good sense of how to set up opponents with his passing on the attack, either to return it to him or to get it to someone else.
PAULO DYBALA - 7. Instantly dangerous, was in perfect position to latch on to Locatelli’s interception within minutes of coming on. He took four shots in 28 minutes, finding the target with three of them, adding a key pass in there as well.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 6. Wobbled a little getting into things at the very beginning of the game, but was the usual Chiello once he got himself going.
MARLEY AKE - 6.5. Drew a penalty with one of his first touches, and got into a decent shooting position later in the game only to see his effort blocked. Dude’s got pace on top of pace, and I’d love to see him get more first team minutes.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 6. Completed all of his passes and made a tackle in his 15 minutes of work
KAIO JORGE - NR. Probably should have been given a little more time to run, although he did manage to fit a key pass into his seven minutes of
When Juve came back against Roma a week and a half ago, it was very much fueled by the introduction of Arthur and the operation of Arthur and Locatelli as a double pivot. That allowed Locatelli to move further forward and orchestrate things from from closer to goal, resulting in a huge change in the momentum and match flow of that game.
On Tuesday night, for the first time, they went with the two of them from the start, and the result was stark. Yes, it was against a team that hasn’t been very good over the last two months or so of the season, but the Locatelli/Arthur midfield absolutely steamrolled Sampdoria. Both players touched the ball more than 100 times, and they combined for nine key passes. Locatelli was fantastic having moved closer to the box, and the opponents simply had no answer for the two of them.
It’s ironic that discovering this comes just as the rumors about Arthur heading off to Arsenal on loan by the end of the month are becoming louder and louder. But the fact of the matter is that the midfield has completely changed when the two are playing together, and Juve can convince the Brazilian to stay and partner him in midfield, it could be a huge boon to Juve’s efforts at finishing in the top four this year, because Juve hasn’t seen a midfield play like this in a long time.
Aside from that experiment very much coming off, there wasn’t a whole ton to discuss. The absences kind of forced the way the team was set up, and the only thing I have questions about is the sub management, with the introduction of players like Dybala feeling unnecessary to me in a game Juve had well in hand at the time (yes, it proved useful to have him out there after Samp scored, but you couldn’t have known that when Dybala came out.)
As much as you hate to admit it, Dybala probably should be treated with kid gloves right now, and putting him in in a game that really didn’t seem like he’d been needed was a puzzler. It also felt like someone like Kaio Jorge should’ve been in a little earlier than he was, both to give Morata a rest and just because it’ll be good to see him get a long run-out in a situation like the early-round Coppa matches. But at the end of the day that’s nitpicking on a comprehensive win.
Juve are headed to the quarterfinal next month. They will face either Sassuolo or Cagliari, depending on who wins that game tomorrow.
Next on the docket for the Bianconeri is a huge game at the San Siro against AC Milan before an international break comes up at the end of the month.