The thing about being a backup goalkeeper is that you never know when your next appearance in a game is going to be. That means for Mattia Perin, unless there is a Coppa italia game on the horizon, you have to be ready to go every single game even though you might start the night wearing a massive winter coat and chilling with Carlo Pinsoglio.
Thursday became that next appearance for Perin.
And what did the guy who could be a starting goalkeeper across much of Serie A do?
Plain and simple: Perin saved Juventus’ ass.
What started with a whole lot of worry as he came onto the field and replaced Wojciech Szczesny late in the first half while the Pole dealt with shortness of breath turned into absolute joy at the final whistle. That’s in large part to handful of big saves Perin made in the second half after getting a proper amount of warmup time, the biggest being a world-class double save right before stoppage time to keep Juventus’ 1-0 win intact in the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals against Sporting at Allianz Stadium.
It was one of those moments where you see the ball go into the box, see the initial shot taken, have your throat drop into your stomach, see the save and feel a split second of relief only to see the rebound go out to another Sporting player. But, with Perin getting up about as quickly as you can after the initial save, he was able to make an even better save on the second shot from point-blank range.
No goal for Sporting just when you thought they were about to pull a Nantes and pull even on aggregate right before the final whistle and make the second leg that much more a total coin flip.
It was the bookend moment for Perin, who had to make a huge diving save to his left just moments after the second half got underway. Maybe it should have been a clue as to what was going to come. Or maybe the fact that Juve were unable to add a second goal after everybody’s new favorite galoot Federico Gatti got the only goal of the night with just under 20 minutes to go in the second half.
As you might expect knowing how his personality has been out there for all to see. Gatti roared after his first career Juve goal like only a big cat like he is can.
Because he’s just a big lovable dude. He’s the kind of dude you love to root for — just like Perin.
(Also, if you were to tell me back in September that Juventus would grind out a win in the Europa League quarterfinals and the two big heroes would be Gatti and Perin, I would have probably shook my head. And then asked what the odds were on that prop bet before going to the casino and putting a couple of bucks down just for the hell of it.)
Juve weren’t great on this night. The performance that we just watched tells us that. Same goes for pretty much every attacking stat other than goals scored favoring Sporting — and we know why that one number that Juve had more of came about and stayed that way.
This was far from classic European night for Juventus.
But ... BUT ... they won. Thanks to Perin and Gatti first and foremost, they won.
That might not have been something you expected as Juve went into halftime looking far from the team that we saw in the opening 10 or 15 minutes, but sometimes this team just seems to find away no matter how much their overall performance might frustrate you.
That was the case once again Thursday night. And thank goodness Mattia Perin was there to save the day — twice ... within seconds.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Mattia Perin. That’s it.
- The hugs that Perin got from every single one of his Juventus teammates after the final whistle brought me so much joy. That’s appreciation for you teammates, folks.
- Szczesny told DAZN after the game — with Perin right by his side, by the way — that his tears were more out of fear than anything else and that he is feeling much better now. He also described Perin as “the Golden Boy,” which tells you all you need to know about the dynamic between the two top goalkeepers on Juve’s depth chart.
- Szczesny also had a couple of big-time saves before he had to come off, too. So it’s not like he was just standing still during his 40-something minutes on the field.
- Federico Gatti celebrating his goal was so much fun to watch. He’s starting to become more than just a great story and a dude who worked his way up the Italian football ladder to get to where he is today. Now he’s starting to show that he belongs, too.
- And he also clearly wants to be an attacking midfielder whenever possible. I love him.
- That header back into the mix by Dusan Vlahovic right before Gatti’s goal was pretty good, too. I guess, unlike some people on the internet want you to believe, Vlahovic is not a complete waste of space.
- Federico Chiesa played the full 90 and this is something that I would love to see more of going forward the rest of this season. Of course, with the caveat of not putting Chiesa in danger of getting one of those stupid muscle injuries again.
- Chiesa had a good number of instances in which he was one or two touches away from either breaking through or getting past the defender marking him. He did look to get better as the night went on — especially after Allegri made the change of formation with Vlahovic and Nicolo Fagioli coming on — and that is something you like to see from a guy who hasn’t played a ton of minutes.
- This was a big boy game from Bremer. Dude was a stud against Sporting.
- Six clearances, two interceptions, two tackles and a goal line clearance is a pretty good night for Bremer, I’d say. Just an absolute rock at the back.
- Paul Pogba played for less than 10 minutes and made one of the most memorable clearances that you will see from a corner kick this season.
- Pogba being subbed on at the same time as Leandro Paredes in a big European game is something we all expected at the beginning of the season, right? (Maybe don’t answer that.)
- I lost count of all the misplaced passes that Juventus players had in this game. There were just so damn many. So many of them were uncalled for, too.
- Manuel Locatelli had a pass completion percentage of 78 percent and I really was surprised that it was that high. This was a night for Bad Loca, unfortunately.
- Also, as BWRAO cohort Samuel Lopresti noted, there were a few instances of Locatelli dropping so deep that Danilo temporarily slid in and played as a regista. Quirky, ain’t it?
- Arek Milik had 18 touches in 62 minutes.
- RIP to Sporting’s unbeaten run that dates back to February. I’m happy that Juventus ended up being the team that snapped that run. Hopefully Sporting doesn’t start a new one next week, right?
- Two midfielders, especially with who Allegri has available to him, doesn’t really work, does it? I’m not all that surprised that things improved once Max went 4-3-3. It just so happened that Juve scored their goal during that stretch of time.
- We’re right back to where we were when Juve beat Freiburg 1-0 in the round of 16. I’m not expecting a second leg like what we saw in Germany a few weeks back. Juve will most definitely have to be better in Portugal next week if they want to advance to the semifinals — that’s pretty obvious. But hopefully a little squad rotation against Sassuolo over the weekend can set things up nicely for Allegri.