In two prior meetings this season, Juventus has prevailed 1-0 thanks to the machinations of former Fiorentina man Juan Cuadrado. While still likely sticking in the craw of Fiorentina fans, it probably does so less considering the fact that he didn’t go directly from the Franchi to the Allianz the way three other current Juve attackers did.
It was the most recent of the three, Dusan Vlahovic, that one would have put their money on to score the goal that put La Viola down for good in the second leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal on Wednesday night. But this game works in funny ways, and on this night, it was the other ex-Fiorentina man in the starting XI — the one who everyone expects to also be an ex-Juve man in the next few months — who delivered the decisive strike.
And what a strike it was.
For all the crap that he’s taken over the course of his Juventus career — one that will certainly go down as a failure given the expectations when he arrived in 2017 — Federico Bernardeschi has also had a couple of very memorable nights, and the lesser member of the WINGS OF FEDE made sure that he’d have at least one more when he took advantage of some major defensive mistakes to bury a fantastic finish just after the half-hour to extend Juve’s aggregate lead.
Bernardeschi’s strike gave everyone a chance to exhale, and with a margin for error now established Juve set about controlling the rest of the contest. Fiorentina had one or two opportunities to make a game of it early in the second half, but for the most part Juve kept them under control, and a stoppage time coup-de-grace — fueled by that Juan guy again — saw Juve put their pesky challengers to bed, 2-0 on the night and 3-0 on aggregate.
Massimiliano Allegri came in, as has seemingly been the case for the entirety of the 2022 calendar year, shorthanded. With Arthur spraining an ankle in training last week, he had only two healthy first-team midfielders in the side. Fortunately, he dealt with that problem in a better way than he did on Saturday against Bologna. Rather than start sticking players into positions where they didn’t belong, he settled into a straight 4-4-2 that was meant to sit back and absorb Fiorentina’s pressure. Mattia Perin got the traditional Coppa start, behind a defense of Mattia De Sciglio, Matthijs de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci, and Alex Sandro. Danilo again deputized as a midfielder, joining Denis Zakaria in a double pivot, with Bernardeschi and Adrien Rabiot bookending the pair. Vlahovic joined Alvaro Morata up front.
Vincenzo Italiano was facing a few selection problems of his own, namely in midfield, where stalwart performer Gaetano Castrovilli is facing a long spell on the sidelines after suffering a horrific knee injury over the weekend. With Giacomo Bonaventura only fit for the bench and the team needing goals anyway, Italiano decided to go hog-wild in an unconventional 4-3-3. Bartlomiej Dragowski got a rare start in goal. The back line was also a bit of an improvisation, as Alvaro Odriozola was only fit for the bench and Nikola Milenkovic was a late scratch with a stomach virus. Lorenzo Venuti started in place of the Spaniard, looking to make up for his tragic own goal at the end of the first leg, while Lucas Martinez Quarta returned from suspension to partner with Igor in central defense. Captain Cristiano Biraghi completed the back line. Italiano went all-out attack with Jonathan Ikone slotting in as a midfielder alongside Lucas Torreira and Alfred Duncan, while the attacking trident was made up of Nicolas Gonzalez, Arthur Cabral, and Riccardo Saponara.
There was nearly chaos within the first five minutes when Perin jumped to try and claim a corner but bumped into Gonzalez and spilled it. The ball was perfectly teed up for Torreira, but he unluckily struck the ball off his own man in Cabral, who was in an offside position.
After that early scare, the game settled into a rhythm. As they had in the first leg seven weeks ago, Juve spent the majority of the game sitting back and defending while Italiano’s team came barreling at them. Unlike the first leg, however, this Juve had far more sting in its tail, creating far more off the counter than they had in Florence. In the eighth minute, Vlahovic and Morata took off after a long ball, but the former waited just a tad too long to release his pass and left Morata offside. Four minutes later the duo was joined on a run by Rabiot, resulting in a powerful Vlahovic shot from just outside the left channel that Dragowski dove to parry away.
Juve were in fact the more consistently dangerous of the two squads despite their lack of possession, while Fiorentina largely failed to carve out any serious danger despite their time on the ball. It wasn’t until the 20th minute that Fiorentina took their first official shot, a wide effort by Torreira. Juve looked far more dangerous as the clock ticked away. Martinez Quarta had to be alert when Vlahovic fed Morata with a beautiful back-heel feed, tapping the ball away from the Spanish striker for a corner. The Serbia international then ran afoul of the assistant’s flag when on the receiving end of a glorious pass out of the back from Bonucci.
It was in the 32nd minute when Juve took firm control of the tie. The move started when Rabiot made an excellent tackle on the edge of the Juve box, dispossessing Ikone and triggering a run. Morata crossed the ball in from the left, and Dragowski misplayed it badly, missing the ball entirely and crashing into Vlahovic. Biraghi had to reach back behind him to get a head to it, but he only managed to get the ball about six yards, where Bernardeschi was waiting for it. He chested it down and volleyed a loopy ball toward the far post that grazed the fingers of Dragowski, who was out of position after trying to go for the ball, on its way into the goal.
Fiorentina had by far their best chance of the half nine minutes later, when Saponara got around De Sciglio, who was trying to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick, and kept the ball in play. Cabral latche on, cut inside, and fired, but Perin was equal to the shot.
Fiorentina was dealt a significant blow at halftime when Torriera, who looked to pick up a non-contact injury to his lower back, left the game, with Sofyan Amrabat replacing him. Again, the Viola made their best inroads earlier in the half, and they nearly equalized on the night when the ball bounced off Cabral and then de Ligt, forcing Perin to readjust and dive to his right, stabbing the ball away with one hand that not only kept the ball out of the net but kept it away from any waiting opponents.
From that point on, despite Fiorentina’s possession, it always looked like Juve were the likelier team to score. Zakaria hit the post from a tight angle in the 56th minute, and Rabiot thought he had the tie iced with just over 20 minutes to go, slotting home on a gorgeous assist from Bernardeschi, but the goal was chalked off when VAR called down, the freeze-frame having shown that he was offside by about half his shoulder — another entry in the annals of offside calls that, while correct by the letter of the law, punish an attacker who’s in a position that doesn’t actually give him an advantage over the defender.
Fiorentina, meanwhile, spent a lot of time in the Juve half but with very little to show for it, save a really good Biraghi free kick that whistled past the post and crashed into the stanchion behind the goal. Juve could’ve had a penalty on a free kick when Biraghi shoved de Ligt to the ground before he could get after a ball to try to keep it in, but referee Daniele Doveri and VAR official Luca Banti both apparently thought possession had already been lost and did nothing. The Dutchman nearly got a measure of revenge five minutes from time, executing a rather outrageous spin move before hitting his shot into the side netting after a corner fell to him.
The clock ticked away, each minute making it less and less likely that the visitors would have the time to score the two goals they needed. The last two minutes of normal time saw Amrabat deliver a tame shot into Perin’s bread box, and then substitute Riccardo Sottil fired hard from an angle but Perin got down to parry it away.
That was Fiorentina’s final flurry, and deep into five minutes of stoppage time the dagger was driven home in part by the other ex-Fiorentina man, as Cuadrado beat Martinez Quarta and dashed to the byline, sucking in Igor and leaving a huge hole for Danilo to move into and wait for the Colombian’s perfect square layoff, which he swept into the net first-time to put an emphasis on what had been an excellent night all-around for the Bianconeri.
MATTIA PERIN - 6.5. I can’t quite push him up all the way into the elite grades, because the what-ifs on that near-howler in the opening minutes are things I don’t want to think about. But he made five saves on the night, four of which came from shots inside the penalty area, and kept the defense well-organized. Everything you want to see from a keeper when you know you’re going to be defending like crazy.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 5. He was one of the best players in the first leg but really struggled in this game. He lost three of his five ground duels and struggled mightily in dealing with Saponara on his flank. Not one of his better performances.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 6. Finished the day strong, but looked a little loose at the start. I was starting to wonder whether he was starting to wear down after such a huge workload this year. But he finished with six tackles and showed some audacity when joining the attack, bombing forward Chiellini-style more than once.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 7. A strong return that led the team in clearances, although his duels left a bit to be desired. His passing was also good, and it’s a real shame that Vlahovic wasted that great long ball in the first half.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. Sandro was booed hard in the second half, but the stats tell the story of a good game defensively: five tackles, four interceptions, three clearances, two blocked shots, and six of nine duels won on the ground. He was more suspect with the ball in his possession (only 71 percent pass completion) which is probably why he got some stick, but in a game that Juve was setting up to defend all night he was excellent on his flank.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 7. That finish is going to be talked about for a while if Juve manage to win the final. It was pretty special stuff. Berna also had a key pass and was denied an assist that was as gorgeous as the goal by the offside call on Rabiot. Add in a couple interceptions on the defensive end and you’re looking at a banner night for the likely-to-be-departing winger.
DENIS ZAKARIA - 7. Dynamic all over the place, whether it was disrupting Fiorentina’s play in midfield or striding forward to join the attack when Juve did have the ball. Made three tackles and cracked one off the woodwork. He’ll have a place in this midfield for years to come.
DANILO - 8. There should no longer be any consternation on days where the team situation forces him to play in midfield. He was fantastic sitting in front of the defense today, winning all three ground duels he entered and logging three clearances, two blocks, and two interceptions. Oh, and that goal was pretty freaking great. He’s become an integral part of this team. (bUt JoAo CaNcElO tHo!)
ADRIEN RABIOT - 7. Really unlucky to have that goal chalked off — the offside rule really needs to be altered to reflect the reality of the fact that VAR can catch a player literal inches offside when there’s no real advantage to where he is. Led the team with five tackles, one of which was a beaut against Ikone that triggered the counter for the opening goal. He’s starting to tease us with some real quality performances again right before a decision needs to be made about his future in the summer.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6. Didn’t find much in the way of the target but did a whole lot of dirty work and his distribution was generally good.
ALVARO MORATA - 6. Also a major doer of dirty work in this game, with a pair of key passes to boot.
PAULO DYBALA - 6. Did some wizardry with the ball in tight spaces, and also pressed when needed near the halfway line. Picked up a key pass for his efforts too.
JUAN CUADRADO - NR. His assist was gorgeous, he worked hard in 11 minutes on the pitch, and he helped solidify the back line for the W.
MOISE KEAN - NR. On for fresh legs and to give Vlahovic a minor breather late.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - NR. Like Andrea Barzagli before him, Chielo now comes on when there’s a lead to protect, and he helped tremendously as an extra defender today over the game’s final hapse.
There wasn’t much mystery here. Allegri was always going to soak up the Fiorentina pressure and counter in the hopes of pinching the goals that would seal the tie.
Juve had one of their best games in months, controlling Fiorentina despite forfeiting possession on a large scale. It helps tremendously that the counterattack, which has so often been a problem with this sort of setup, was tremendous today, and while they could perhaps have been a smidge more clinical, they served the team well and eventually led to both goals. This was a banner day for Allegri’s brand of football, but it remains to be seen whether or not that brand of football can still work on a day-in day-out basis.
Overall, though Allegri deserves praise for what he did today, and hopefully he can build on it in the future as Juve’s fight for the top four reaches its climax.
Juve are headed to the final, which will be in three weeks against Inter at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Juve will be looking to avenge their two recent losses to the defending champions. (God it makes me throw up a little in my mouth when I say that by.)
Next overall on the docket is a trip to Sassuolo, another game what will be an opportunity for revenge after Sassuolo’s last-gasp winner in the fall. Then Venezia come to Turin after holding Juve 1-1 over the winter. Lots of good motivation coming — let’s see if they can take it.