Had circumstances been different on this day, I’d probably be a raging, raving mess.
Had Juve not picked themselves off the mat and beaten Venezia last weekend, had Roma not given their squad a hardcore rotation in order to prepare for the UEFA Conference League semifinal and been held by Bologna, I’d have likely melted into my chair in a dark, raging puddle of goo not unlike the infamous character Armus from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Skin of Evil.”
(Yes, I’m a Trekkie. I don’t care what you say. LLAP.)
But, all those things did happen, and Juventus were locked into the Champions League places going into Friday night’s game against relegation battlers Genoa. So when the defense did a belly flop in the last four minutes plus stoppage time after the team once again failed to score — with one player in particular missing repeated sitters — more than once on the night, it really meant very little in the grand scheme of things. While the 2-1 defeat ensured that Massimiliano Allegri would be unable to match the point total Andrea Pirlo came up with last season, it really did nothing except perhaps allow Napoli to consolidate third place when they face the granata side of Turin, which is really window dressing at this point now that the Champions League is booked solid.
While it certainly isn’t a great feeling to lose any game, especially headed into a cup final against an Inter Milan team that is still hunting for the scudetto and who won their own match earlier in the day, It was ultimately a loss that, in the end, will be a harmless one in a game whose main objective was to come out without any new injuries.
To that end, Allegri deployed a 4-3-3 formation and heavily rotated the squad. He was given the boon of both Juan Cuadrado and Mattia De Sciglio returning from minor injuries, and the two were immediately thrown into the fray, bookending the defensive pair of Daniele Rugani and Leonardo Bonucci to form the quartet tasked with protecting Wojciech Szczesny. Eighteen-year-old Fabio Miretti got his second straight start in midfield along with Arthur and Adrien Rabiot, while Paulo Dybala and Moise Kean joined Dusan Vlahovic in the attacking trident.
Opposing Allegri on the touchline was Alexander Blessin, who was hired in January as Genoa’s third different manager this season. He sent out a 4-2-3-1 formation to counter. Salvatore Sirigu manned the goal, sitting behind the back four of Silvan Hefti, Mattia Bani, Leo Ostigard, and Domenico Criscito. The double pivot was formed by Pablo Galdames and Milan Badelij, while Filippo Melegoni, Nadiem Amiri, and Manolo Portanova formed up behind Mattia Destro up front.
Juve nearly had a quick start in this one, but Kean could only head Dybala’s excellent header over when getting it down likely meant a goal. Neither team seriously threatened again until after the half-hour mark, when Genoa missed a pair of good heading positions while Sirigu got a hand to a low cross from Kean with Vlahovic waiting for the tap-in. Szczesny was forced into a pair of saves in the final seconds of the half, parrying a long-range bolt from Portanova and an attempt to flip the ball over his head by Galdames.
Both sides provided more fireworks after the restart. Genoa probably should’ve had the lead seconds after play resumed when Destro skied a first-time shot from inside the box. That miss proved double costly two minutes later when Kean stepped in front of Hefti to recover the ball after a cross from Cuadrado had been headed out. He laid the ball off to Dybala, who settled and cracked a fantastic 22-yard shot with his right foot (!!!) that curled back on target and past Sirigu, who had been unsighted by a gaggle of players in front of him and reacted too late. It was Dybala’s 10th goal of the season and his 115th in a Juventus shirt, tying him with Roberto Baggio for ninth on the club’s all-time list.
With his team’s chance at safety at an all-time low, Blessin acted quickly, sending on two more attackers within 10 minutes of the goal. But it was Juve that actually had the better of the chances. Dybala nearly passed Baggio in the 68th minute when he cut inside from the right and hit one of his trademark curlers to the far post, but thumped it off the upright rather than curling it inside it. A minute later, Kean was teed up at point-blank range by Rabiot and stabbed the ball toward goal, only to have Sirigu throw up a hand and make a fantastic reaction save. Three minutes later, Sirigu was called into action again by Vlahovic, whose attempt to lift the ball over him from a tight angle four yards away was likewise parried. Kean had the ball in the net on the ensuing corner but was well offside.
The missed chances kept piling up as Kean blasted over from seven yards after a great ball in from Dybala. With eight minutes to go substitute Marley Aké thought he’d won a penalty that could’ve sealed the game, but a VAR review proved that Albert Gudmundssen had won the ball cleanly, and referee Simone Sozza waved it off.
The failure to put the game away finally came back to bite Juve in the 86th minute thanks to a series of miscues. Alex Sandro was the one who started the mishaps, failing to control a ball out from Szczesny and giving it away in prime position to run. One pass sent Amiri toward the box. De Sciglio got caught ball-watching and allowed Gudmundssen to run in behind him, and he was able to clip the ball past a stranded Szczesny to tie the score.
As the clock ticked on both teams missed huge chances to pull ahead. Amiri was gifted the ball in the penalty area by Rabiot but was denied one-on-one by Szczesny. Then, deep into stoppage time, Kean missed the sitter of all sitters. Morata had done all the work, reaching an outlet ball and charging half the length of the field into the box, pulling Sirigu off his line and leaving an open goal for his strike partner, who made evading a covering Gudmundssen far more complex than he needed to and swept it wide.
That miss allowed Genoa to turn the game entirely on its head moments later when De Sciglio was called for a foul on Kelvin Yeboah in the left channel. The call was borderline in the extreme and should have at least prompted a review, but Sozza and VAR official Rosario Abisso stuck with the decision. Criscito, who only a week ago had missed a stoppage time penalty in the Derby della Lanterna to potentially doom his team to relegation, stepped up now with a chance to give them a lifeline. Facing him was the best penalty stopper in the league this season, and Szczesny correctly guessed which way Criscito was going, but moved too late and couldn’t stop it, as the former Juve man gave Genoa the win with the last kick of the game.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7.5. He made a couple fantastic saves in both halves and came relatively close to stopping Criscito’s penalty. He also came pretty close to an Udinese-style howler late in the game, which is why this isn’t even higher.
JUAN CUADRADO - 5.5. Rare is the day that Juan Cuadrado finishes a game without making a key pass, but we see it here. That’s not to say he was completely ineffectual — it was his cross for Rabiot that Kean recovered to ultimately set up the opener — but he looked subdued in his first action in two weeks. Hopefully this knocks the rust off for what should be a more advanced role on Wednesday.
DANIELE RUGANI - 7. Made a game-high eight clearances and didn’t put a foot wrong in the back.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 6.5. Solid defensively with five clearances, a tackle, and an interception. It wasn’t the center of defense that ended up being a problem for Juve.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 4. This was weird, because up until he switched sides back to the right he looked fine. Not great, but fine. But he completely fell apart at the end of the game, first ball-watching to allow Gundmundson in behind him and then giving away the penalty at the end. That call was iffy, but it was an unnecessary challenge with Rugani squared up in front of Yeboah and eventually was asking for it. Puzzling day for a guy whose calling card is his defense.
FABIO MIRETTI - 6.5. Another really strong showing by the youngster. The co-leader in key passes with three, he also nailed a couple of silky long diagonal switches. He was constantly looking to play passes forward and set up the attack. Juve started to lose some of its grip when he was removed.
ARTHUR - 4.5. Made a couple of tackles but was a ghost when it came to setting up the attack. Emblematic of his day was a moment in the first half when he was in position to pull the ball back from the byline to some supporting runners and instead skied the ball across the face of goal and behind.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. Almost ruined his day with a howler late, but his five tackles were the most of any player, and he added in a key pass in the second half. Another good performance.
PAULO DYBALA - 8. Three key passes, a delicious goal, and a near-miss off the post that would’ve been just as good if not better. Dybala was at his best Friday night, creating at the front and even making a pair of tackles on the defensive end. It’s a shame we won’t get to see many more of these.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 5.5. Largely absent from the game, taking only one shot, the save by Sirigu. Bani largely neutralized him, and his lack of impact the last month or so is of real concern.
MOISE KEAN - 5. Man, this is tough, and probably would’ve been lower had he not registered the assist on Dybala’s goal. He did half of his job — getting into the right positions — very right. The other half — using those positions to score goals — was another story entirely. I count at least three sitters missed, including the one in stoppage time that was harder to miss.
ALEX SANDRO - 5. His missed control led to the equalizer, and he misfired on almost a quarter of his passes.
DENIS ZAKARIA - 5.5. Didn’t get as much into the game as he could have, and wasn’t as imposing in defense as his skills would expect you to see.
ALVARO MORATA - 5.5. Almost set up the winner and had all that good work wasted by Kean’s finishing. Didn’t generate the same level of threat alongside Kean as Vlahovic and Dybala did.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 4. Quite literally the only reason I knew he was in the game was that I saw his number go up on the board when he was brought in.
MARLEY AKE - NR. Didn’t get much time on the ball, but nearly earned his second penalty of the year with his one run of import.
There isn’t much to get on Max Allegri about in this game. His main objective here was to make sure no one important got hurt and that the team was ready for Wednesday at as close to full strength as possible. To that end Allegri continued to give Miretti a run out and didn’t even bring Danilo to the game, while getting Cuadrado and (sigh) Arthur some minutes in their legs after their returns to give them a little more for the Inter game.
That said, there was one strange bit of decision making in this game that bears some questioning. Namely: Why was Miretti withdrawn?
Of the two men who could dictate the pace of the game in midfield, both Miretti and Arthur were subbed off at various points. For Arthur the reason was obvious. This was his first start since he came back from his injury and likely didn’t have 90 minutes in his legs. Miretti, on the other hand, did not look like he was struggling in any way when he was called to the sideline, and he was replaced as a mid by Federico Bernardeschi, another chapter in the annals of “Where will Bernardeschi play this week?”
There didn’t seem to be any reason for Miretti’s withdrawal, and there are rumors that the sub was pushed for from the field by Leonardo Bonucci, which is actually significant given Bonucci’s comments about his younger and less experienced teammates in an interview with DAZN this week. Once the players capable of keeping the game under control was gone, things devolved into end-to-end counterattacks that became increasingly dangerous.
Wednesday is the day that will ultimately define Juve’s season. The Coppa Italia final against Inter will determine whether or not Juve end up with their first trophy-less season since 2010-11. It’s the last meaningful game on the schedule. After that come matches with Lazio (at home) and Fiorentina (away) that will both be dead rubbers as far as Juve are concerned, although both opponents are still fighting for the last European slots.