A trip to the Stadio Luigi Ferraris has never been a comfortable thing for Massimiliano Allegri.
During his first five-year tenure with Juventus, Allegri lost five of his 10 trips to the Marassi, three against Genoa and two against Sampdoria, although one of the latter included a dead rubber with the title long-since clinched. The taboo stretched even beyond his tenure, as Antonio Conte had dropped points in two of his five trips to Liguria as the Streak began, a draw against Genoa and a loss (again a dead rubber) to Samp.
All that is to say that even though Allegri’s successors won both of their away games against the teams of the Lanterna, a trip to Genoa has quite frequently found a way to get weird.
Saturday’s game against Sampdoria was such a contest, although one that had a far more gratifying result than previous forays to the Ferraris, The Bianconeri created very little, but forced their hosts into more mistakes, which they capitalized on ruthlessly. By halftime they were up two goals — I’ll repeat that because of the novelty of it: Juventus had a two-goal lead at halftime — even though they had only taken one shot on target.
Like I said, weird.
Even as they were outshot by their opponents 16-6 and conceded nine corner kicks without earning a single one themselves, they were still comfortably in the lead, thanks in large part to Wojciech Szczesny, who made one of the better penalty saves you’ll ever see with a quarter of an hour to go. When a late goal conceded off a mammoth deflection threatened to make for a grandstand finish, Juve actually managed to finish the game off, scoring a late clincher that snuffed out any late comebacks and marked the final 3-1 scoreline.
Allegri’s injury list got just a little bit shorter for Saturday’s game as Alex Sandro and Mattia De Sciglio returned to action, but he was still missing Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Denis Zakaria, and Paulo Dybala in addition to season-long absences Kaio Jorge, Weston McKennie, and Federico Chiesa. Federico Bernardeschi, who had just come back last week, missed out to due a yellow card suspension. Allegri deployed his remaining forces in a 4-3-3 setup, with Danilo, Matthijs de Ligt, Daniele Rugani, and Luca Pellegrini screening Szczesny in goal. Manuel Locatelli, Arthur, and Adrien Rabiot were the only healthy first-team midfielders and all lined up in the engine room, while Dusan Vlahovic was given his first day off since he arrived at Juve, leaving Juan Cuadrado, Moise Kean, and Alvaro Morata up front.
Sampdoria was playing their third game of the year against Juve with their third different coach. Roberto D’Aversa had started the season but was fired in January just before Juve took on Samp in the Coppa Italia, a game they played under primavera coach Felica Tufano as interim coach. The next day a familiar face arrived: Marco Giampaolo, who had found some success with the Blucherchiati before faceplanting hard in stints with AC Milan and Torino the last two seasons. Hoping to keep the team above the relegation zone, Giampaolo sent out a 4-3-1-2 setup. Former Juve youth product Emil Audero has been carrying a long-term injury, giving the starter’s gloves to Wladimiro Falcone. Bartosz Bereszynski, Maya Yoshida, Omar Colley, and Tommaso Augello made up the back line. Morten Thorsby, Tomas Rincon, and Antonio Candreva made up the midfield, while a revitalized Stefano Sensi started in the hole behind the wizened strike pair of Francesco Caputo and Fabio Quagliarella, combined age 73.
The home side started out with a bit of a burst, and Thorsby could have done more with a cross from Quagliarella when he headed across the face of goal instead of shooting for himself, but after about five minutes Juve took control of possession. Unfortunately, that possession was mostly sterile, and for the next 20 minutes or so they moved the ball around the field with very little in the way of real threat to show for it while Samp tried to look for a counter.
The game’s first shot on target came after 22 minutes, when Candreva loaded up from range and flat out knocked Szczesny over as he made the save, parrying it far enough to get it away from any would-be rebounders. Juve immediately turned defense into attack, sending a long ball upfield that Kean chested into the path of Morata. The Spaniard advanced and then sent the ball through for a streaking Cuadrado on the right side. The winger whipped in a low cross that beat Falcone’s attempt to intercept it. Knowing that Kean was waiting for a tap-in at the back post, Yoshida slid to try and clear, but only succeeded in clipping it into his own net, putting Juve in the odd situation of being in the lead without having taken a shot yet.
Samp tried to muster a response and very nearly leveled things when Augello spied Sensi unmarked in the left channel and laid the ball off to him, forcing Szczesny to get down quickly to tip the midfielder’s strong shot around the post. Less than 120 seconds later, the visitors doubled their lead from the spot. The move started with a gorgeous lofted ball from Locatelli for Kean. The striker fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Colley for the ball, then made an excellent turn to get past the big center-defender, who in desperation bundled him over from behind, drawing an easy whistle from referee Paolo Valeri. Morata stepped up and duly dispatched the spot-kick, sending Falcone the wrong way as he fired in to the shooter’s left.
The second half could have gotten fired up quite early when Yoshida managed to stoop down to meet a corner, but his header bounced wide. It took nearly 15 minutes for Juve to make the next thrust, when Kean latched on to a Locatelli through ball in the channel but couldn’t lift it over Falcone.
Samp continued to have whatever half chances the game developed, with Caputo ambitiously volleying a cleared cross back toward the goal, but missing wide. Up two goals, Allegri somehow decided that interrupting Vlahovic’s rest to send him on was a good idea. He and Locatelli nearly combined on through ball in the box shortly after his introduction, but it was Sampdoria that would have their biggest chance shortly afterward.
It was gifted to them by — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — an absolutely boneheaded mistake by one Adrien Rabiot. Coming over to try to track a run into the box by Candreva, the Frenchman left his arm out inside the box, hitting the ball as Candreva tried make an entry pass into the box. Valeri initially gave the foul as a free kick on the edge of the area, but was informed in short order by VAR official Gianluca Aureliano that the contact had clearly been made in the box.
With Quagliarella having been subbed out 10 minutes earlier, it was Candreva who stepped up to take the kick. He, too, went to the shooter’s left, but this time Szczesny had it sussed out. Even going the right way, though, Candreva’s shot was rising. It was one of those moments when you feel terrible for the keeper, in that he did everything right but the penalty was executed just that well — until it wasn’t. At the last second the big Poland international threw up his left hand and parried the shot.
Vlahovic could’ve made them pay or that when he outmuscled Colley in the box, but he got uncharacteristically indecisive and forced himself into a bad angle. Just moments after that, Samp finally halved the defecit when Arthur fouled Abdelhamid Sabiri 30 yards from the goal. The Moroccan stepped up to take it himself, and his kick hit Morata in the back in the wall and then too an insane change of direction, twisting it all the way to the back post after Sabiri targeted the near. Szczesny, to his credit, very nearly recovered to parry it away, but it was just out of his reach.
It looked like the beginning of a real grandstand finish, even more so when Andrea Conti hit the side netting three minutes later, but Juve clamped down on the game when Locatelli lofted a ball to the back post that saw Morata fire a bullet header into the keeper’s feet, and the ball bounded in off the inside of Falcone’s foot, handing Morata his first brace of the 2021-22 season and sealing the game for the Bianconeri, who weathered four minutes of stoppage time before heading back to Turin with the season’s biggest game looming in midweek.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 8.5. Had two really good saves in the first half, then pumped up his grade exponentially with that penalty save, which was legitimately one of the best ones I’ve ever seen. Would’ve been a 9 had he not inexplicably wandered out of his goal to get a cross only to get caught in no man’s land in stoppage time,
DANILO - 6. Patrolled his flank very well, letting hardly anything past him and forcing Samp to try to break through the middle of the field, where they repeatedly had to meet...
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 7.5. He made eight clearances Saturday night — and that was second on the team. Caputo and Quagliarella couldn’t do much of anything on him, nor could they against his defensive partner...
DANIELE RUGANI - 8. Made an obscene 11 clearances, and formed up a night-impenetrable team with de Ligt. He’s been so much better than anything we could have imagined this season.
LUCA PELLEGRINI - 6. Didn’t have a lot of counting stats, but constantly used his positioning to great effect to shield players off the ball or take possession. He was a little rough going forward, but this was another good performance in a season that shows he can handle this role.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 8. Hey, look at that, you play him in a role that suits him well and he turns in two excellent games. Locatelli led the team with three key passes, including a fantastic assist to Morata at the end, and added a pair of clearances and a pair of tackles on defense.
ARTHUR - 7. Completed 93.7 percent of his passes in midfield and also dribbled through the midfield a few times to keep people honest. His ability to push Locatelli forward is simply excellent.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 4. Dude is an enigma right now. He was the only Juve player other than Locatelli and Morata to register a key pass, but he was also largely anonymous going forward and then comes up with a completely boneheaded play to concede a penalty that Szczesny bailed him out big time on.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6.5. Forced his second own goal in 2 1⁄2 weeks, and menaced the right wing all day.
MOISE KEAN - 7. He really deserved a goal against Sampdoria. He was waiting for a tap-in on Yoshida’s own goal and had made a great move on Colley to force him into the foul that led to the penalty. That wasn’t his only good move either, as he was constantly getting himself into good positions and was a danger every time he had the ball.
ALVARO MORATA - 8. A well-taken brace caps off a good week’s worth of games for Morata, who now has three in his last two appearances and is thriving on the left side with the ability to run with the ball and make plays instead of holding the ball up.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 5.5. Looked uncharacteristically indecisive at times and was just that little bit off up front.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. Made a tackle and two clearances in 16 minutes of work once Rabiot was hustled off the field.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - NR. On to see the game out late defensively and protect Pellegrini from a possible second yellow.
Why was Dusan Vlahovic in this game?
The Serbian striker got his first well-deserved day of rest after starting his first nine games in a row in a Juventus shirt, and Juve’s attack had enough to it to easily see Sampdoria off. Why, then, Vlahovic was inserted with Allegri’s first substitution? I could see the logic of it if they were up one and sorely needing to put the game away. But up two with 25 minutes to go? There was no reason to interrupt his rest and expose him to a potential injury four days before the return leg against Villarreal. It was, frankly, a little irresponsible. If you wanted to take one of the front three off, there was Marley Ake on the bench, who could have played wide while either Morata or Kean kicked up their heels. That’s to say nothing of the fact that midfielder Fabio Miretti could have given Locatelli or Arthur a chance to rest before the big game as well.
Those baffling decisions with his subs obscured another good-to-great performance that never was flat-out dominant, but almost always had a decent level of control over things. This was the perfect time to let some of the kids play and give an important player or two the time to miss up to kick up their heels, but instead he piled on the one assent that needed a rest more than anything lately.
Next up the return leg of the Champions League Round fo 16 on Wednesday. With the first leg ending 1-1 and no away goals rule in play, Allegri’s job is simple: Win the game in order to advance to the next round. After that, it’s a Sunday home game against Salernitana.