Juventus came into Sunday’s game against Bologna in full-on must-win mode. After a month of September in which they didn’t win a game in any competition, coming out of the international break with three points was essential to keeping morale that already felt rock-bottom from starting to dig.
Fortunately for the sanity of Juventini everywhere, the jackhammers were kept idle for a night.
Juve’s performance against the Rossoblu was far from virtuoso. It wasn’t some sustained siege that sealed Bologna into their own half and saw Lukasz Skorupski scrambling to make a save every five minutes. But it was the kind of workmanlike, professional display against a low-level team that Juventus hadn’t put up all year — and rarely has over the last several. Most importantly, Juve put the game away relatively early, turning their 1-0 halftime lead into a 3-0 lead with two goals in three minutes sandwiched around the hour mark. It was the first time that Juve had scored three goals at home in open play since Massimiliano Allegri was re-appointed as manager, and the latter two led to a comfortable final half-hour that never really saw Juve threatened on their road to their 3-0 win.
Allegri got a huge boost from a quartet of players returning from the treatment table. Wojciech Szczesny, Alex Sandro, Adrien Rabiot, and Manuel Locatelli all returned to the lineup, as did Arkadiusz Milik and Juan Cuadrado, who had been suspended in the last game after the red cards they picked up in the Salernitana debacle. He was still missing long-term injuries Federico Chiesa, Paul Pogba, Kaio Jorge, while Angel Di Maria began his two-game ban for violent conduct after being sent off against Monza before the break. Allegri chose to set up in a 4-4-2, with Szczesny anchoring the defensive line of Danilo, Bremer, Leonardo Bonucci, and Sandro. Locatelli and Rabiot were bookended by Weston McKennie and Filip Kostic in midfield, while Milik was partnered with Dusan Vlahovic up top.
Bologna was led by Thiago Motta. who had just taken over before the break from Sinisa Mihajlovic, whose dismissal had been a surprise despite the team’s poor start, especially given his ongoing battle with leukemia. Motta chose a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Skorupski at its base. Lorenzo De Silvestri, Kevin Bonifazi, Joaquin Sosa, and Charalampos Lykogiannis ran interference for him on the defensive line. Nicolas Dominguez and Jerdy Schouten made up the double pivot in midfield, with Riccardo Orsolini, Roberto Soriano, and Nicola Sansone supporting Marko Arnautovic in attack.
Juve got out of the gates quickly, and Locatelli took a shot from outside the box before the first minute had elapsed, but it flew well over. Another good chance came in the 13th when Kostic got himself onto a defensive header and sent in a long cross from deep into midfield. McKennie, who had been the target of Sandro’s prior ball, stayed with his run and floated perfectly between two defenders to get on the end of it, but his header was tame and right at Skorupski. It was even easier for the Polish keeper to deal with McKennie’s next headed effort, a more glancing effort thanks to the attentions of Sosa, who deflected the shot.
Juve were on the front foot, to be sure, but they the chances they were creating were a step below what was needed in the danger department. Something was needed to break the deadlock and ease the nerves of the sparse Allianz Stadium crowd. That something finally arrived in the 24th minute. It started with Milik, whose pressure on Sansone saw the winger lose the ball rather tamely to Vlahovic. The big Serbian took off down the middle of the field, with runners in a variety of positions around him. He chose his countryman Kostic on his left, and the winger squeezed it into a tight window to beat Skorupski across the goal.
Juve’s unfortunate tendency to batten down the hatches is all too well known, but as the first half wore on Juve maintained the upper hand. Vlahovic nearly went clear just four minutes after the goal on a nice through pass by Locatelli, but an excellent sliding challenge by Sosa prevented him from getting one-on-one with Skorupski. In the 31st minute Milik met a Sandro cross with a smart volley, but again put it right at the keeper, whose parry was awkward but ultimately effective.
Bologna’s resistance was feeble at best. Lykogiannis fired over off a short free kick routine, and when the Greek’s cross overtopped the men waiting in the box and fell to De Silvestri, but he didn’t get any power on his volley and Szczesny easily held on to the ball. As it turned out, that would be Bologna’s only effort on target fo the entire match.
As the second half began, the question was whether or not Juve could finish the game off. The need for such finality was underscored very early on in the half, when Bonucci badly misjudged a bouncing ball and let it get over his head, where it was fortunately cleaned up by Sandro. For a moment or two it looked like Bologna might start to mount some pressure, but just before the hour mark Juve finally got themselves the breathing room they needed.
It came on a counter from a Bologna corner. Kostic was sent barreling downfield, before leaving the ball off for Locatelli. He fed the ball down the wing for McKennie, whose first-time cross was perfect for Vlahovic, who headed into the ground and past Skorupski. The third came in rapid succession after Juan Cuadrado headed a corner kick back into the mix. The ball bounced over an awkwardly-positioned Bonucci and settled in front of Milik, who smashed it into the roof of the net to provide the final margin of victory.
Things could have been even more emphatic had Juve’s finishing been a little better. Three minutes after Milik scored he sent Vlahovic clean through the defense, but Vlahovic’s flick past the keeper went wide. Leandro Paredes then found the Pole with a corner kick, but his powerful header whacked off the post.
The game margin now secure, Juve saw the game out with relative ease. Sandro nearly provided a fourth when he pulled a sombrero around Andera Cambiaso and hit a cross/shot toward the far post that whistled past the post without being touched, and Cuadrado tried stuffing a ball into the net from a ridiculously tight angle. All the while Bologna threatened maybe twice the entire half, and with the full-time whistle Juve and their fans all breathed a sigh of relief over what all hoped would be the beginning of good new things.
WOJCHIECH SZCZSNEY - 6. Had very little to do against a Bologna team that only put one shot on frame. Good way to get his feet wet again.
DANILO - 6. Kept things in order down his flank with relative ease, defending very well despite his lack of counting stats and trying to make forward runs to join the attack.
BREMER - 6.5. A hardcore physical presence that eliminated Arnautovic from the equation all day long. Blocked a shot and made a pair of clearances to go along with a tackle and an interception.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 6. Distributed well out of the back and kept things tight defensively. Didn’t let anything get behind him.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. Tied for the team lead with two tackles added a pair of key passes going the other way, as well as being unlucky not to score late on.
WESTON McKENNIE - 6. Notched a really nice assist and won the ball well in midfield, making a pair of tackles. Good box-to-box performance in this one.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. Made a couple of avoidable giveaways but nothing fatal, while playing a couple of really nice balls upfield, finishing with a pair of key passes.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. Solid start coming back from injury. Was buzzing around the attacking third to the tune of three shots (one on target) and brought energy to the midfield.
FILIP KOSTIC - 7. Scored an excellent goal to open things up, and also made a pair of key passes to glo along with it. Starting to understand himself a little bit at Juve.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 8. Probably the best player on the pitch Sunday night. His goal was gorgeous, and he was highly unlucky not to have a second when he thumped the post. Finished the day with the team lead in shots (four, with one on target) and a key pass.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 7.5. A goal and an assist in the kind of big game that he desperately needed. While by no means at an Erling Haaland level, if he gets service like this on a consistent basis he’ll be putting the ball into the net a lot.
LEANDRO PAREDES - 6. Completed all 21 of his passes and nearly had an assist off a nice corner kick.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6. Made a pair of key passes in his half-hour on the field, but could’ve had a much better rating if he hadn’t gotten selfish at the end of the game. Still, that number of chances created is encouraging.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - NR. Brought in for some late defensive stability.
FABIO MIRETTI - NR. Buzzed around the attacking third looking to create. Also made a tackle in midfield.
MOISE KEAN - NR. On to give Milik a rest late on, but only touched it four times.
***BONUS LOANEE RATING***
ANDREA CAMBIASO - 6. Worked his way forward well on the flank, recording two key passes in just half an hour and having a neat-looking half-volley blocked by Sandro. Looked like the kind of player that can help a team that has some serious issues on the flank.
I’m about to do something I don’t do a lot of anymore: praise Max Allegri.
In this particular instance, I have to admit I was dead wrong when I scoffed at Allegri’s repeated assertion that Arek Milik and Dusan Vlahovic could play together. When I first heard him say it, I assumed the combo would be a pair of primi punti getting in each other’s way. But Milik has turned into a lot more than that. He’ll drop between the lines to get things going and has an innate sense of when to release a pass to get one of his teammates, especially Vlahovic, into position to do something dangerous.
It’s a good thing, because when I first saw a 4-4-2 on the team sheet I was elss than impressed. Either because Allegri wanted to rest guys or because he was trying to attack a Bologna weakness, he eschewed the 4-3-3 we saw for much of the season. This formation tends to be bland, especially in the hands of Allegri, but today it produced enough offense to keep Juve in relative comfort. Whether or not this stays this way as more players get back is a question, but today it worked quite well.
A crazy 10 days ahead for Juve, as Juve play Maccabi Haifa home and away their Champions League fate on the line. Sandwiched in between is a big matchup against AC Milan at the San Siro. After the second Maccabi game things won’t let up: It’ll be time for the Derby.