Through the first hour at the Stadio Alberto Picco on Sunday evening, the only thing favoring Juventus was the scoreline. And even that, with how Juve was playing, the slim lead courtesy of Moise Kean’s first-half goal was hanging in the balance as Spezia pushed numbers forward and saw even more of the ball than it had during the opening 45 minutes.
The stress was relieved, thankfully, thanks to a certain Angel Di Maria.
The magical Argentine playmaker, all of a few days after his 35th birthday, added yet another moment of brilliance to his 2023 highlight reel. A few days after a brilliant pass to set up Juve’s lone goal against Nantes, Di Maria’s long-range strike relieved a whole lot of tensions and allowed Juventus to claim a 2-0 win over Spezia on a night in which Max Allegri’s squad was far from impressive or anything close to it. No matter setting up goals or scoring them, Di Maria has come to life following his World Cup success in Qatar, and while Juve’s overall form isn’t all that great at the moment, the same can’t be said for the man with No. 22 on his back — and it’s that level that is making a difference.
Let’s make no mistake about it: This was not pretty outside of the two goals and a few excellent saves from stand-in keeper Mattia Perin. That is what my eyes told me. That is what the stats certainly tell me. This was a grind for Juventus for the vast majority of the night — and maybe that is a compliment with how things were looking prior to Di Maria’s thumping strike that doubled the lead.
Spezia had 59% of the possession. It was even more lopsided in the second half. The shot totals were essentially even, but Juve only managed to put three of their 15 shots that they attempted on frame. It was far from pretty. It was far from anything you’d probably consider good or really all that average.
Not exactly the kind of performance you were hoping to see after a disappointing European performance a few days earlier.
Could have been worse, though, I guess.
At this point, expecting Juventus to play at a high level might be too much to ask. Games will likely look more like what we’ve been seeing rather than something even close to high-pressure and aggressive football. Maybe that changes in France this coming Thursday night with their Europa League future at stake or when they face Inter in the Coppa Italia semifinals simply because of the stakes, but seeing 17th-place (and manager-less) Spezia possess so much of the ball with Juve hanging onto their lead was not exactly encouraging.
But hey, it’s three more points. Juve’s up to seventh place. And now all of the attention in Juventus’ world can be turned toward Thursday’s trip to France where they will hopefully not do something stupid once again in a do-or-die European fixture.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Seriously, just take the three points and get home safely. Three points and Di Maria’s goal are probably the only thing I’ll remember from this day.
- We did get to see some old Juventus friends on this night, though. There was Albin Ekdal! There was Mattia Caldara, who was a Juve player for all of a couple of weeks in the crazy summer of 2018.
- How fun is it to watch Angel Di Maria do what he’s been doing these last few weeks? He’s in the twilight of his career yet arguably Juve’s best player and doing the same kind of stuff that he’s been doing for years. Dude is still so good, so smooth on the ball and scoring goals like he did against Spezia. And, did you see that celebration? Dude still has that fire.
- A goalkeeper wearing No. 69 was subbed out due to injury within the first 25 minutes by a 40-year-old former Italy international making his debut at Spezia. Gotta love these things sometimes.
- It’s so nice having Mattia Perin as Juve’s backup goalkeeper. As we’ve said so many times before, he could start at a good number of Serie A clubs, but he’s here and it’s good.
- Those two big saves that Perin made in the second half to keep Spezia off the scoresheet, those were nice. That first one at the first post from close range will easily go down as one of the best saves from a Juve keeper this season.
- Credit where credit is due: Big Dan Rugani was pretty good in this game. Same goes for the rest of Juve’s backline. It’s not necessarily their fault that Juve was pinned back for a good amount of time Sunday night. They did their job and did it well.
- Dusan Vlahovic didn’t attempt a shot until the 85th minute.
- Manuel Locatelli was shown a yellow card after 20 seconds. Guessing that set a tone for what proved to be a pretty rough performance in general for Locatelli. And now he will be suspended for the Turin derby, which isn’t exactly all that great knowing Juve’s already down a couple of midfielders.
- That also almost certainly means more Leandro Paredes in the starting lineup, so who’s excited about that happening with how he’s played of late (and for much of the season)!
- Leonardo Bonucci’s 425th appearance as a Juventus player was for, what, the final 30 or so seconds.
- Juventus completed 76% of its passes. It definitely felt like something around there.
- Spot the lie in this tweet. I’ll wait for an answer.
- Filip Kostic is now tied for third in Serie A with six assists. When Krosstic is good, Juve’s attack just looks a little different, doesn’t it?
- Both of Max Allegri’s halftime subs made sense. Unfortunately, it’s not like either of them really changed the game.
- It’s a tough little patch of form for Nicolo Fagioli, the man who came on for Paredes at halftime. I guess the one positive is that with the other injuries (and upcoming suspensions) in the midfield — hi, Mr. Pogba! — young Nico is going to get playing time no matter what. Hopefully he can figure things out during said playing time.
- Juventus may have won this game, but whoa boy is this team’s overall product away from home still really bad. This is only the second away fixture in Serie A this season in which Juve’s score more than one goal. I guess the positive is that those two multi-goal games have come within the nine days.