A week ago, Juventus opened the 2012 pre-season with a 7-1 victory over Serie D side Aygreville, followed by two mini-games against AC Milan and Internazionale in the annual TIM Trophy. This week-end, after having cancelled their North-American tour and with still the majority of their core players (Buffon, Chiellini, Pirlo etc.) absent, the team traveled to Germany for their first genuine 90-minute pre-season match to face off against recently relegated (ex) Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin.
With the Euro 2012 contingent left at home, as well as Reto Ziegler and Mirko Vucinic due to illness and injury, Antonio Conte veered off a heavily rotated lineup for Saturday’s friendly. In a novel center-back role, Stephan Lichtsteiner lined up in defense in Juve’s typical 3-5-2, along with the once again impressive Alberto Masi and Lúcio. The Brazilian subbed off the pitch at half-time, setting up yet another defensive experiment for Conte, namely using Luca Marrone as the leader of the defense.
In midfield and attack, it was a good opportunity for lesser-used players (the aforementioned Marrone, Pazienza, Quagliarella, and even one Milos Krasic) to see some playing time, as well as several Primavera youngsters (Untersee, Bouy, Gab.Appelt, Boakye). Several of these elements only made a short appearance on the Olympiastadion pitch, but impressed nonetheless.
It was quite clear Hertha Berlin were ahead in their season preparations (the German side start their championship this upcoming weekend), as they attacked with pace, determination, and used the wings to great effect. The only reason Juve kept a clean sheet was thanks to some great goalkeeping by Marco Storari, as well as poor finishing from the German capital club.
The match was a great experience for the Bianconeri nonetheless, despite suffering for long portions of the game. Young and new players got a decent run out, getting capital minutes in the Juventus senior team and their first taste of Conte’s 3-5-2 system, a formation which appears to be here for the long haul. There was certainly more confusion than in normal matches, and thus, some gaps for Hertha Berlin to attack, but overall the 90 minutes gave rise to a positive experience for the fringe members of the squad.
Indeed, it was two “unwanted” players who made their mark. Early in the match, served by Vidal on the right side and capping a lightning-fast counterattack maneuver, Alessandro Matri dribbled around the keeper and rolled the ball into goal from a very tight angle. The former Cagliari striker has been under the spotlight all summer, identified as the most likely player to be used in a part-exchange deal (it appears Conte does not favor him), and that has affected his morale. Hopefully this goal can help Ale32, at least from an emotional standpoint.
Meanwhile, Milos Krasic has been in need of an psychological boost as well, and the out-of-favor Serbian winger was a bit of a surprise pick to go to Germany. It’s possible he was either added to the squad to make up the numbers, or attempt to drum up interest within Germany, as Milos has long been associated with a move to the Bundesliga. Krasic didn’t play excellent, losing many balls in his characteristic one-dimensional I-Run-At-My-Opponent-Full-Steam-Ahead dribbling, but looked a lot more confident than the shell of a player he was in the last season. With the last kick of the game, Meelosh hit a curling long shot from well outside the box into the left hand corner, making it 2-0 with a sublime finish.
With that, the referee called an end to the game, making it a flattering, yet decent two-goal win for the Bianconeri in Teuton land.
In terms of individual performances, standing high above the rest was young defender Alberto Masi, who was once again particularly impressive in central defense, emanating a maturity many years beyond his 19 and playing with the coolness & leadership of a veteran. He certainly could be a contender to stay at Juventus in this upcoming season.
Another youngster who proved his worth was Luca Marrone. The midfielder has been forgotten when speaking of potential future Juventus central midfielders (Pogba, Verratti, Appelt, etc) yet displays dynamism and cynicism whenever on the pitch. Marrone displayed these qualities against Hertha Berlin, distributing wonderfully as a playmaker, before stepping back and playing as a central defender to a solid level. He has the abilities and mental toughness to go far.
The only other note of this match was Milos Krasic‘s goal. Il Talismano has been left out of the squad in recent months and in pre-season as well, and is certain to leave Juventus this summer. While fans still love Milos for his electric displays under Delneri, it’s obvious that he does not fit this squad, formation, or tactics. Thus, in perhaps his last-ever performance in a Black & White shirt, the man who paid €10,000 of his own pocket in order to come watch Juve’s Villar Perosa friendly on time, bid goodbye to his future ex-fans with a rare piece of a beauty. A goal showing a glimpse of the talent that yet undoubtedly remains in those golden locks.
PLAY-BY-PLAY (by Marco Pantanella)
|17′||Ugh. Missed the first 15 minutes. Getting up at 9am on a Saturday is effing hard, even for Juventus. Anyways, here we go.|
|18′||Great ball by Marrone towards Quagliarella on the right. Eta Beta slips inside the box and the play dies down.|
|19′||Another ball towards the right wing, this time for Padoin. This time it’s the ball that slips, skidding off the wet surface and into touch.|
|20′||Rough tackle by Lúcio on Beichler. In a competitive game, the Brazilian would have been booked but he apologizes to the ref and the player.|
|20′|| GOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL JUVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!
|20′||The Goal: Instantaneous counter-attack by Juventus! Storari throws it quickly to Vidal, who advances on the right side and puts an inch-perfect through ball for Ale Matri. He skips past the keeper and still with a difficult angle, deposits the ball into the empty net. 1-0 Juventus!!|
|22′||Substitution Juve: Untersee comes on for De Ceglie. Not a fitness-related sub we hope.|
|22′||Meanwhile the SkySport Italia commentary tells us Untersee is very good friends with Lichtsteiner, even before he came to Juventus. Interesting.|
|24′||Long ball by Masi all the way to the front towards Quagliarella. The Hertha defense heads it back to the keeper.|
|25′||BEICHLER!! Long-range one-time effort that takes a bounce in front of Storari, who has to dive to his left to keep the ball out!|
|26′||Good last-ditch tackle by Untersee to block a very dangerous Hertha initiative, stemming from a beautiful backheel.|
|27′||Masi showing some very decent personality in the back there. In the case of a lengthy Bonucci CalcioScommesse suspension, it is very likely Juve will choose to keep the young defender in Turin this season.|
|29′||Masi again to clear out a Djeng cross. Ball returns to the Hertha player, but he’s closed down very well by Padoin! Corner for the Germans.|
|31′||Great Lúcio coverage to clear a Masi mistake, who had gifted the ball to an opponent.|
|32′||NDJENG HITS THE POST!!! From the far right, what is bviously a cross by the German-Cameroonian midfielder fools Storari by its trajectory, and ends its course onto the far post! The ball then bounces out and is cleared, but a big scare there for Juve!|
|33′||Excellent recovery by Vidal, who steals back the ball and sets up Marrone’s long ball for Matri on the left side. Ale32 bamboozles his marker and eventually finds the space for a cross to Quagliarella, but it’s intercepted by Burchert, the Hertha keeper.|
|35′||Meanwhile a big chant of “Antonio Conte nostro capitano” can be heard from the Olympiastadion stands!|
|36′||Ndjeng tries his luck from long-range and from the right. Way over and wide.|
|37′||DANGER JUVE!! Fast incursion by Untersee on the right side, he crosses it low for Matri but Hubnik gets his foot in just in time to clear the ball!! CK Juventus.|
|37′||On the ensuing corner, Lúcio powers the header in. It’s no problem for the Hertha keeper but the Brazilian stays down. It takes a great run by Vidal to break down the Hertha counter-attack before the referee stops play, and allows the physios to step onto the pitch.|
|39′||After a good dose of magic spray, Lúcio is back on the field.|
|39′||Masi in defense gets to the ball before Kachunga. He’s fouled.|
|40′||Lovely interchange between Padoin and Quagliarella, who sets up the former with a backheel and sends him down the left wing. Padoin tries to skip past the last Hertha player but is blocked.|
|41′||Asamoah is dispossessed in midfield and sets up the Hertha Counter. Ndjeng crosses it low for Kachunga but the pass is too deep and the play dies down.|
|43′||Quite interesting how Juve’s defense lines up with the opponent in possession. A very narrow 5-3-2, with the midfielders giving added support to the D-line and Quags/Matri staying isolated up front but still very much in their own half, close to their teammates.|
|43′||QUAGLIARELLA! Long ball towards Eta Beta who’s onside, but he takes too long to get it under control and his final effort is deflected into corner!|
|44′||Off the ensuing set piece, great penetration by Asamoah on the left wing. He crosses it for Masi who almost connects with the winning header.|
|45′||Half-time. Hertha Berlin may have started their pre-season earlier than Juve (and the difference in fitness shows), but it’s the Bianconeri in the lead after 45 minutes!|
|•||Several players are getting ready to come on for both teams. Just spotted Michele Pazienza. On Hertha’s side, according to the commentator, several starting eleven elements.|
|46′||Substitutions Juve: Pazienza & Boakye come on for Lúcio & Matri.|
|46′||With Lúcio’s exit, who had picked up a knock late in the first half, it seems that… Luca Marrone will play in central defense for the last 45 minutes! Interesting experiment by Conte there!|
|47′||Meanwhile according to the SkySport commentator, Hertha have switched to a 4-2-4 line-up, Antonio Conte-style!|
|49′||Schulz cross from the left. Storari raises his arms and grabs the aerial ball.|
|51′||Another dangerous incursion by Hertha. Ben Sahar manages to find Ramos inside the box, but his effort is scuffed and doesn’t trouble Storari much.|
|53′||After an initial phase where he seemed to occupy the left, Marrone has now switched to the center of the backline. Masi has taken Lúcio’s spot on the center-left.|
|54′||Great cover by Asamoah to clear a looping cross for Ramos. He even earns a free kick.|
|55′||Hertha completely dominating the last 10 minutes.|
|55′||BEN-HATIRA!!! Through on the right, he has space for the right-footed shot but waits too long (he’s a lefty) and fires it straight at Storari!! Corner Hertha! On the ensuing set piece, Storari punches it away into touch.|
|56′||BEN-HATIRA again!! The long throw is misjudged by the Juve defense and finds the German-Tunisian completely unmarked 6 yards in front of Storari!! But his header is dreadful and Storari recovers!!|
|57′||Counter Juventus. Untersee on the right, crosses it for Quagliarella but it’s too long. Play continues. Vidal eventually gets the ball on the edge of the box and tries his effort! Wide of the mark.|
|59′||Great cover by Marrone to stop a Ben Sahar incursion into the box. On the ensuing corner, Ben-Hatira finds the header of Hubnik but it’s over and wide!|
|60′||Juve dispossessed again. Ramos skips past Vidal on the right side, crosses it for Ben Sahar, who thinks he’s Del Piero and tries to curl it to the far post. Horribly over and wide.|
|61′||While Marrone continues to lead the Juve backline, Milos Krasic has gotten up from the Juve bench.|
|61′||Asamoah commits a foul on the edge of the Juve box, at the right corner. FK Hertha.|
|62′||RONNY!! Tries to send it low towards the bottom-right corner. The Juve wall parts like the Red Sea and makes it easy for him: Storari is not happy! Just a yard wide of the mark!|
|63′||Substitution Juve: Krasic comes on for Quagliarella.|
|64′||It seems like Meelosh will play… striker alongside Boakye!|
|65′||Hertha aggressively looking for the equalizer. Ramos on the right with space fires it hard at Storari, who holds the ball. Lichtsteiner is extremely angry with the linesman for a non-offside call.|
|67′||In its current set-up the Juve backline is, at the moment, varying intermittently between interestingly solidly and worryingly shambolic. Primavera center-back Daniel Rugani seems to be ready to come on.|
|68′||Substitution Juve: Rugani comes on for Masi. Very good game by young Alberto there.|
|70′||Krasic through into space on the left. He skips past his marker and is brought down, just on the edge of the box.|
|71′||From the FK, Vidal aims it a few yards over the crossbar.|
|72′||A great Juventus counter almost turns into a good opportunity for Krasic, but the last cross by Padoin is intercepted. Before that, the ball had beautifully transitioned from Untersee through to Boakye, Asamoah, to Padoin.|
|73′||Now Hertha full steam ahead, with Ben Sahar finding Ben-Hatira with space on the left but he over-hits his cross. The play dies down.|
|74′||In the last two Juventus plays, we just saw why Milos Krasic just “doesn’t work” at Juve anymore. He keeps running straight at his opponent, mostly getting dispossessed. Completely out of phase…|
|75′||Substitution Juve: Gabriel Appelt comes on for Asamoah.|
|78′||Rather generous FK decreed by the referee for the home team, punishing a late Vidal challenge on Ramos.|
|79′||Off the ensuing Hertha set piece, Rugani powers a ball-clearing header.|
|80′||BEN SAHAR HITS THE POST!!! Off a Bastians cross from the left, the Israeli forward hits the frame of the post with a moderately-powered header!! The second woodwork of the night for Hertha!! The ball stays in then is somehow cleared by the Juve backline.|
|81′||Substitution Juve: Bouy comes on for Vidal.|
|82′||The second half has been almost a complete Hertha Berlin monologue. With Juventus intent at trying to keep the ball out of their net.|
|87′||Krasic finally making himself useful. Inside the Hertha box on the left, manages to get rid of two defendera and tries to cross it hard and low towards Bouy. The keeper somehow gets a hand on it and recovers the ball.|
|90′|| GOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL JUVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!
|90′||The Goal: Well would you look at that. A ray of light in a very cloudy day, but what bright light it is. Finalizing a beautiful passing combination by Juventus, the Serbian midfielder picks up a rolling ball from Untersee and curls a magisterial effort into the top-right corner form 25 yards. 2-0 Juventus!!|
|90′||FULL TIME. No injury time says the referee. Despite being outplayed physically for much of the match and dominated for an entire 45 minutes in the second half, Juve pick up a very flattering (but deserved, for their conversion rate) 2-0 victory in Berlin. Many positives emerging from Germany today, particularly the excellent performance of Alberto Masi.|
|GOALSCORERS: 21′ Matri (J), 90′ Krasic (J)
| HERTHA BERLIN (4-4-2): Burchert (46′ Sprint) – Ndjeng (75′ Bastians), Hubnik (89′ Neumann), Brooks (89′ Mukhtar), Schulz (75′ Morales) – Beichler (46′ Ramos), Niemeyer (46′ Lustenberger, Kluge (46′ Ronny), Knoll (46′ Ben-Sahar) – Kachunga (46′ Ben-Hatira), Allagui (46′ Wagner) COACH: Luhukay.
| JUVENTUS (3-5-2): Storari – Lichtsteiner, Masi (69′ Rugani), Lúcio (46′ Pazienza) – Padoin, Vidal (81′ Buoy), Marrone, Asamoah (75′ Gab. Appelt), De Ceglie (’21 Untersee) – Matri (46′ Boakye), Quagliarella (63′ Krasic). COACH: Conte.
UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: Leali, Branescu.
UNAVAILABLE: Buffon (recently returned to training – RRtT), Chiellini (RRtT), Bonucci (RRtT), Barzagli (RRtT), Ziegler (gastroenteritis), Pirlo (RRtT), Marchisio (RRtT), Giaccherini (RRtT), Isla (injd), Giovinco (RRtT), Vucinic (muscular fatigue).
REMAINED IN TURIN: Motta, Melo, Iaquinta.