Arkadiusz Milik hadn’t scored a goal in more than 100 days. The last time he’d found the net had been Oct. 7, in the Derby della Mole. He hadn’t played badly since, but had tended to be more of a fulcrum up top than the man finishing moves.
So of course, in Juventus’ Coppa Italia quarterfinal match against Frosinone, the Poland international went and hit a 48-minute hat trick to spearhead another rout in Juve’s cup campaign. His goals ran the gamut from penalties, to sensational finishes, to simple tap-ins, and if not for the offside flag he would’ve had a fourth. Only slightly behind him in the man-of-the-match race — which is saying something when a hat trick is involved — was Weston McKennie, who dropped two gorgeous assists as part of an excellent display in midfield.
It was one of the more dominant individual offensive displays Juve have seen in a while, and it keyed an eventual 4-0 win to send Juve to the semifinals for the fifth straight year.
Massimiliano Allegri celebrated a milestone as the game got underway, as he managed his 400th game for Juventus, a number only eclipsed by Marcello Lippi (who he’ll pass by the end of February unless he gets run over by a bus) and Giovanni Trappatoni. He was missing Federico Chiesa and Adrien Rabiot, along with long-term absentees Alex Sandro, Moise Kean, and Mattia De Sciglio; Andrea Cambiaso and Dusan Vlahovic were only fit for the bench after having battled illness early in the week. Allegri deployed his usual 3-5-2, starting with Mattia Perin in goal. Federico Gatti, Bremer, and Danilo started in the back, while Timothy Weah and Filip Kostic started as wing-backs. McKennie was joined by Manuel Locatelli and Fabio Miretti in the midfield, while Kenan Yildiz joined Milik up top.
Frosinone manager Eusebio Di Francesco’s team had convincingly dispatched reigning league champions Napoli (barf) in the Coppa Italia Round of 16 to reach their first ever quarterfinal, but the coach sent out a surprisingly lightweight starting XI given the circumstances. He was missing Jaime Baez (the goalscorer in Frosinone’s league game with Juve last month), Riccardo Marchizza, and Sergio Kalaj, while Juve loanees Enzo Barrenechea and Matias Soule started from the bench. Di Francesco sent out an uncharacteristic 3-4-2-1 formation. Michele Cerofolini sat at its base, with Simone Romagnoli, Caleb Okoli, and Mateus Lusuardi screening him in defense. Pol Lirola and Luca Garritano flanked Luca Mazzitelli and Marco Brescianini in midfield, while Arijon Ibrahimovic and Abdou Harroui supported Kaio Jorge at the front.
Juve avoided a catastrophic first-minute error like had happened against Salernitana a week ago, but very nearly made another early mistake in the sixth minute when Perin let pressure get too close to him in the box before unloading a weak pass to Miretti at the top of the box. The Juve No. 2 was bailed out when Miretti was fouled, but it was a clear enough warning to get things cleaned up.
But the scoreboard did begin to move early, courtesy of Miretti and Milik. The former had driven himself one-on-three into the left channel. He actually didn’t do that bad a job squeezing through the trio, but it was rendered a moot point when Lirola clattered his knee into the midfielder’s as he went by, giving referee Juan Luca Sacchi an easy decision to point to the spot. Milik stepped up to take it and, despite continuing to use the moon-hop run-up that has proven quite unpopular with fans, easily stroked the spot kick in to his left as Cerofolini went the other way.
The visitors had their first shot on target within two minutes of the game’s resumption, but Harroui’s effort from distance was easy for Perin to grab. Six minutes later, Ibrahimovic had another effort stopped easily. Six minutes later, Kostic thought he’d extended the lead after a scramble in the box, but for the second time in just a couple of weeks he was denied by a goal-mouth block.
Seven minutes before the half, Juve finally did extend their lead. This goal was a two-person show: McKennie for a beautiful lofted pass that dropped on a dime on the edge of the six-yard box, and Milik for a silky chest down and half-volley that nutmegged Cerofolini on its way into the net. Two minutes later, Weah came close to another spectacular long-range effort, and his shot forced Cerofolini into an awkward kick-save as it skipped on the ground just in front of him.
Soule started the second half in place of Ibrahimovic, but the Juve onslaught kept on coming. McKennie was unlucky not to score within 60 seconds of the restart when his shot from the middle of the box was deflected off his intended path and right to the keeper instead. But Milik finished off his hat trick barely two minutes later when Locatelli jumped Matizzelli after Cerofolini passed to him at the top of the box after a short goal kick. The midfielder was immediately one-on-one with the keeper and could’ve had a goal of his own, but he was unselfish and passed it off to Milik, who calmly slotted the ball into the empty net to finish off the Juve’s first hat trick in the Coppa Italia since Alessandro Del Piero notched one against Fiorentina in 2006.
Milik thought he’d had one more 10 minutes later, when he redirected a long effort from Miretti with a cheeky back-heel, but he’d been just offside when Miretti made contact. Less than two minutes after the VAR ruling came down on that play, Juve did find their fourth goal, this time through Yildiz. McKennie was once again the provider with an even better assist than his first one, lofting a long diagonal ball into the left channel that the young Turk measured up and hit a leaping volley into the net to finish off the scoring.
Juve had the occasional half chance for a fifth goal, but neither team came anywhere close to scoring until stoppage time, when Garritano had a clean lane to find a consolation goal but instead looped it over. The final whistle came shortly thereafter, confirming Juve’s next trip to the semifinal against Lazio.
MATTIA PERIN - 6. Had very little to do, apart from stopping a few relatively tame efforts in the first half, but his distribution left a little to be desired and he very nearly made a catastrophic mistake early.
FEDERICO GATTI - 6. A solid day on the defensive line, making three clearances and completing 96 percent of his passes. Earned a somewhat comical yellow card for his latest Leroy Jenkins moment when trying a bicycle kick while already up 4-0 only to catch an opponent.
BREMER - 6.5. Was light on the counting stats — he actually lost five of nine total duels — but also had a couple of non-stat sheet moments that reminded you that oh, yeah, that’s Bremer you’re watching. He also completed 98 percent (!!) of his passes.
DANILO - 6.5. Had two tackles, a block, and a key pass on the other end. He continues to lead this team with gusto.
TIMOTHY WEAH - 6. Had two key passes and came pretty close to another long-range strike, but also failed to use his speed to its best effect on attack and didn’t win any of his three total duels. He’s finding his footing, but there’s definitely room for improvement.
WESTON McKENNIE - 8. Remember when McKennie was signed — and many, many times after that during his tenure with the club — when people whined that he was a terrible passer? I want to hear those people try to back that up after he dropped a pair of Pirlo-esque dimes for assists that could very well both be on my top 15 goals list at the end of the season. He also came dang close to scoring and probably would have had the ball not been deflected back in the direction of the goalkeeper. It was a truly excellent day for him, and it’ll be interesting to see how the team compensates for his absence when he sits out his yellow card suspension on Tuesday.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6.5. Played the regista position well, and deserves a ton of credit for being wholly unselfish and allowing Milik to finish his hat trick when he could have absolutely scored on his own.
FABIO MIRETTI - 6.5. Played with a lot more decisiveness than we saw earlier in the year today. His dribble into three players drew the penalty for the opener — and had Lirola not fouled him he very well might have squeezed through all three of them. He won four of six duels on the ground and notched a pair of key passes. His form is definitely on an upswing, which is good because he’ll be needed Tuesday without McKennie in the lineup.
FILIP KOSTIC - 6. Had three key passes, most of which came early, and registered two tackles and two interceptions on defense. This was better than a lot of his recent work, but there’s still a ways to go before he can be called back on form.
KENAN YILDIZ - 7. That volley was impressive — even more so because it wasn’t hit all that cleanly and still powered past Cerofolini at the near post. Had a key pass besides the goal, and looks more and more exciting by the game.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 8.5. I mean, what else can you say? Dude was absolutely on fire, hitting goals in almost every way you could imagine — oh, and he had a pair of key passes, too! One of the best individual offensive performances the team has seen in a fair bit.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6. Had one really good opportunity on a corner but the ball skipped through a sea of people and he was clearly not expecting it to get all the way to him, getting his head to it late and putting it over. Otherwise, he simply played the game out from the front.
SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - 6. Had his best moments defensively, which frankly puts paid to the idea that he wouldn’t be able to handle the defensive load as a starter. One particular moment that won’t be on the stat sheet came late on when he kept himself in front of Soule as the Argentine was cutting inside and prevented him from getting a shot off.
HANS NICOLUSSI CAVIGLIA - 6.5. Made a pair of key passes and put a shot on target in relief of Locatelli.
ANDREA CAMBIASO - 6. Came close to scoring on a counter when he charged the length of the field, although he maybe could’ve played a teammate in there.
JOSEPH NONGE - NR. Completed all his passes and made a tackle as well in his 12 minutes of work.
***SPECIAL LOANEE RATINGS***
KAIO JORGE - 5. Completely erased by Bremer up front. That’s not something to be ashamed of — Bremer’s done that to a LOT of more experienced strikers this year — but it’s clear what he needs to work on to be successful when he returns from loan.
MATIAS SOULE - 6. Was probably the most dangerous Frosinone player in the game, but that isn’t saying much. Still, his talent is obvious and it’s gonna be a big boost to get him back next year.
ENZO BARRENECHEA - 6.5. Easily the best midfielder Frosinone threw out, and perhaps the best player overall. Completed all 44 of his passes in half an hour of game time, plus a pair of tackles and a header on target off a corner. Frosinone’s midfield was much better when he came on.
There is very little to criticize here, although, like last week’s game against Salernitana, leaves me wondering where the hell this has been all season — and the two seasons prior to that. For a team so clearly capable of this, to have continually held them back so remains maddening.
One interesting thing from not just this game but the last three was the inclusion of Joseph Nonge on the field. After being relatively ignored on the matchday squad for much of the first half of the season, getting action in three straight games — including one that Juve were trailing in when he was sent on — is a great sign for him and perhaps a signal that he’s being prepped to essentially be internal midfield depth we need should no reinforcements come from without. He’s looked good as he goes as well.
The Coppa Italia will resume in April, when Juve will face Lazio in a two-legged tie for the semifinal. The dates of those games aren’t officially official yet, but are thought to be on or around April 3 and 24.
In the more immediate future, Juve will look to avenge their only loss of the year when Sassuolo arrives in Turin on Tuesday, followed by a trip to Lecce the next Sunday.