I really didn’t know what to expect from Juventus in Monday night’s season opener. It wasn’t just because of the injury absences or the way that Juve finished the preseason slate of friendlies, but just the general feeling of uncertainty surrounding just what kind of direction this Juventus team can actually go after a tough 2021-22 campaign.
While clearly not the toughest one Juve will face this season, the first test was passed with room to spare.
Thanks to a Dusan Vlahovic brace and an absolutely phenomenal debut from Ángel Di Maria before he went off with a potential muscle — assemble your prayer circles now, folks! — Juventus was able to turn some early struggles into a 3-0 win over an equally shorthanded Sassuolo side that only continued its August struggles with the season-opening loss at Allianz Stadium. Juve didn’t look all that great early, especially once Sassuolo was able to take the bulk of the possession away from
But a slight formational tweak from Max Allegri — a dude who has a whole lot of eyeballs on his every move this season — coming out of the first-half cooling break quickly turned Juve’s fortunes around.
Out went the 4-4-1-1-ish type of formation Allegri was using. In came a more fluid and natural looking 4-3-3 with Di Maria and Juan Cuadrado flanking Vlahovic. And because of it, the way in which Juve attached just looked a lot more dangerous.
And the goals quickly came because of it.
It was the kind of performance after that cooling break — can we give Cooling Break the Man of the Match award? Seriously, can we? — Juventus just looked like a completely different team before they had a few minutes to recollect their thoughts and get some water in the August heat. There were still some boneheaded moments that had you scratching your head or having flashbacks to last season. There were some pretty noticeably bad passing out of the back. There was some interesting decisions. And, of course, there was the fact that Sassuolo was in control of a good chunk of the first half.
Thankfully, though, once Juventus’ first goal — and, before that, the cooling break — arrived, that’s when things turned for the better.
That’s when you could start to see that Di Maria still has plenty to offer this Juventus team even though he’s 34 years old. That’s when you could see Vlahovic finally getting some service even though it still needs to be on a more consistent basis. That’s when Juve just simply started playing better and creating more.
And for a team that struggled in that area for large stretches of last season, this was a nice change for the better and something that Allegri can look at as something to build upon.
Think about it this way: Juve scored three goals in Monday night’s season-opening win. It wasn’t until the fifth game against Spezia — a much, much more wild game than this one — that Juve hit their opponent for three. It was also just one of four times during the domestic campaign in which Juve scored three or more goals.
So while this is one game and certainly only going to tell a fraction of the 2022-23 season, it’s a good start in the overall scope of it. Certainly a lot better than how we felt after the season opener last year, right? (For more than one reason, too.)
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- WHAT IN THE HELL GOT INTO ALEX SANDRO IN THE FIRST HALF AND HOW CAN WE MAKE IT LAST AS LONG AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE?!?!
- Congrats on Sassuolo winning the possession battle. I’ll take the 3-0 win, thank you very much.
- But because I was battling my internet all game long, I couldn’t track that type of thing like I usually do. Regardless, Juve got three goals and Sassuolo didn’t score any, so there’s that.
- Mattia Perin made four saves in the first half. The first three of them were really, really good.
- Perin finished with seven saves, most of which were routine in the second half. Oh, and a clean sheet, too. I think it’s safe to say that kind of performance makes Wojciech Szczesny’s absence over the next few weeks a little easier to deal with.
- Dusan Vlahovic had all of eight first-half touches, yet scored one goal, drew the penalty that led to said goal and could have had a couple of other ones. Yes, he needs more service and needs to be involved more, but that’s a pretty decent start with such a small amount of time on the ball.
- Seriously, though, Perin had more than three times the amount of touches in the first half that Vlahovic did. That’s ... interesting.
- Vlahovic finished with 26 touches. He took six shots. Imagine if he was even just a little bit more involved in things. Woof.
- In the final 15 minutes, nearly half of Juventus’ outfield players were 22 years old or younger. Yes, it was able to be a thing because there are so many others out injured (or suspended), but it’s a lot not like that’s something we’ve been able to say outside of a Coppa Italia game or two over the last few years. Hell, in previous years, maybe these youngsters get a couple of minutes and that’s that. But with the mid-August heat and it being the first game of the season and match fitness maybe not at peak levels just yet, Allegri got the chance to throw some kids on — and that was cool.
- I know we said it when Juve played Torino last season, but goodness gracious is Bremer just an absolutely physical monster at the back. Dude is so good in the air, and can just body attackers off the ball with what seems like not much effort at all because he’s so strong. It’s going to be fun to watch him develop and get more comfortable at Juventus because it just seems like the sky is the limit for him as he gets more games under his belt.
- Seriously, Bremer had six clearances and won virtually all of his aerial battles. What a force.
- Filip Kostic came on for a second-half debut and he did what you pretty much expected him to do — bomb up and down the left wing and look like a threat a good amount of the time he had the ball at his feet. Anybody who’s familiar with him knows that he’s got that grinta in him, and he’s going to be a nice addition once he becomes a regular contributor.
- Kostic came on with 30 minutes to go and he fired in five crosses in that small period of time. The rest of Juventus’ team finished with six crosses attempted the entire game.
- Fabio Miretti didn’t finish with a flashy pass success rate, but there were a few moments where he played balls out wide and it made you realize that the kid just turned 19 years old and has some pretty good field awareness and vision already.
- Danilo celebrated a clearance that went out for a corner in the second half like Giorgio Chiellini used to do all the time. It made me miss the old guy. I hope he’s enjoying the sunshine in Los Angeles today. (And another LAFC win because they’re crushing it.)
- It took Juventus four games to get more than one point last season. They’ve played one game this season and already have three. I think I know which start to a season I like better already.