Saturday night’s game between Juventus and Hellas Verona should not have ended on a last-gasp scramble in front of the visitors’ goal.
Juventus should have been one or two goals to the good by the hour mark, were it not for refereeing decisions that were frankly incompetent. Moise Kean was cheated out of two goals, one by the dogmatism of an offside rule that needs changing in the worst way, one by a bit of playacting that took in both the referee and the VAR official.
Those game-changing calls left Verona with the opportunity to scamper out of the Allianz Stadium with a point that they absolutely didn’t deserve. But after 97 minutes of frustration, on virtually the last kick of the game, Juve’s luck finally held. Fabio Miretti spotted Federico Gatti standing unmarked on the other side of the field and switched it to him. The center-back sent a peach of a cross to the back post for Arkadiusz Milik, who headed it back across goal. It looked for a second like yet another agonizing miss as the Pole’s shot bounced off the inside of the post, but Lorenzo Montipò and Pawel Dawidowicz both failed to clear the ball, and Andrea Cambiaso jammed the ball into the back of the net, setting the team and the crowd into a frenzy. One last desperate move forward by Verona fizzled quickly, confirming a 1-0 victory that should have been a lot more.
Massimiliano Allegri remained undermanned in midfield due to the dual suspensions of Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli. Defense wasn’t particularly deep either, with Danilo, Alex Sandro, and Mattia De Sciglio missing due to injury. He trotted out the usual 3-5-2 formation, with Wojciech Szczesny in goal, protected by Gatti, Bremer, and Daniele Rugani. Timothy Weah and Filip Kostic started as wing-backs, around the midfield of Weston McKennie, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot. Kean and Dusan Vlahovic paired up up front.
Verona coach Marco Baroni was looking to get some kind of result. After two wins to start the year, including an upset of Roma in the season’s second week, Verona has only picked up two points, putting Baroni under extreme pressure. He sent a 3-4-1-2 formation into the Allianz. Montipò in goal was screened by Dawidowicz, Giangiacomo Magnani, and Filippo Terraciano. Marco Faraoni and Josh Doig manned the wing-back spots, with Martin Hongla and Michael Folorunsho playing in the middle. Ondrej Duda played in the hole behind Milan Djuric and Federico Bonazzoli.
Juve had already been knocking on the door when the first of Kean’s run-ins with VAR happened in the 13th minute. The Italy international retreated deep to receive a pass from Bremer, made a pair of defenders look foolish dribbling past them, and unleashed a shot from 23 yards heading toward the near post. The ball deflected off Vlahovic before zipping into the net, just inside the post. Kean celebrated the goal, but soon referee Ermano Feliciani signaled that VAR had signaled that he was offside, much to Kean’s disbelief. That disbelief soon spread to full-on contempt for fans watching at home when the semi-automated offside image came up and displayed what had been detected: Kean had been offside by approximately two cleats on his heel when he was running back to receive Bremer’s pass. It was yet another regrettable instance of a millimeter offside call chalking off a goal despite the attacking player in no way ending up with an advantage.
To Kean’s credit, he didn’t let the setback affect his play on the field, and five minutes later was denied a goal the old fashioned way when his header was tipped over the bar by Montipò. Less than 60 seconds later he flashed a low shot wide of the far post off a low cross from Kostic. As the game continued it was Vlahovic’s turn to join the So Close Club when he headed another Kostic cross over.
Verona, meanwhile, was producing next to nothing offensively. They’d only put a handful of shots toward goal, and it took until first half stoppage time for their first — and, as it turned out, only — shot on target to develop. Even that came off a rare mistake by Bremer, whose mishit clearance went right to Bonazzoli, who tested Szczesny at his near post. The Poland international met it with two strong hands, and the threat was quickly ended.
Allegri made a shift at the half, sending on Miretti for Weah and pushing McKennie out wide. Kean continued to be the focal point of the attack, missing a free header just wide three minutes after the restart. Less than a minute later Montipò had to palm the ball around the post (a shot that officially was referred to as a miss because Feliciani somehow missed that the keeper had touched it and gave a goal kick.
A few minutes later Kean thought he finally had his first goal this season when he made a fantastic run through the middle of the box to steal in front of Magnani and skip a header past Montipò. It was an excellent passage of play all around, so it was a real surprise when Feliciani suddenly signaled for a VAR review. That review centered around the very start of the sequence, when Kean had won the ball off Faraoni. Kean’s arm during the 50/50 challenge had brushed Faraoni’s face, who went down like he’d been shot and stayed there for a minute trying to milk a call. When that didn’t work, he pulled himself up to his hands and knees to watch the play develop, and the instant Kean scored he decided his face hurt again and he immediately began rolling around again. It was playacting worthy of Sergio Busquets, and worse, it completely duped both VAR official Luigi Nasca and Feliciani, who disallowed the goal upon his return to the field.
It was an utterly incompetent moment on the part of both men, and it left Kean stinging to the point where he went off on the ref a few minutes later when it was ruled that Kostic didn’t keep the ball in along the sideline. The booking that followed likely ended his night, as at the hour mark Allegri brought him off for Federico Chiesa, as much to avoid a second frustration yellow as anything else.
Chiesa’s impact was nearly immediate. Two minutes after coming on, he cut inside and hit a shot with such vicious swerve that it very nearly bent behind the keeper as he moved to where he thought it was going, only to pull up at the last second and palm it over the bar.
Things looked increasingly like luck just wasn’t there as the day went on. Locatelli’s line-spitting pass to McKennie on the right side of the box was cut back smartly. Vlahovic missed it, but Chiesa was right behind him to side foot it home, only for it to be cleared off the line by Faraoni.
Juve should’ve had a penalty in the late stages of the game when Chiesa was bowled over in the box, only for Feliciani to deem being dragged to the ground somehow fair play. Chiesa came close again with four minutes left in regular time, stinging the ball just wide.
Even in the final minutes, Juve were coming up with chances. Just before the clock ticked into stoppage time Rabiot had a free header off a corner, only to be blocked by the chest of Folorunsho. Then Juve’s youngsters just missed having their moments. Kenan Yildiz got behind the defense when Milik flicked on a long pass from Locatelli, only to flash his shot over the bar (and he was probably offside anyways). Then Miretti cut inside and unleashed a shot that, with a bit more bend on it, would have gone screaming into the top far corner, but as it was went wide.
All seemed lost at that point, but Juve had one more push left for Cambiaso to do something special.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Only needed to make one save, but it was a solid one. Apart from that he was strong on the occasional cross and kept things organized in the back.
FEDERICO GATTI - 6.5. Did well shutting down anything that came his way and provided the key pass for what turned into the winner.
BREMER - 7. Another pretty excellent day from the Brazilian, who racked up three interceptions and five clearances on a day when the action was mostly in the other half.
DANIELE RUGANI - 6. Booked early but still did well in his second start running. He’s stepping up big without Danilo.
TIMOTHY WEAH - 5.5. His speed is a real weapon, but he hasn’t quite figured out how to unleash it yet. In a game like this, he needs to be setting up more than he actually did.
WESTON McKENNIE - 6. Actually did a little better on the wing in the second half than he did in the middle. Tied for second on the team with three key passes and also made the ball that Kean headed in for his second disallowed goal. He’s turning into one of the surprises of the season.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. Completed eight of 11 long balls and recorded two key passes. More than any other game in recent memory started sending some incisive balls through the defense to break the lines.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. A weird day, but overall fine. Stood stout in midfield defensively with two tackles and two interceptions and nearly scored in the second half, but also wasn’t a big part of the buildup play.
FILIP KOSTIC - 6. He still feels a little bit off. That being said, you can’t argue with a stat line that has five key passes on it, and with a little bit better finishing a couple of those would’ve become assists. Still, he’s becoming predictable, and in Serie A that can be a death sentence.
MOISE KEAN - 6.5. Made all the right runs, did all the right things, and had absolutely none of the luck. In a just world neither of the goals he scored would’ve been disallowed. If he keeps going like this, the stats will come.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6. Still shaking off some rust from his injury layoff, but looked lively for the most part and just lacked the killer edge we saw at the beginning of the season, but if he keeps it up he’ll find it again.
FABIO MIRETTI - 6. His brain is still moving too fast for his feet right now, but this was the first game in a while where it looked like things were slowing down a little bit for him. He had three key passes and a relatively crazy six dribbles in only a half’s worth of play.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 6. He was deeply disruptive to the Verona defense and very nearly scored, but was a fraction too frenetic at times which led to some inaccurate passing.
ANDREA CAMBIASO - 6.5. Much more unpredictable than Kostic, he was often much further inside to give Chiesa some room to operate out wide. He had two key passes and, of course, was Johnny on the spot for the winner.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - NR. Had two key passes and two shots in 10 minutes plus stoppages. We were very nearly talking about him instead of Cambiaso if that last header bounced slightly differently. He’s been a major assest this year when he’s come on.
KENAN YILDIZ - NR. That miss at the end was rough, although it’s likely he was offside so we were spared the roof coming off the entire place when another goal was chalked off. Showed quickness and burst. Hope we see him for more than a cameo soon.
Yeah ... not much to say here.
I was frankly a little surprised — pleasantly so — that the team didn’t drop back and play on the counter, because Allegri has shown his preference for doing that even against teams like this over the last two years. But he let Juve bring the game to Verona and was rewarded with a performance that, in a just world, would have had this game put to bed by the hour mark. That they scored the winner the way they did is probably a byproduct of that, as they had the confidence to keep moving forward even after the disappointments of Kean’s disallowed goals.
Speaking of Kean, it was the right move to take him off, because by that point he was so frustrated he was going to get himself a red card. If there was one thing I really quibble about, it’s the fact that once again Samuel Iling-Junior was left sitting on the bench in a situation where Juventus was chasing the game. Iling is one of the best attacking talents on this roster, and while Cambiaso played well and obviously scored the goal, to not put on such a gifted attacker when a goal is needed seems like a strange way to go about things. The man’s only played 89 minutes this year — and still has an assist to his name in that time. Let the kid out, Max.
Next week is a big game as Juve head to an always hostile Stadio Artemio Franchi to face a Fiorentina team that is pushing its way into the top four race. After that the team comes home to face Cagliari.