Five minutes before halftime Sunday night, Juventus were handed a lifeline. In a first half where Milan saw more and more of the ball as time went on, things suddenly changed when Malick Thiaw pulled down Moise Kean and saw a straight red for it just a few seconds later, leaving the home side suddenly down a man for the next 50 or so minutes.
So it begged the question: “What are you gonna do with it, Juve?”
Not a whole heck of a lot, but enough to get the only goal of the night and hang on from there.
For the second straight time out of an international break this season, Juventus got a big-time result in a big-time test. That one was a dismantling of one of their former managers at the Allianz Stadium, this time around was an absolute grinder of a 1-0 win over AC Milan in front of a sellout crowd at San Siro. The guy who decided it on the scoreboard? It just so happened to be former Milan midfielder Manuel Locatelli, whose long-range shot benefited from a big deflection on what proved to be Juve’s first shot of the night and past 40-year-old keeper Antonio Mirante to put Juve ahead with just under half an hour to go.
Locatelli is no stranger to scoring long-range efforts in this rivalry game, although it came on the other side of things back when he was a teenager.
On that night on Oct. 22, 2016, Locatelli beat Gigi Buffon.
On this night on Oct. 22, 2023, exactly seven years later, he beat the guy who used to be Buffon’s backup and was otherwise pretty impressive in his first appearance in over two years.
For Juventus, though, this was obviously a game that had Lady Luck on their side, whether it was with the Thiaw red card or the deflection that Locatelli’s sho took that meant Mirante had absolutely no chance on it. The first one played a huge role in how Juventus were able to play after halftime — which, considering that the first half saw Milan have almost 70% of the possession, Juve seeing more of the ball was always going to be an improvement on how the first 40 or so minutes went.
But even with more of the ball in the second half, it’s not like Juve had created a ton. Locatelli’s goal, in the 63rd minute, was Juventus’ first shot on target the entire night. Even with a man advantage, Juve only put four shots on frame the entirety of the second half — and two of those came on the double save that Mirante made as the Bianconeri tried to double their lead.
Would a bigger lead would have been nice with the man advantage? Of course, but thankfully Juventus looked pretty solid once they got the lead. That is probably the biggest thing that happened following Locatelli’s goal. There were some nervy moments because any team that has somebody like Rafa Leao running at full speed on the counterattack is going to be dangerous at times even with 10 men on the field. But Juve’s defense, much to their credit, were able to bend but not break and allow Milan to get a late equalizer.
This is a big win no matter what you think Juve’s Scudetto chances may end up being a month or two from now. They’re now two points behind Inter in first, all of one point behind Milan in second and now have a pretty favorable schedule before the next international break arrives.
Then again, beating Milan is always nice no matter what the table looks like. And hey, if this whole “win the big game right out the international break” is going to be a trend, I’m all for continuing it if Juve want to do so after the next one, too, considering know they play. (Hint: they also call the San Siro home.)
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Pre-game thought No. 1: Please don’t mess up my birthday again, Juventus.
- Pre-game thought No. 2: Even with all of those players absent, Milan’s starting lineup is pretty solid!
- Pre-game thought No. 3: The same cannot be said about Juventus’ starting lineup. You take out the two big guys up front and then a few other regulars and ... yeah, it’s a little rough to say the least.
- Pre-game thought No. 4: AMERICA.
- Pre-game thought No. 5: Seeing the captain’s armband on Adrien Rabiot’s arm will need some getting used to over the next few weeks.
- Holy smokes was Tek Szczesny’s first save of the night a good one. That is world class right there, my friends.
- Little did we know that Szczesny’s big save would prove to be his only save the entire night. That’s now four straight clean sheets since his disaster of a night against Sassuolo. That’s how a professional who is very good at his job goes about it, folks.
- Yes, that is 100% a red card on Thiaw and you can’t tell me otherwise. Kean was in 1-on-1 with Antonio Mirante if he wasn’t hauled down by Thiaw right after he got by him.
- That was also a great ball from Timothy Weah to allow Kean to do what he did on that move. He stood in there knowing the tackle was coming right as he was making contact. Reminded me of a quarterback standing in to make the throw knowing full well he was about to get crushed by a blitzing linebacker.
- Federico Gatti had an absolute handful with Rafael Leao out wide and it didn’t take long to see that one dude is really fast and the other dude is not as fast.
- Props to Gatti for hanging tough through it all. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but if the plan was to not totally let Leao crush your soul, I think that goal was achieved.
- Also, Bremer was fantastic against Milan. Absolutely fantastic.
- I know the stats will say otherwise, but it felt like Bremer won about 50 balls in the air and had 40 tackles. You won’t be able to prove me otherwise and I am going with this no matter what.
- Also, Daniele Rugani — the much-maligned Daniele Rugani! — was stellar in this one as well. Whether it was out on the left or when he shifted into the middle as Bremer went out on the right to keep tabs on Leao in the closing minutes, Rugani did everything he needed to do. He doesn’t play much these days, but he just seems to answer the call more often than not.
- Hey! It’s Dean Huijsen!
- No pressure, kid, but here’s your debut out of necessity because Gatti’s on a yellow and we’ve got nobody else capable of playing at the back so you’re gonna go on and play in front of 70,000 people.
- To his credit, if Huijsen was nervous on the inside (which he almost certainly had to be), he didn’t show it in his first-ever senior team appearance for Juventus. That nice little body check on the sideline was a memorable moment as well.
- Timothy Weah putting in a solid shift at the same stadium in which his dad used to call home. That seems like a pretty cool little footnote to this one. And he got an assist, too!
- You mention one American in a Juve jersey, you gotta mention the other: Weston McKennie, outside of that really good scoring chance that he skied into the second level (probably), looked pretty good. Juve need him to play like that (and like he has most of the season) considering what the midfield situation currently is.
- Juventus are undefeated in games in which Adrien Rabiot is captain.
- In conclusion, I prefer Juventus beating Milan (or any other team for that matter but especially that team) on my birthday compared to the alternative seven years ago when Locatelli scored the only goal at San Siro. It’s much better high-fiving my parents on this day rather than fuming on my way to work.