A hard-earned win to welcome back Antonio Conte last weekend in Sicily – notwithstanding a similar grind midweek in the first coppa tie – Juventus began the weekend a full 4 points clear at the top of the Serie A table. Combined with a Saturday Lazio win over Inter during their Saturday tie, Juventus went into Sunday with the chance to extend their lead as much seven full points after 17 weeks of play.
MATCH ANALYSIS (ESPN Soccernet)
Juventus came from behind to set a new league record of 94 points in a calendar year thanks to a 3-1 win over Cagliari.
Mauricio Pinilla put the Sardinians in front in the 16th minute, but a brace from Alessandro Matri, after Arturo Vidal had missed a penalty, turned the game around. Mirko Vucinic added a third deep into stoppage time while Cagliari ended the game with 10 men with Davide Astori picking up two yellow cards.
Cagliari were on their travels again, choosing Parma this time as their base for the final match of 2012 after their Is Arenas home was once again denied a safety certificate. The proximity to Turin, however, meant that the majority of the fans inside the Stadio Tardini were officially supporting the away team, which became particularly evident when a penalty was awarded to Cagliari in the 15th minute.
Vidal fouled Marco Sau inside the penalty area, and after a moment of hesitation and consultation with the referee behind the goal, a penalty was given. Pinilla stepped up and sent his shot high into the top left-hand corner of the goal.
At other end, a cross from Kwadwo Asamoah passed close in front of Fabio Quagliarella, who was not able to pounce from close range. Juventus had their own penalty claims, the first of which came in the 39th minute when Astori held Quagliarella, who went to ground. Their next appeal came in the 64th minute when Asamoah headed wide after receiving a nudge in the back, but again the referee said no.
That chance came after Leonardo Bonucci hit the crossbar and Matri’s shot was saved by Michael Agazzi. A minute later, Astori was sent off for a second yellow card, but it still took the Bianconeri time to make their pressure count. They got the penalty they were looking for in the 71st minute when Dario Del Fabro tripped Sebastian Giovinco, but Vidal wasted the chance, blazing the ball over the crossbar for his second spot-kick failure this season.
Juve finally drew level in the 75th minute through Matri, who pounced after Mirko Vucinic’s shot was only parried by Agazzi. Agazzi made a stunning one-handed stop to push Asamoah’s header onto the post and then kick the rebound clear in the 89th minute as it looked like 10-man Cagliari were going to hold on.
However, two minutes into stoppage time, Matri scored his second when Vidal blocked Nene’s clearance and the ball fell kindly for the former Cagliari striker to slot in. Three minutes later, Vucinic made sure Giovinco’s bundled shot crossed the line to seal one more win for Juventus in 2012.
LE PAGELLE (by Aaron Giambattista)
Buffon 6.0 – Had virtually nothing to do all match other than pick the ball up out of the net. Was beaten for the first time since the away match against Milan, where he was also beaten by a penalty. Pinilla hit it hard and accurately though, it’d have been very difficult to save.
Barzagli 6.5 – Rarely troubled by Cagliari’s attackers. The few genuine attacking threats were taken care of by Andrea.
Bonucci 6.5 – Played more importantly as a vice-Pirlo, building plays out of defense, than he actually did as a central defender. Closed Cagliari’s attackers down with ease, and on the other end of the pitch, hit the post with a powerful header. It isn’t said much, but Leo is an absolute guarantee now. Last year, he still had a few sloppy errors here and there, but he’s completely eliminated those thus far this season.
Caceres 5.0 – Martin came on as a replacement for the injured Chiellini, but looked rusty, and not surprisingly- the Uruguayan has been used very infrequently this season. Didn’t look comfortable in defense and for a player with solid offensive abilities like Martin, was poor in supporting the attack. Extended playing time will certainly improve his form.
62′ Padoin 6.5 – The 62nd minute must be Simone time, as it was the 2nd match in a row that Padoin subbed on at that time. Did his job effectively as a fullback, providing width and crossing.
Lichtsteiner 6.0 – Sort of an odd match from Stephan. Wasn’t seen too much on the right flank in the first half, started cutting in and playing centrally in the second half but wasn’t terribly effective in doing so. Was subbed out to add Mirko Vucinic into a 4-3-3.
73′ Vucinic 7.0 – Came on after Matri and the duo combined in last years’ 4-3-3 to change the match. His shot was parried by Agazzi into Matri’s first goal, and he tapped in from Giovinco’s shot as the match ended to make it 3-1. Determined.
Vidal 4.0 – Arturo was dominant against Atalanta, but looked like he was already on vacation for the Cagliari match. Didn’t touch the ball much in the first half, and was booked early on as he recklessly tackled Sau to give away a penalty. Went to take a penalty that would tie up the game with 15 minutes to go, and blazed it well over the box. Needs to thank the rest of the team for bailing him out.
Pirlo 6.5 – Looked uninventive (for Pirlo at least) in the first half, but grew into the game with the rest of the team. Illuminating passing in the second half- he cut Cagliari apart with his diagonal passing.
Marchisio 7.0 – A good portion of the team looked like they were already on Christmas vacation, but il Principino never gives less than 100%. Compensated for Vidal’s poor performance with his running in midfield, as he recovered twice the balls that the Chilean did. Took a few efforts on goal as well.
Asamoah 6.5 – Lichtsteiner would have done well to have seen how the Ghanian was cutting into the middle. In a wide position he didn’t create chances or threaten the goal, but twice burst into the box to attack Agazzi’s goal. Should’ve won a penalty for a push from behind, and also should’ve bagged a goal when he incredibly headed wide from a perfect Matri cross.
Quagliarella 5.0 – Fabio made his return from his club-imposed ban against Atalanta, and looked hungry for a goal, scoring an offside chance. There was none of that against Cagliari, as he never really troubled the goal. In fairness, he played in the half where everyone looked poor, but the only thing of note all match for Quagliarella was his penalty shout when he was dragged to the ground.
60′ Matri 7.5 – We’ve finally seen a return of what Matri can add to this team- we can only hope this leads to more performances like this. Came onto the match and changed it- scored the match winning brace, and delivered a perfect cross that Asamoah should’ve converted into a goal. Those two goals were finishes none of our other strikers could really score- a classic poacher.
Giovinco 7.0 – Another great performance from Giovinco, who was fantastic against Atalanta. Created chances, won a penalty, got Astori sent off, and slotted a goal that Vucinic poached from him Inzaghi-Del Piero style. His movement and creativity caused Cagliari many problems.
Conte 6.0 – The team looked very poor in the first half, perhaps already thinking of their Christmas vacation or individual vacations to Dubai. Whatever Conte yelled at them at half-time seemed to have worked, as the team looked hungry and determined in the 2nd half. Other teams might have despaired after missing a penalty at 1-0 in the 72nd minute, but Juventus scored the equalizer only 3 minutes later.
ANALYSIS WRAP-UP (by Aaron Giambattista)
Last weekend, Juventus marked a dominating 3-0 victory against Atalanta by celebrating a “title” as Winter Champions at home. This week, the team marked another impressive (yet ultimately meaningless) milestone: in securing 3 points against Cagliari, Juventus has set the Serie A record for the most amount of points in a calendar year: 94.
The team is now a comfortable 8 points ahead of 2nd-placed Lazio, 9 points ahead of Inter, and 17 ahead of once-upon-a-time rivals Milan. Last year, the team spent winter break in the Middle East, earning a bit of dough for the club and sun for the players, but there will be none of that this year- Conte has insisted the team stays at Vinovo.
It’s for the best. We have a very busy Spring coming up, the boys are still very competitive in all 3 competitions. The team has Milan in the Coppa Italia, Celtic in the Champion’s League, and 19 more Serie A games to go. It’s time to get rest in Torino now before the triple assault.
ANTONIO CONTE IL NOSTRO CAPITANO!
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