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Juventus put aside horror start, crush Salernitana in Coppa Italia opener

The Bianconeri were stung before they could break a sweat, but righted themselves quickly and destroyed their visitors.

Juventus FC v US Salernitana - Coppa Italia Photo by sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

You all had the feeling, didn’t you?

When Federico Gatti’s almighty howler gifted Salernitana a goal within the first 60 seconds of Thursday night’s game, you got that familiar feeling in the pit of your stomach that Coppa Italia Round of 16 matchup would be another one of those slogs Juventus is prone to against inferior teams that probably give fans’ cardiologists a pretty good living. That’s to say nothing about the fact that in the last season and a half, Juventus has only come back to win a game in which they didn’t score first once.

But then something strange happened. Juve recovered quickly, tied the game, went ahead by a goal before the half, and after the interval crushed Salernitana into the dirt with a barrage of goals the likes of which hasn’t been seen since 2018.

By the time proceedings at the Allianz Stadium were over, Juventus had totally run riot on the side from Salerno, keelhauling them by a 6-1 score to propel them into next week’s Coppa Italia quarterfinals against Frosinone.

Massimiliano Allegri kept the usual 3-5-2 formation but made seven changes from the Roma game on Sunday. In keeping with the long-held policy that the Coppa is the realm of the No. 2 goalkeeper, Mattia Perin started between the sticks. Gatti was joined by Daniele Rugani and Danilo in the back three. Andrea Cambiaso started opposite Samuel Iling-Junior in the wing-back spots, while Fabio Miretti, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot manned the midfield. Federico Chiesa made his first start in a few weeks up top, partnering with Arkadiusz Milik.

Filippo Inzaghi countered his old manager with a 4-2-3-1 formation and made plenty of changes of his own after Salernitana won over the weekend. Vincenzo Fiorillo started in goal and captained the side. Flavius Daniliuc, Matteo Lovato, Dylan Bronn, and Junior Sambia made up the back four. Giulio Maggiore and Mateusz Łęgowski formed the double pivot in midfield. The supporting attack line was made up of Loum Tchaouna, Erik Botheim, and Trivante Stewart, with Chukwubuikem Ikwuemesi leading the line.

One would hardly have thought the final score would end up the way it was when the visitors threw down the first hand before a minute had elapsed. It’s difficult to tell exactly what went through Gatti’s mind while under pressure from Łęgowski, but he suffered a massive brain cramp and lofted the ball up over Rugani’s head trying to pass it to him. The ball went straight to the chest of Ikwuemesi, who controlled and slotted home so quickly that Perin didn’t even have the time to try to make himself big to put the striker off.

That “here we go again” feeling started settling in, especially after Salernitana spent the next several minutes immediately pushing toward Juve’s goal to increase their advantage. But that abruptly came to an end about 11 minutes after they took the lead.

The move started with Chiesa, who dribbled around the left side for the better part of 30 seconds before driving down the left side and then stopping and going back in his tracks, dumping Łęgowski on his rear end in the process. That created the window for him to send a cross to the back post. There, Cambiaso waited, unmarked, to head the ball back into the middle. Miretti attacked the space and hit the ball first time and drilled it past Fiorillo to even up the score.

Five minutes later, it looked as though Gatti had redeemed himself when he pushed up in attack and sped towards the right-hand side of the box. Sambia went to ground but came up with only Gatti, and referee Davide Ghersini pointed to the spot immediately. But VAR Gianluca Aureliano called down, correctly determining that the foul had begun outside the box and changing the decision to a free kick. Chiesa got on the defensive clearance of said corner and fired it at goal, but Fiorillo got down to hold it.

Chiesa was the next one to come close as well, trying a top-corner curler cutting after cutting inside and missing by a whisker. The No. 7 was again involved when Juve put themselves in front when his corner was flicked on by Danilo, meeting Cambiaso, who volleyed the ball home to make the score 2-1.

Juventus FC v US Salernitana - Coppa Italia Photo by Chris Ricco - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Inzaghi made two changes at the break, but things started slowly in the second half until another corner kick. This time Iling-Junior tapped it short to Chiesa, who delivered another excellent cross. Milik rose high and slammed a header on frame. Fiorillo parried it, but Rugani was right in front of him as he did so. The center-back didn’t turn the rebound in as much as it hit him and bounced into the net.

The game was essentially put away. The middle period of the half was less than eventful, before the Bianconeri started piling on with 15 minutes to go.

There were exactly 15 minutes to go when Juve first struck further, after Milik intercepted the ball high up the pitch before eventually slotting second-half sub Kenan Yildiz in on goal with the keeper. Fiorillo managed to win the 1-on-1 duel — but the rebound hit Bronn in the leg and bounced into the goal.

It was Yildiz again two minutes from time when he split two defenders — nutmegging Gyomber in the process — before cutting inside, making Lovato look horrible, then pulling his shot back against the grain, easily stroking the ball home while the keeper, anticipating a far-post shot, dove the other way.

But not to be outdone, another sub came up with the game’s exclamation point out of thin air. Timothy Weah had come on along with Yildiz in the 66th minute, and just after the clock tipped into stoppage time he let loose a rocket from 30 yards out that bounced off the bottom of the bar and in, with Fiorillo barely moving, most likely wondering why he had bothered to get out of bed Thursday morning. The final whistle from Ghersini came a moment later, confirming Juve’s best offensive performance in almost six years.

Juventus FC v US Salernitana - Coppa Italia Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images


MATTIA PERIN - 6. A bit shaky on the save that followed the goal — which he obviously bears no responsibility for — but that was the last thing he had to do all day long.

FEDERICO GATTI - 5.5. Solid for the last 89 minutes of the game, but you can’t get a better grade than this with a massive howler like that. What on earth was going through your head, man?

DANIELE RUGANI - 7. Very little in the way of counting stats, but it was a day when the ball was in the opposing half so much that the defenders didn’t have a lot of opportunities to rack them up. When Salernitana did come close to Rugani, he made them regret it. Pretty much nothing got past him, and he was in the right place at the right time to put the ball in the net for the third goal.

DANILO - 8. Led the back line with three tackles and added on two assists. The captain was pretty much everywhere Thursday night.

ANDREA CAMBIASO - 8.5. He owned this game for most of the way. His header to find Miretti for the equalizer was brilliant, as was his finish on the go-ahead goal 20 minutes later. He had 82 touches, racked up three key passes, completed 95 percent of his passes, and threw in a pair of tackles to boot. He’s officially put himself in the undroppable category.

FABIO MIRETTI - 7. This is the kind of game he needs to have on a consistent basis. Only a really good save kept him from a brace in this match, and the goal he did have was very well taken. He found space and attacked it with more decisiveness than we’ve ever really seen. If he can take this performance and run with it, he may get himself off the potential loanee list this month.

Juventus FC v US Salernitana - Coppa Italia Photo by Chris Ricco - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

MANUEL LOCATELLI - 8. This was a true regista’s game from Locatelli. He had 101 touches, completed 95 percent of his passes—including seven of seven long balls and two key passes—won all of his duels (eight on the ground, one in the air) and had five tackles and four interceptions protecting the defense. Simply an immense match, the kind of thing the club paid Sassuolo a bunch of money for.

ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. Not often other midfielders overshadow Rabiot these days, but he was a bit of a background player. He did come close to a goal in the first half (with his right foot no less) but while solid, he wasn’t the difference maker he’s been in games past. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — especially when the rest of the midfield steps up.

SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - 6. With Filip Kostic struggling, this was a chance for Iling-Junior to lay claim to the left wing-back job. He didn’t quite do that, but he didn’t play himself out of the mix either. He had three key passes, but only two of his five dribbles were successful. He did have three tackles, and he played with aggression, so he is still certainly in the conversation, and will be unless Kostic manages to pick things up.

FEDERICO CHIESA - 7.5. The only thing missing from his game today was a goal. He finished the day with six key passes, which was a full quarter of his total pass attempts on the day. His shooting didn’t quite get there, although he came very close with that first-half curler, but he was dangerous every time the ball came to him.

ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 6.5. An understated day that didn’t see a ton of the chances go to him, but that did see him serve as the fulcrum around which so many other players moved to make threatening attacks. His one shot on target was well saved, only to be turned in by Rugani. He remains an excellent option behind Vlahovic.


KENAN YILDIZ - 7. His dribbling ability is a weapon that Juve hasn’t had since Paulo Dybala left. The dribble he took on his way to the goal was the second time that he burst through multiple defenders to score, and his earlier shot forced the own goal. He’s making an aggressive case for playing time.

TIMOTHY WEAH - 7. Had a relatively quiet if mistake-free run out—until he unleashed that lightning bolt of a goal. Here’s hoping that boosts his confidence.

JOSEPH NGONGE - NR. Completed 93 percent of his passes, but didn’t do anything flashy. A solid first team debut.

DUSAN VLAHOVIC - NR. Put his only shot on target and played well in limited time given the fact that Juve started dropping back a little bit more after his introduction.

FILIP KOSTIC - NR. Gave Cambiaso a rest for the last 10 minutes or so.


There was very little to criticize about anything, so my question for Max Allegri now is this: where the hell has this been all season?

This was a heavily rotated team, and it still absolutely dominated Salernitana. Sure, they’re the bottom team in the league, but that’s also kind of the point. Allegri 2.0’s teams have hardly ever put a hurting on inferior teams like this. They have put themselves into trouble, let teams hang around, and — too often — dropped points to the likes of a Monza or Benevento or Maccabi Haifa.

If Allegri wants to go corto muso in games against big teams, that’s fine. But in games like this? Grinding out a 1-0 win is unacceptable. There needs to be a different Juventus that can come into a game against a minnow and layeth the smackdown. Max needs to continue to let this team off the leash in games like this, so they can polish the small sides off early and keep from making the slip-ups that could doom their attempt at making a real run at Inter in the second half of the season.

One other point. This is splitting hairs a bit, but I was a little surprised by some of Allegri’s substitutions. In a game that was well beyond reach, players like Cambiaso and Rabiot were left on the field a lot longer than I thought was necessary. Why Nonge came on for Miretti instead of Rabiot was a surprise, considering the fact that he was the one most likely to be starting on Sunday. I felt the same about the initial change to the wing-back position, when Weah came in for Iling-Junior instead of simply replacing Cambiaso straight-up. Obviously, Allegri knows the fitness levels of his players, but it just seemed odd to keep the team’s more important players out as long as it did when the game was well in hand.


Juve will play Frosinone in the quarterfinals next Thursday on Jan. 11. The winner of that match will play the winner of the match between Roma and Lazio.

Before that, Juve finishes the andata with the second of their quirky back-to-back against Salernitana, traveling south for another game on Sunday.