For the opening 45 minutes Thursday night, Juventus put forward the kind of performance that had to have you thinking at least some sort of encouraging thoughts — which is not exactly prevalent these days surrounding the club.
For the second 45 minutes, though, it was a grind, a total sit-back-and-defend kind of grind.
But unlike the multiple examples of things from January in which the defense folded under unrelenting pressure and tossed away any chances of winning, Juventus made its slim one-goal that came courtesy of Bremer’s impressive header right before halftime lead hold. Because of that, Juve topped Lazio 1-0 at the Allianz Stadium to advance to the Coppa Italia semifinals yet again and giving them a meeting with arch-rival Inter on what has been the chalk side of the bracket. (As compared to, you know, the other side where Cremonese and Fiorentina will vie for the other spot in the Coppa final.)
This wasn’t necessarily a Max Allegri special, but it was a 1-0 win.
And you know what? Based on how Juve has defended over the last couple of weeks, getting back to something that was the team’s strength during their eight-game winning streak was a pretty welcome sight. There were no stupid defensive mistakes that clearly led to a goal being scored. Mattia Perin, Mr. Coppa Italia in goal, didn’t really have many saves to make and wasn’t really challenged all night.
It was, especially in the second half, leaning on the defense to ensure the lead was held while doing what Allegri has done a large majority of the season — play on the counter and try to get add to his team’s lead that way.
As much as he screamed and raged on the sideline, that is what this team will default to because that’s how they play so often. Is it good to see? No, especially not with the likes of Dusan Vlahovic and Federico Chiesa on the field leading the line.
But even with Lazio having twice as many shot attempts in the second half, Juventus held strong. They bent a few times but they never broke. That’s something we haven’t been able to say much lately whether it’s been against Napoli, Atalanta or Monza as Juve has failed to win their last three league fixtures. This was a return to what Juve did well in late-October and early-November. This was also a departure of what they did wrong to finish out the month of January.
So now Juventus heads into the Coppa Italia semifinal, the competition in which their best chance to get a European place next season. That certainly not what we were thinking at the beginning of 2023, but that’s what happens when your season gets thrown upside down and objectives are basically forced to change.
At the very least, it will provide an extra boost no matter what the state the 2022-23 season is in come April when Juve line up against the team that beat Juventus in the Coppa Italia final last season.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Very happy they went to VAR on Bremer’s goal because it was such a close call. Oh, wait. It looks as though going to VAR was ... a waste of all of our time.
- It had been 853 days between Federico Chiesa and Dusan Vlahovic playing together. Let’s hope it’s only a couple of days before the next one.
- Chiesa had a pretty solid night and it was good to see that he was given the freedom to roam just about anywhere he wanted in the attacking third rather than be attached to the hip of Vlahovic. Chiesa’s heat map shows that he spent most of his time on the left wing as he looked to cut inside on his right, something that is becoming more and more of a thing for him since coming back from injury. Now we get to see how he recovers from playing nearly 80 minutes.
- Also, I just want to note for the record that the one-time outside-of-the-foot pass Chiesa had to Vlahovic in the second half would have been the assist of the year of the big Serb was able to get a shot off. Yes, even better than Chiesa’s other assist of the season nominee.
- For Vlahovic, there were some good moments, but the biggest thing for him after being out so long — and it still felt weird to think that before this past weekend his most recent appearance was for his country rather than club — is to just get minutes back in his legs. We know he’s the kind of player who can get absolutely rolling once he finds his stride, it’s just a matter of getting him there.
- Manuel Locatelli was dropping some absolute DIMES against Lazio and it was wonderful.
- Locatelli also blocked FOUR shots on Thursday night. Lazio finished with 11 shots total. That means Locatelli directly stopped over a third of Lazio’s shot attempts. Good work, my man.
- Angel Di Maria came on for the final 10-15 minutes and chose VIOLENCE when taking on a Lazio player or two. Or even three or four on that one run into the box he had that involved a quick little nutmeg to start it all off.
- Nicolo Fagioli seems to be in a place in which a lot of young players go through in that he’s doing some good things but also having moments that you know he knows better. It’s just the thing that happens with somebody who’s getting his first real consistent playing time at this level and essentially learning on the job. He’s good enough to get through this and that’s probably the most reassuring thing.
- Good to see that our old friend Filip Crosstic was back for this one. That was his best game in weeks at minimum.
- I very much welcomed the returned of Good Bremer back. Dude was an absolute rock at the back.
- Danilo and Alex Sandro combined for 175 touches. That’s a lot.
- Two more games against Inter in April? Looks like the Coppa Italia semifinal is going to be a two-legged doozy.