The last time Juventus and Salernitana lined up opposite each other, it was Sept. 11, 2022. To say it ended controversially would be one of the understatements of the season.
Having gone down 2-0 to the provincial side at home, Juve managed to wage a comeback, tied the game with a stoppage time penalty, and thought they had the winner at the very last second through an Arkadiusz Milik header. But as the team and fans celebrated deliriously, the VAR booth buzzed to have the referee review whether Leonardo Bonucci had interfered with play from an offside position. The referee ruled that he was, and the goal was chalked off. The problem was that Antonio Candreva was standing right on the byline, thereby playing the whole of the field onside. This was apparent to everyone except the people who mattered in the VAR room, as Candreva was in an inexplicable blind spot in the cameras and was never seen by the people making decisions.
The result was bedlam, a near brawl on the field, three red cards issued to players and one more to Massimiliano Allegri, and a sore spot that remains to this day — especially after Juventus were handed their 15-point penalty, making every point precious.
So apart from, well, *gestures at everything*, Tuesday’s game in Salerno also carried an opportunity for payback for the very real injustice that Juve suffered at Salernitana’s benefit that evening.
Needless to say, they got it.
There was no need for last-minute drama in the return leg. Juve clamped down hard on the Salernitana attack, allowing only one shot on target, while finally putting the screws to an opponent themselves. The 3-0 scoreline flattered Salernitana, who could easily have been flattened in a fashion similar to their loss against Atalanta a few weeks ago. Juve, on the other hand, was given a huge shot in the arm, getting a much-needed big game out of one of their most important players, Dusan Vlahovic, en route to their biggest road win since the final day of the 2020-21 season. With an important stretch of the season, including their entree into the Europa League next week, the victory that gave them a major shot of momentum.
Allegri continued to juggle his injury list. The newest addition was Leandro Paredes, who had a muscle issue. He was joined by Bonucci, Milik, Paul Pogba, and Kaio Jorge. Allegri continued to arrange the team with a three-man back line, this time more as a straight 3-5-2 than the 3-5-1-1 setups that had been seen before. Wojciech Szczesny started in goal, protected by the Brazilian trio of Danilo, Bremer, and Alex Sandro. Mattia De Sciglio and Filip Kostic started at the wing-back positions, flanking Fabio Miretti, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot in midfield. Angel Di Maria started up front with Vlahovic.
Salernitana has been in chaos as far as the manager’s office was concerned over the last few weeks. Davide Nicola was fired after last month’s 8-2 hammering at the hands of Atalanta, only to be rehired two days later. The Turin native sent his charges out in a 4-3-3 in front of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Junior Sambia, William Troost-Ekong, Dylan Bronn, and Domagoj Bradaric were arrayed in front of him in defense. Juve loanee Hans Nicolussi Caviglia joined Lassana Coulibaly and Tonny Vilhena in midfield, while Candreva and Boulaye Dia bookended Krzysztof Piatek in the front three.
It was only Vlahovic’s third appearance and second start since coming back from a groin injury that had kept him out at the club level since November. He’d looked sluggish in his first appearances, but announced his intentions early when he slipped between the center-backs and got on the end of a cross from De Sciglio. He popped the header into the air, but his movement was crisp and purposeful. As Salernitana would soon find out, all he needed was a small push to get himself going.
Unlike the usual starts we’ve seen out of the Bianconeri this season, they were very much getting the better of play in the game’s early phases. They made good moves and some incisive runs into Salernitana’s defensive third, but the attacks were derailed by mistakes, inaccurate passes, or simply good defending. The game very nearly went another way early after Rabiot, who had been booked in the 16th minute for a nasty challenge on Sambia, made another clumsy one only four minutes later. The home team urged referee Antonio Rapuano to issue a second, but he declined to do so.
That potential turning point came into stark relief five minutes later when Juve opened the scoring. Di Maria found Miretti with a smart pass into the right side of the penalty area, and Nicolussi Caviglia clipped the back of his leg, giving Rapuano an easy penalty call that not even the Salernitana players (save one) bothered to argue. Di Maria had been taking penalties for a large chunk of the season, but on this occasion Vlahovic, with the Argentine’s blessing, took the ball and executed one of the most ice-cold penalty kicks you’ll ever see, clipping the inside of the post past the outstretched fingers of Ochoa, who had guessed right but simply couldn’t overcome such perfect execution. It was Vlahovic’s first club goal since the Derby della Mole in October.
Getting his first goal unblocked the big Serb, and Vlahovic started running like mad in the attacking third. In the 33rd minute he took a ball over the top from Di Maria and struck it on the half-volley from 24 yards out, flying it over, but not by much. Four minutes later he nutmegged Troost-Ekong along the sideline and powered his way into the box, firing a hard shot across the face of the goal. It was clear his confidence had shot through the roof. Every time he touched the ball near the penalty area it felt like he might find a way to put the ball on frame. A second goal from him seemed more likely by the minute.
Things were looking good, but before the half a potential disaster struck when Miretti went up to challenge for a ball with Coulibaly. When he landed the teenager went down in a heap. At first it looked as though it was a simple case of him having been kicked in the unmentionables as he came back to earth, but Miretti’s reactions soon made it clear things were far more serious. He tried to get up and make his way to the sideline, only to collapse again. That brought the stretcher out, and the youngster was carried off the field in tears. He was replaced by Nicolo Fagioli.
Fate, though, would immediately compensate for that downer, thanks in part to some horrible defending on the part of the hosts. A cross from Rabiot was headed by Sambia, but only as far as Vlahovic. The striker tried to volley the ball back at goal, but badly scuffed his attempt. Instead, the ball trickled in the direction of an onrushing Kostic. Sambia and Ochoa came to meet the wide man, but got in each other’s way, and he poked the ball between them to double Juve’s lead on the stroke of halftime.
It was very nearly 3-0 right away. Miretti’s injury saw five minutes of stoppage time added on to the half, when Di Maria flicked a pass from the top of the box into the right channel for Locatelli, who was denied from short range by a charging Ochoa.
But it didn’t take long for Juve to find that extra margin. Just after kickoff Nicolussi Caviglia tried to pass the ball into the middle of the field, not seeing his old NextGen teammate Fagioli nearby. The 21-year-old pounced, intercepting the pass and then feeding Vlahovic, who had a chasm to run into between the badly-spaced center-backs. He stroked Fagioli’s through ball into the net first-time from 18 yards out.
From this point the game was essentially done and dusted. The one real opportunity Salernitana had to change that came in the 51st minute, when Dia got on the end of a hard cross from Sambia at the far post, but couldn’t redirect it on target and only glanced it behind. Two minutes later Di Maria hit a gorgeous shot from range that cracked into the crossbar, so close to turning the game into an out-and-out rout.
Juve ceded a bit more possession with the game mostly out of reach, but were still keen to get forward when they had the ball. Fagioli was in excellent position in the top of the box, but his shot was charged down. With five minutes to go substitute Moise Kean took a feed from Locatelli and surprised Ochoa with a near-post shot, only to see it too bounce off pipes as well.
Thoroughly dominated, the home team only had to endure two minutes of stoppage time before Rapuano ended the game, officially giving Juve their most dominant victory of the season.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - NR. It’s been a while since I’ve decided not to give a keeper a rating, but there was so little for Woj to do. The stats say Candreva had a shot on target, but I honestly can’t remember it. He had little to do in terms of dealing with crosses in the box either. It just didn’t feel right giving him a grade with so little to do.
DANILO - 7. An impressive stat line of two tackles, an interception, and four clearances. A straightforward day at the office for him all around.
BREMER - 7. Had a game-high seven clearances and kept Piatek completely quiet. If this, combined with the Lazio game, is a sign he’s back on track, it would be huge with Europa League on the horizon.
ALEX SANDRO - 6.5. Played well in the back three, although he was a little rougher than his compatriots, being whistled for four fouls. He was, however, the only one of the back three to register a key pass.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6. Credit to him for keeping Dia, who has been in fairly good form lately, very quiet on his flank. Didn’t do much to contribute to the attack beyond that early cross to Vlahovic.
FABIO MIRETTI - 6. A good showing from Miretti, which makes his injury all the more disappointing. He was making good runs all the time, and played the pass from Di Maria that ended up in the penalty perfectly. Hopefully he isn’t out for too long.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5. A surprising dark spot considering how well the game went. He gave the ball away in bad situations on multiple occasions, often in places that put the defense a tight spot. Really ought to have scored at the end of the first half too,.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. His form has slowly drifted back to earth, and today was no different. He was, at best, meh, although he did connect on the only key pass amongst the midfield. Did do good work winning the ball back.
FILIP KOSTIC - 6. Had he not scored this would likely have been lower, as he was completely anonymous through much of his time on the pitch, although he did seem to spring to life a little more by the end.
ANGEL DI MARIA - 6. Had a pair of key passes and caused some problems up front, but didn’t come all that close to scoring himself.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 8. An enormous day. Even his scuffs turned into assists. This was the kind of guy we were expecting to see when he came over a year ago. He even led the team in key passes. More of this guy, please.
NICOLO FAGIOLI - 7. Knew where to go with every ball, completing 93.6 percent of his passes, and sniffed out Nicolussi Caviglia to finish off the scoring early second half. He’s picked his form back up.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 6. He had two key passes, but also got a little tunnel vision looking for a goal of his own toward the end of the night.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6. A pair of key passes in a half-hour’s worth of work on the right side.
MOISE KEAN - NR. So, so close to scoring late. It was a well-executed shot, just was a little unlucky.
SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - NR. On to give Kostic a rest and finish the game out on the left flank.
***BONUS LOANEE RATING***
HANS NICOLUSSI CAVIGLIA - 4. Rough night for the kid. He wasn’t having a terrible game until giving away the penalty, but it all unraveled from there, culminating in that ugly interception for Juve’s third goal. Not a way to impress your parent club.
There isn’t much to talk about here. Using a straight 3-5-2 as opposed to the awkward 3-5-1-1 setup from weeks past seems to have made things a little better. Di Maria, and then Chiesa, were still given free reign to roam the pitch, but tying them closer to Vlahovic as a seconda punta as opposed to a very isolated trequartista simply produced better results.
Persisting in the use of this setup is still going to be problematic at times — Di Maria and Chiesa are wingers, after all — but that one small adjustment seemed to make the attack click better. The hope now is that he gets a midfielder back in relatively short order, because if Miretti’s injury is long (and let’s be real here, J Medical doesn’t have a track record to fall back on here) has left them with only three midfielders until Pogba and/or Paredes return.
Juve will host a struggling Fiorentina team on Sunday before re-opening European competition in the first leg of the Europa League playoff round against Nantes. In between the two legs will be a trip to Spezia.