More than 20,000 fans bore witness at Citi Field stadium Tuesday, as Juventus FC dropped by New York City and showed the first signs of progress of Antonio Conte’s pre-season. The Bianconeri’s 1-0 victory over Club América (the second match of their North American Tour 2011) came courtesy of a wondergoal by Primavera product Cristian Pasquato, and was by no extent a marvel performance. However it highlighted clear improvements at the team’s organizational and tactical level, particularly the defense, wings, and central midfield. Pirlo was Pirlo, Krasic showed us a taste of his pre-Christmas form, Chiellini/Buffon shut up shop at the back. In other words: Juve isn’t quite there yet, but getting close.
Note this game was almost canceled at the last minute, and for a rather peculiar reason. As our North-American readers surely know, Citi Field is the home stadium of MLB’s New York Mets: as such, its field certainly isn’t tailored for hosting events like a soccer match. Special adaptations had therefore to be taken and, given we’re right in the middle of the baseball season, stadium officials ensured these were no more than temporary.
Well, as the Bianconeri stepped onto the pitch for pre-match warm-up Tuesday, they were horrified to discover just how temporary these adaptations would be. Indeed, the diamond’s infield and home plate (normally covered in dirt) had been patched up (but not replaced) with a coat of grass, effectively creating a layer several centimeters higher than the rest of the field! Shocked by this unevenness, the Juve players nonetheless decided to play the match anyway “out of respect for the fans coming to see us”.
Juventus donned their traditional Black & White stripe shirts and Conte fielded his customary 4-2-4 formation for this game. Compared to their previous match vs. Sporting Lisbon, four new players started things off, namely Bonucci, De Ceglie, Del Piero, and Pasquato in lieu of Barzagli, Ziegler, Quagliarella, and Pazienza.
Certainly waiting to see what Marotta’s mercato still has in store, Conte is making a point to test his Primavera wingers during this tour, particularly on the left flank. While we wait for a Bastos or a Vucinic (to name just two of Juve’s targets), Juventini worldwide can rest assured: there’s some real quality back-ups sitting on bench albeit at the youth level. Indeed, surfing the wave of De Silvestro’s good performance in Toronto, the best things we saw in the game’s initial minutes came precisely from Pasquato, the young winger often finding himself into space ready to exploit Pirlo’s millimetric passing.
Speaking of Pirlo, this game highlighted just how much a playmaking dynamo like Andrea can bring to Juve’s midfield in terms of technical quality: literally every dangerous opening, promising cross, penetrating ball… all came from Pirlo’s feet, with the ex-Rossonero certainly intending to prove he’s far from being “past it”. Tuesday’s performance can only give him reason. Pirlo’s partnership with Marchisio in the middle (re-shuffled to his natural position after Saturday’s mezza’ala appearance) was particularly interesting, because Marchisio essentially covered the role of the gritty defensive midfielder Arturo Vidal is going to be the rest of the season, recuperating balls to feed his partner while providing good passing quality of his own. With these two as alternatives to pair up with Pirlo, Conte shouldn’t be too worried about his central midfield options.
At any rate, the first half-hour didn’t offer much in terms of scoring chances. Matri was the most lively of the two Juve forwards, getting shots in on two separate occasions (the first receiving a low ball from ADP on the left, making some space for himself and trying a diagonal effort; the second exploiting a cross from Lichtsteiner and attempting to delicately instep the ball with his back to the goal) but landing them wide. For his part, ADP’s only real shot of the match came after a De Ceglie run * pass on the left wing: his service set up the Juve captain 20 yards out right in “Zona” territory, but ADP’s magic didn’t turn on today and he landed the ball in row Z.
Speaking of De Ceglie, it wasn’t Paolo’s most brilliant performance this evening. The left-back seemed timid at best and nervous at worst, often gifting the ball to the opponent and not providing any real push up the park to overlap with Pasquato. Much unlike what Lichsteiner/Krasic were doing on the opposite wing, the Serbian midfielder creating all sorts of problems to his direct opponents and teaming up well with the Swiss right-back’s overlapping runs.
It was precisely through one of these runs that Juve would open the scoreline in the 41st minute: Pirlo opened to Krasic, who then left it to Lichtsteiner running full-steam ahead to get the byline. The Swiss’s cross from the right, poorly cleared by the Club América goalkeeper and landing to Cristian Pasquato at the left-hand corner of the area, eventually became an assist for the Primavera kid who armed a cracker of a half-volley right into the top corner, leaving Navarrete to scratch his head. 1-0 Juventus and a very beautiful effort by last year’s on-loan Modena player.
Just before the half ended, club América had a golden chance to tie the game when a rapid counter-attack found Benitez into the area, sidestepping Lichtsteiner and creating an avenue towards Buffon. Yet the Ecuadorian’s low effort found the ready hands of Gigi to parry into corner, Juve’s #1 clearly showing the “You Shall Not Pass” sign. Note that around the 33rd minute, the game had been suspended by the referee due to the very heavy rain, wind, and thunderstorm operating above Citi Field. The teams had to wait 30+ minutes before it was safe to play again.
In the second half, Club América vividly demonstrated their intent to get an equalizer by switching five of their players and attacking with a lot more conviction in the initial minutes. However the Juve defense kept close guard, led by a concentrated Chiellini and attentive Bonucci, also helped by a hard-working De Ceglie (who at least, for lack of providing much offensively, gave a hand to his backline).
Much like before, excitement and scoring chances left something to be desired in the half’s first 30 minutes, the only highlight being a Matri opportunity in front of the net (good pass by Lichtsteiner) stopped only by the linesman for an offside position. During this particular period of play Conte seemed to really want to test his players, as indeed Juve’s first changes came as late as the 71st minute, but not before Del Piero had twice demonstrated clear things of fatigue by losing seemingly simple balls. Still, that didn’t prevent the Juventus supporters from giving the Bianconero captain a standing ovation as he left the field, but that was to be expected…
So off came Chiellini, De Ceglie, Pirlo, ADP, Matri, and Krasic; on came Barzagli, Ziegler, Pazienza, Quagliarella, Toni, and Immobile. Juve’s formation essentially remained unchanged, with Immobile occupying the rather unusual role of right-winger in lieu of Krasic.
This new set-up of players however, it must be said, looked VERY shaky from the moment they came in all the way down to the final whistle. Despite Conte’s efforts to bark orders from the touchline, Juve lost much of their flowing passing we saw in the first half. Defensively particularly, the concentration level seemed to drop considerably (something that can only be partly explained with Chiellini’s exit) and Toni & Quagliarella rarely ever received playable balls from midfield. It was natural then to see Club América multiply their efforts and dangerous crosses from either side, which were more-or-less neutralized (eventually) by the Juventus backline. The Mexicans’ best chance actually came moments from the final whistle, a dodgy Juve clearance landing onto the feet of Trevino, whose 25-yard left-footed cannonball went narrowly over.
Ironically, Juventus could have almost doubled their lead just two minutes prior: Pasquato did a great move in the middle and stormed off on the left wing, crossing it to a completely unmarked Immobile on the far post. However, Ciro’s one-time volley attempt was a horror to look at and a very good chance went begging. Full-time score: 1-0 Juventus.
- A definite improvement by Juve this match (at least for 73′): good ball control, lively movement especially by the wingers well-supported by the wing-backs (Lichtsteiner in particular); Pirlo = the motor of midfield with his passes, Marchisio a good partner for him.
- Matri/ADP rather anonymous, with the exception of some good half-chances for Matri
- Post-73rd min: new players came ib, lots of confusion on the field, lots of lost balls, no more midfield dynamo (Pazienza’s no Pirlo), no good balls ever arriving to Toni/Quags. Defensively rather panicky: losing commanding presence that is Chiellini can only partly explain it, need to do better.
- Best players tonight: Pirlo, Pasquato, Krasic, Lichtsteiner, Marchisio…
Not so good: De Ceglie
ONE instance of defensive amnesia: Buffon/Chiellini
|GOALSCORERS: 41′ Pasquato (J).
| JUVENTUS (4-2-4): Buffon – Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini (73′ Barzagli), De Ceglie (73′ Ziegler) – Marchisio (88′ Marrone), Pirlo (71′ Pazienza) – Krasic (71′ Immobile) – Matri (71′ Toni), Del Piero (71′ Quagliarella), Pasquato (90′ Giandonato). Coach: Conte. (UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: Manninger, Storari, Motta, Grygera, Sorensen).
| CLUB AMÉRICA (5-3-2): Navarrete (46′ Gonzalez) – Aguilar (76′ Trevino), Pimentel (46′ Valenzuela), Mosquera (79′ Medina), Rejes (73′ Layun), Castillo (46′ Rojas) – Rosinei (64′ Corral), Montenegro (46′ Acuna), Molina (68′ Marquez) – Benitez (46′ Vuoso), Sanchez (58′ Joaquin Martinez). Coach: Reinoso.
What They Said After the Game:
The reactions I wanted I got against Sporting Lisbon as well, considering that we’re deeply immersed in our preparation. We’re dealing with important tests against top-class sides.
Sporting are going to play in the Champions League’s qualifying stages, Club America have already started their championship. Perhaps we aren’t 100% ready for them, but these games can tell us who we are and how far we can get. Were we in better in shape than we were in Toronto? Well, it’s not fundamental. The most important thing is that the team starts playing good football and increase their confidence level.
I saw the keeper out of the sticks, I shot the ball and it landed into the top-right corner. What a fantastic feeling! I really wanted to do well tonight, because it was my first game of the tour. I really could not have hoped for anything better. Besides we played in a splendid stadium and honestly I’m not used to facilities like this one… Really a day to remember.