Milan needed to win this match. While unbeaten in calendar year 2013, the Rossoneri only sat 1 point ahead of 4th-placed Fiorentina going into this match. Milan were no longer trying to meet Napoli in 2nd to avoid the Champion’s League preliminaries, but now attempting to preserve their status in the elite competition for the coming football year. Juventus had already more or less sealed the title, but this was a battle against old rivals. While it wasn’t too shocking that the Bianconeri played this match without much urgency, Milan’s apathy was quite surprising, as they fell to Juventus 1-0 in a dull and uneventful affair.
MATCH ANALYSIS by John Cascarano
Napoli began the day with a 3-2 win over Cagliari, leaving Juventus with seven points left to clinch their second consecutive and 31st overall Scudetto. Antonio Conte decided to line up with the 3-5-1-1 which was teased during Champions League training, and served the team so well last week in Rome against Lazio. Milan meanwhile had to do without Mario Balotelli who is rather surprisingly serving a ban for misconduct, and thus started a trident of Pazzini, El Sharaawy, and Robinho.
Milan looked to control possession from the outset, serving up a couple of runs coordinated by their trident resulting in two outside shots from Robinho and El Sharaawy within the first five minutes. Both, however, were fired straight at Buffon, who had little trouble stifling them.
At the 7th minute, Juventus had a dangerous opportunity in the zona di Pirlo, after a handball by Robinho just outside the penalty box gave a free kick in the Maestro’s comfort zone. Pirlo’s direct shot ricocheted off the box nearly resulting in an Alaba-on-Buffon type goal, but Abbiati was somehow able to turn his body back despite moving in the opposite direction, and pushed the ball aside.
Not much occurred for the next few minutes, with both teams looked to at a stalemmate early on, until the 15th minute when Marco Amelia was subbed on for Abbiati. The Milan keeper walked gingerly off the pitch, while fans whistled for Amelia to begin play again. He did and shortly thereafter Paul Pogba almost scored a Quagliarella type bicycle kick wonder goal off a perfectly placed cross by Lichtsteiner.
In the 27th minute, Milan again looked to build a fruitful play when Montolivo cheekily deflected a pass onwards to Abate running down the right side, who crossed low to Robinho, but the Brazilian just couldn’t put it away at the near post. Shortly thereafter, Pirlo had another chance on a free kick in almost the same spot as earlier, which appeared to again be deflected but this time right into the hands of Amelia.
Things continued rather slowly for the rest of the half. A buildup of play from the right side by Juventus lead to another near-perfect cross by Lichtsteiner to Vucinic who surprisingly could not finish. At around the 40 minute mark, Marchisio — playing as a more advanced trequartista/second striker — looked to break through on goal and was one-on-one with Amelia, but Amelia got a foot on principe’s low shot. Although it didn’t matter as Marchisio was flagged offsides anyway.
Moments later Pazzini did well to muscle Bonucci off the ball deep into the box near the touchline, and nearly created a dangerous opportunity for Milan, but luckily Chiellini was there to sweep away the danger with a well-timed tackle.
And that was pretty much it for the rest of the half.
The second half kicked off with each side seemingly eager to grab an advantage. A quick corner from found Chiellini in the center of the box, but the nose/header was too high for goal. Second later, Marchisio was able to find space at the edge of the box, but his shot was right at Amelia.
Milan would not sit still however. Mexes did his best Maradona impersonation to dribble a distance with the ball, but his shot was placed right at Buffon. A little while later, Vucinic would get one-on-one with Zapata on the other end, but the ball was scuppered neatly by the Colombian defender while Vucinic seemed to trip over his own shoe laces.
And then, there it was, during the 56th minute. A beautiful long ball by Pirlo found Asamoah at the left side of the box, and all Amelia could do was take the Ghanian wingback out at his knees, earning a yellow card and surrendering a penalty kick. Arturo Vidal unsurprisingly stepped up to the spot, and sent a rocket into the right upper 90, with the precision of a heat-seeking missile. Amelia guessed correctly, but there was nothing any goalkeeper could have done. 1-0 Juventus.
Juventus kept the pressure on, and Lichtsteiner found his way down the right edge of the box at around 62’, trying to split two defenders but couldn’t find room. He went down in the face of minor contact, but in classy fashion, pointed to the corner flag rather than looking for the free kick.
The ensuing corner saw some messy shoving in the box between Chiellini and Mexes and, believe it or not, Mexes actually appeared to strike Chiellini in the face. That is not the Mexes that I know. The referee and even Paul Pogba needed to intervene. Eventually, the corner found the young Frenchman’s head, but he could not put it on target. In the 66’, Zapata surrendered a free kick on the right edge of the box which Pirlo lofted towards the far corner for Pogba, who could not do anything with it.
Juventus would look to continue the pressure from there. In the 67th minute, Pirlo initiated a long ball from the center circle to Pogba on the left side of the box, who then found Vucinic, but his shot was deflected by Mexes for a corner. Three consecutive corner kicks ensued, with second one showing some dangerous moments with the ball trickling around the edge of the goal mouth. Neither Chiellini nor anyone else could get a foot on it, however. The third one saw Pirlo loft the ball to the far corner right to Bonucci’s feet, who could only one-time it straight at Amelia at the near post.
By 71’, Mexes finally got that ever elusive yellow card despite his always gentlemanly conduct, on a hard foul on Vucinic on the top right edge of the box. Again, Pirlo’s swinging cross could find nobody, and was cleared out safely by the Milan defense. This time, a nearly dangerous counter-attack ensued beginning with an El Sharaawy run on the left side, but the Juventus defense was able to quickly smother out any danger.
Milan would keep the pressure on minutes later, but Boateng could not find anyone at the other end of his low cross after beating Chiellini on the right side. Seconds later, Muntari would find space at the top of the box, but another “ghost goal” would not ensue as his ambitious effort was sent straight into Buffon’s welcoming arms.
By 81’ Milan had burned through all three of their substitutions, having had to replace Abbiati, then swapping in Muntari for Ambrosini and the enemy-of-the-consonant Krkic with Robinho. By that time Conte decide to add Simone “the Game Changer” Padoin in for Lichtsteiner, who had a typical Lichtsteineresque game controlling the right side.
At 89’ Milan had a dangerous chance to make things level, as Montolivo’s free kick from distance met Pazzini in the box (who on replay appeared to be at an offside position), before Mexes mistimed the second chance effort.
Two additional late substitutions (Quagliarella on for Vucinic and Peluso for Asamoah) by Antonio Conte would ensure that enough time was spent to seal the precious 1-0 victory.
LE PAGELLE by Aaron Giambattista
Buffon 6.5 - Almost all of the shots were square in Buffon’s chest, but he did well to never spill an effort and claim it 1st-time. No nerves from Superman, despite Iron Man crowding his turf.
Barzagli 7 - Made a brilliant tackle or two, and otherwise kept either Robinho or SES locked in his pocket. A very ordinary Barzagli game, a testament to his incredible form over the last few years. That was his 100th game in a Juventus shirt. The two games he’s really struggled in recent years were the Euro 2012 final and the Bayern match- does a huge occasion rattle him?
Bonucci 6 - Ordinary administration at the back, in general, with only one big mistake when he let Pazzini beat him at the byline. Made sure that he was heavily marking anyone in the box.
Chiellini 7 - Giorgio wanted to play in this match, despite recently recovering from injury, and did so, with the approval of the Juve doctors. Looked like the Keyser Giorgio of all, mopping up everything at the back, playing with grit and steel, always at the heart of the big moments. Only demerit is some silly diving (following a great tackle) that Montolivo rightly called Chiellini out on.
Lichtsteiner 6.5 - Marked Stephan El-Shaaraway well on the flank and moved up the field well. Was always ready to take on Milan offensively, but didn’t really receive a lot of support from the midfield.
’81 Padoin s.v. -Sent on to give Lichtsteiner a bit of a break. Nothing of note.
Vidal 6.5 - Ran with two lungs in midfield, supporting the team defensively but also pushing up the right side of the field with Stephan Lichtsteiner. Scored the most accurate penalty I’ve ever seen. Juventus are not a selling club, and Arturo Vidal is a champion, thus, we cannot sell Vidal.
Pirlo 6.0 - Had a few illuminating passes in the first half, then a few poor long passes. An average game for Andrea, but a good enough performance. Didn’t pass often (“only” 69 passes) but did so with relatively high accuracy.
Pogba 6.0 - This was the game that really shows where Paul Pogba is right now. Occasional moments of brilliance, holding off Milan players, dribbling through opponents, but often disappears for stretches of time. That’ll fade with more playing time and mental maturity.
Asamoah 6 - Kept with his man defensively but rarely did anything offensive of note. It was a pretty positive game for how well he played defensively, but winning the penalty came from one of the very few offensive actions from Asamoah. Better than we’ve seen, but still, not really a natural wingback and it shows.
’92 Peluso s.v. - Managed a stunning 36 seconds of play.
Marchisio 4.5 - The Prince’s performance against Lazio earned rave reviews, his pressing and movement caused the Rome-based squad a lot of issues. Today was very much a game that grounded those reviews, as il Principino was virtually missing all match, only popping up once to threaten Amelia when he was already offside. Very much out of his natural position and didn’t know what to do or where to play.
Vucinic 4.5 - Mirko was sensational a year ago when Juventus won 8-games in a row in the Spring to win the title, destroying Fiorentina, Milan, and Roma singlehandedly, but “Big Game Mirko” hasn’t showed up in a single big game this year. His passing was poor, he only managed 2 shots (none on target) and was dispossessed or turned over the ball more than double anyone else on the pitch. A very, very poor game that likewise calls into question if a 3-5-1-1 suits Mirko at all.
’90 Quagliarella s.v. - Once scored the winner vs Milan as a starter alongside Del Piero, now comes on in stoppage time to waste time.
Antonio Conte 7 - Juventus won a very ordinary game over a big rival, and Milan never genuinely threatened Buffon. Looking back, it’s really amazing how muzzled Milan were and how nonplussed Juve looked. That said, his substitutions and lack of rotation drive me nuts. There was only one sub in a game that was very subdued, and it was Padoin. Conte speaks highly of players like Giaccherini, Marrone, etc, but if he won’t ever play them, why would they want to stay?
ANALYSIS WRAP-UP by John Cascarano
It wasn’t the most exciting of games and certainly not the prettiest victory, but Juventus did what they needed to do. When they visited the San Siro back in November, they fell to a Diavoli side which had very much bottomed-out. Since then, Milan has only played better, and the addition of Balotelli during the winter mercato means they’ve only gotten stronger as a squad. It’s crazy to think about, but this loss to Juventus was their first one in Serie A in 2013.
With this victory Juventus’ magic number drops to 4. Any combination of Napoli dropping and Juventus earning four points within the five remaining games would give Antonio Conte his second Scudetto in as many seasons at the helm of Juventus. And speaking of Conte, he seemed to have gotten it perfectly right. The 3-5-1-1 answered Milan’s tactics well, and I’ve long been of the opinion that Marchisio has the skillset to play in a more advanced role. While the new formation is by no means a silver bullet or a necessary permanent switch, at the very least freshening things up from time to time means that opponents have less film to study and compare their pending opponents to during training.
And perhaps appropriately, the winning goal against Milan was scored on a penalty.
Juventus vs AC Milan – Extended Fulltime… by TenMillionSlaves