Juventus’ last two Serie A home games have been really freakin’ weird.
Two weeks ago, Juve had to fight back from two separate deficits to eventually overcome Torino. But, at least that can be reasonably explained as a Derby della Mole where the intensity ratchets up in any situation. Less easy to explain, however, is how Sunday night’s game against Sampdoria ended up turning into a symphony of strangeness that eventually ended in an identical 4-2 scoreline.
This time, it was Sampdoria who pulled an improbable comeback, taking advantage of a minute of madness to score twice in 72 seconds and wipe out a 2-0 Juventus lead. Sampdoria, who came into the game rock-bottom in Serie A. Sampdoria, who came into the game having scored all of 11 goals — 11 goals — the lowest total of any team in Europe’s top five leagues.
Seriously, 11 goals.
Eventually, just like the Torino game, Juve’s quality eventually told and they put their opponents away, but not before a wild 45 minutes of football. It *Stefon voice* had everything: VAR controversy, penalties given, denied, and missed, a crazy save or two, some potential injuries, and an eventual sealer in stoppage time.
This was a crazy game, certainly much more than Juve had been hoping for, but eventually the points were registered ahead of a week of big games.
Massimiliano Allegri’s selections were hampered by an unavailable list that rivaled the ones he was dealing with just before the World Cup. Federico Chiesa, Alex Sandro, and Angel Di Maria all joined the injured list alongside Arkadiusz Milik and Kaio Jorge. Also headed to the treatment table — again — was Paul Pogba, who pulled up in the morning training session and is now likely to be out until after the international break. Additionally, Moise Kean began his two-game suspension for violent conduct after his red card last week. That list conflicted with Allegri’s desire to keep players fresh for the second leg against Freiburg on Thursday, but he rotated his 3-5-1-1 as much as he could. Mattia Perin gave Wojciech Szczesny a rest in goal, while Bremer, Leonardo Bonucci, and Danilo made up the defense. Mattia De Sciglio started at right wing-back opposite Filip Kostic, while Enzo Barrenechea was given a start in midfield alongside Nicolo Fagioli and Adrien Rabiot. Fabio Miretti played Di Maria’s role behind Dusan Vlahovic in attack.
Dejan Stankovic’s charges needed a miracle from God to avoid relegation, and it only got worse when one of their few rocks, former Juventus prospect Emil Audero, suffered an injury in training and was ruled out for the year. Stankovic elected to give the starter’s gloves to 19-year-old Martin Turk, who made his Serie A debut. The team ahead of him was arranged in a 3-4-2-1 formation. Bruno Amione, Koray Günter, and Bram Nuytinck made up the defense, with Alessandro Zanoli and Tommaso Augello on the wings. Tomas Rincon and Harry Winks manned the midfield, while Mehdi Leris and Filip Djuricic supported another former Juve prospect, Manolo Gabbiadini, up front.
Juve were perhaps given a warning in the seventh minute when Gabbiadini got behind Bonucci and latched on to a ball over the top. One-on-one with Perin, Gabbiadini didn’t even find the target, pushing his shot well wide of the target. Three minutes later, Bremer was jumped in the center circle by Djuricic, starting a two-on-two break with Gabbiadini, who got a little selfish and went for goal from range, resulting in an easy save by Perin.
It took less than a minute for the Brazilian center-back to atone for his mistake. A corner taken by Kostic was whipped into a perfect area for Bremer, who had hung back behind the penalty spot and made crept forward completely unmarked. He was able to measure up the ball and load up a powerful header into the ground that bounced past a flailing Turk to open the scoring.
Juve continued to boss the game for the most part, but neither side seriously threatend again until the 25th minute, when Miretti found Vlahovic with an excellent through ball. It looked like the big Serb was through on goal, but Amione was able to scramble back in time to block the shot. The ensuing corner was headed out, but Miretti was there to recover it on the back end. He had so much time to weigh up his cross that the ball was stationary when he struck it, and it was a beautiful one, dropping perfectly for Rabiot to head back against the grain and double the lead.
Juve looked to be in cruise control, but the mistakes in the back were still happening, and eventually it bit them in the ass.
At the half-hour mark, Bremer and Barrenechea both let Djuricic run through the Juventus half of the field and feed Leris. Danilo blocked the shot and was unlucky when the ball bounced right into the path of Augello, who hit a shot that was more difficult than it looked with his weaker right foot into the net as Perin tried to reset his feet.
Seconds later, the game was tied. Zanoli was sent down the right side relatively unmolested, while Djuricic traveled half the length of the field without ever being noticed by a defender. It left him a completely free run into the right channel and an easy side-footed finish.
Juve tried to recover from the almighty wobble, but neither team made another move of note before the half, save for a strange moment in the 44th minute when Fagioli put a nice ball into the box. Nuytinck headed the ball away, but Turk, apparently anticipating the ball to get through, dove toward the feet of Vlahovic and wiped him out off the ball. The striker begged for a penalty, and frankly probably should’ve gotten it, but no call came.
Allegri shook things up at the break, calling upon two starters who he had intended to rest, Manuel Locatelli and Juan Cuadrado. The former immediately made an impact, glancing a low Kostic cross on frame and forcing Turk to make a save.
Samp made a brief surge five minutes into the half, with a free kick and a corner, but Juve then pushed them into their own half and, for the most part, kept them there. Vlahovic hit a free kick into the wall, then Bremer got his head to another corner from Kostic that looked on frame, but it bounced off the back of a defender.
The pressure, however, was kept coming, and eventually paid off. The move started near the left sideline with a deft interchange between Kostic and Rabiot, who drove toward the box. Nuytinck stepped out and forced him to lay it back to Fagioli, but Nuytinck followed the ball and left the Frenchman alone in the channel, and Fagioli returned it to him. He controlled, turned, and hit a half-volley into the net to restore the lead. Sampdoria were furious, claiming that Rabiot had stopped the ball with his arm as opposed to his chest, but VAR official Marco Di Bello judged there was no angle that showed the call to be a clear and obvious error.
Things went from bad to worse for Samp. Within a minute of the resumption of play, Augello took Cuadrado’s legs out from under him in the box, and referee Alessandro Prontera pointed to the spot after a brief consideration. It seemed like a perfect time for Vlahovic to hit the net and gain some confidence back, but the young striker’s mental block reared its head again, and he smacked the ball flush against the post. It cannoned back so quickly that Rabiot didn’t have time to set up for the rebound and could only hit it over the bar.
Paradoxically, the miss seemed to light a fire under Vlahovic, and only three minutes later he hit a vicious cross-goal shot that went over. Samp were asking for a penalty when Amione was hit in the face by Bremer’s elbow as they jumped for a ball, but the contact was very much incidental and Prontera rightly ignored it. Vlahovic was then blocked again, while substitute Matias Soule tried to skip a shot to the far post but was denied by Turk.
Juve continued to make life difficult for the young shot-stopper. Cuadrado hit a powerful shot that Turk just managed to tip onto the crossbar, then halfway through stoppage time Soule just didn’t get the bend on an attempt from the left channel. In the final minute of the extra time, Vlahovic hit easily his best shot of the night, a powerful header into the ground that Turk just managed to tip onto the crossbar, but Soule was perfectly placed to pounce on the rebound, heading in his first senior team goal to put a capper on a game that had seen almost everything.
MATTIA PERIN - 6. Couldn’t do anything about either goal, but his control of his defense was suspect early on, especially on the second goal.
BREMER - 7. Came back from an early mistake to have a really good game. His goal was excellently taken, and he led the team with five clearances. He even had a key pass, and completed 96 percent of his overall pass attempts, including all six of his long balls. Hopefully whatever forced him off the field was minor.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 5.5. Made two tackles and wasn’t particularly out of place on either of Samp’s goals, but also let a few attackers behind him far too easily early on and his long passing, which is his calling card, was non-existent. Off at the half and reportedly heading for tests at J Medical on Monday morning.
DANILO - 6. Another typically solid shift for Danilo, who made three clearances and had a key pass as well.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 5.5. Slightly out of position on the first goal, when he was sucked in to the striker in them middle and left Augello clear to get to the loose ball off the block. Other than that he was entirely inoffensive but not exceptional either.
NICOLO FAGIOLI - 7. The creative outlet in the midfield, racking up a pair of key passes and constantly acting as a point of threat, as evidenced by his assist for Rabiot. He’s developing into a sure-fire starter and a potential star.
ENZO BARRENECHEA - 5.5. Completed 90.7 percent of his passes, but the majority of them were very safe. Where he shone was on the defensive end, where he racked up three tackles, two interceptions, and a pair of clearances in only one half. At this point, he’s probably a better option than Leandro Paredes in midfield when one wants to rest Locatelli.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 7.5. Two excellently-taken goals were ultimately the difference in the match. He’s a force carrying the ball through the lines in midfield, making up part of a three-way tie in dribbles. If he keeps this up it’s going to be harder and harder to justify letting him walk.
FILIP KOSTIC - 7. Put in a whopping 15 crosses — more than double the next man on the list — and made a game-high five key passes. He’s getting over his post-World Cup funk and is showing why Juve wanted him in the first place.
FABIO MIRETTI - 6. Absolutely beautiful ball for his assist, and was getting into good positions out of the hole for much of the night. This trequartista role still isn’t the best for him — it’s actually arguable that Fagioli is better there — but this was the best he’s played it.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 5. This number was gonna be lower than this, but after he hit the post with his penalty he seemed to come alive in a way he hasn’t in several weeks. Just the fact that he got eight shots off is a positive. He just needs to see a ball cross the line to get over this mental block.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. Got the midfield angled toward the goal a little more than Barrenechea did, and generally kept things moving toward the goal.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6. Provided some spark on the right side that was very much needed to open things up. Was denied a goal by a massive save from Turk. He’s lost a good amount of his burst, but he’s still savvy and shifty enough to make some moves on people, as he showed when he baited Augello into fouling him in the box.
MATIAS SOULE - 6.5. A really good performance off the bench. He moved through the space between Samp’s midfield and defense very well, and was on a mission to find his first senior team goal, which he deservedly got when he was close enough to the rebound on Vlahovic’s stoppage-time header. He seems like he’s learning from Angel Di Maria, and he should maybe get some more looks in this spot.
DANIELE RUGANI - NR. Kept things together for the last seven minutes after Bremer came off.
FEDERICO GATTI - NR. On to sure up the final minutes of the game and made no mistakes.
Allegri had to walk a tightrope between resting players for Freiburg and fielding an effective team. Some workhorses like Kostic and Bremer were used yet again (although there was perhaps a question whether Samuel Iling-Junior could’ve been used to spell Kostic).
But, at the end of the day, he didn’t have all that much choice in team selection, and he made what moves he could. He deserves some props for again picking Barrenechea over Paredes, who needs to play as little as possible over the rest of the season. But the usual impact Allegri could deploy off the bench simply wasn’t there, and he had to go with what he had.
Most impressive, of course, was the fact that Juve didn’t cede the initiative to Samp for any considerable length of time. Apart from the immediate aftermath of the equalizer when they simply looked shell-shocked, the team kept pushing forward and attacked both when ahead and even. This is the attitude Juve should have against teams they’re better than. The question of the day is whether or not Juve will approach Thursday’s game the same way after proving themselves the better team in the first leg against Freiburg.
The second leg of the Europa League Round of 16 kicks off on Thursday evening in Freiburg. Juve will go into Germany with a 1-0 lead, meaning that anything short of a loss would send them through to the quarterfinals. A one-goal defeat would lead to extra time, while any margin bigger than that would see Freiburg go on.
After that there’s only one game left before the international break: a trip to San Siro to face a reeling Inter in the year’s second Derby d’Italia.