As Thursday night’s Coppa Italia quarterfinal went along, there were two general moods that were extremely prevalent at the Allianz Stadium in Turin. There was the one that was more of the optimistic side, with the crowd either happy with what just happened or trying to will their team to get its energy level up again. The other, which was probably felt more and more as the cup tie went on, was one that has been a regular one at the Allianz over the last handful of years.
It was nerves, frustration, anxiety. Probably a mixture of all three with something that I haven’t named mixed in as well.
But in the 88th minute, we got rapture. And certainly a little relief, too.
Dusan Vlahovic made his mark for the second time in as many games since joining Juventus at the end of the January transfer window. It will technically go down as an own goal, but Vlahovic’s solo run was the breakthrough that finally unlocked a Sassuolo defense that got an absolutely heroic effort from 40-year-old backup keeper Gianluca Pegolo. Vlahovic’s deflected shot gave Juventus the 2-1 win over Sassolo, booking a trip to the Coppa Italia semifinals against the team that Juve just agreed to a €70 million (plus bonuses) deal with in Fiorentina.
And if you thought the narrative was easy to figure out over the weekend when Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria both scored on their debuts over the weekend ... just wait until Juve’s new No. 7 makes his first trip back to Florence in the semifinals.
It might not be a lot of appropriate things overheard on the crowd mic, but there will certainly be some fireworks — probably both good and bad — when this half of the Coppa Italia semifinals take off.
But to get there, it was far from routine — especially after Paulo Dybala opened the scoring with a sweet volley all of three minutes in.
That, unfortunately, proved to be one of the few good moments in a first half that saw Juventus both give up the lead, see Sassuolo create more chances than they did and then be unable to either add onto their lead before the visitors tied it or retake the lead with the scoring opportunities they did generate. It was a first half that was more about Juve not adding onto the lead rather than playing well at all.
Thankfully, the switch to the same kind of formation Max Allegri used over the weekend in the win over Hellas Verona was the spark that Juventus needed to get back on the front foot. The problem was, Juve’s finishing in front of goal was both a combination of great goalkeeping as well as just some pure poor luck. Juventus did just about everything but score before Vlahovic’s deflected shot was the thing to finally break the Pegolo wall.
You can see why things were so anxious.
That’s just what happens when you record over two-thirds of your shots in the game but only find the back of the net on an own goal. Juve’s finishing left a lot to be desired, and that obviously called for a ton of nervy moments in a game that probably never should have gotten that way no matter how attack-minded Sassuolo will continue to be.
No matter what, though, Juventus did just enough to get into the Coppa Italia semifinals and continue their defense of the biggest trophy they won last season. And we just so happen to get one of the more interesting matchups Juve’s had in this tournament over the last few years. Hammer that narrative, folks. Because everybody will.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Gianluca Pegolo definitely went full-on Sorrentino in goal, didn’t he? Jesus.
- Pegolo finished with nine saves. It felt like about 50 at one point. Many of them were pretty remarkable stops, too. Have a night, dude.
- Dusan Vlahovic had seven touches in the first half. That ain’t gonna cut it.
- Mattia Perin had 26 touches and made five saves in the first half. That’s not great.
- That run from Vlahovic on the go-ahead (own) goal. That was just all grinta and power. No matter how tired he probably was, he wasn’t going to be stopped once you figured out he was going to put his shoulder down and beat his defender.
- Max Allegri went from hyping up Kaio Jorge as a potential starter during his pre-match press conference to throwing on the kid for all of about four minutes of added time. I understand that young Kaio was never going to play a bunch this season because he is still very, very green, but it’s nights like tonight why you wonder about his choice to stay at Juventus and not go out on loan for the second half of the season.
- Sassuolo outshot Juventus 10-6 in the first half. Considering Juve were the ones leading after all of three minutes, that doesn’t seem all that great.
- Leonardo Bonucci certainly played like a guy who hasn’t appeared in a game for just about two months. Man oh man, did he have some moments that probably left more than a few of us hoping Daniele Rugani got the start. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully Bonucci got all of this out of his system with Atalanta looming this weekend.
- The announcer on the Paramount+ stream mentioned after one of Domenico Berardi’s scoring chances in the first half that he’s been with Sassuolo for 10 years now. I had memories of co-ownership deals of the past rolling back into my mind. I also had to look up just how old Berardi is. He’s still 27! That’s pretty crazy.
- This role as a quasi-left winger seems to be suiting Alvaro Morata quite well, doesn’t it? Talk about a dude settling in quickly and showing some signs that he might be turning his season around, that would be Morata the last couple of games. And we know how he can be when he puts a couple of good games together in back-to-back kind of fashion.
- Weston McKennie went from having a brutal first half to being one of Juve’s more active players after halftime. He probably should have had at least a couple of goals, but was denied by both Pegolo and the woodwork. Second-half Wes was more like the Wes we know. Hopefully the poor finishing was just a blip on the radar.
- I like watching Vlahovic and Dybala celebrate goals together. I hope we get to see that happen beyond Juve’s final games in May.
- This game was screaming out for Manuel Locatelli, and unsurprisingly it turned for the better when Locatelli came on to face his former club. I’ll chalk that one up as a win for me.
- Juve attempted 24 crosses against Sassuolo. They completed four of them. Not good.
- In conclusion, thank goodness Juventus didn’t blow this one because that really would have zapped a lot of the optimism coming out of the Hellas Verona win. Now, hopefully, this can turn into a nice little post-international break winning streak this weekend in Bergamo.