Juventus traveled to Switzerland Wednesday to take on Portuguese league runners-up Benfica in Juve’s first big match of the pre-season. The Portuguese side are nearing the end of their Summer preparations and recently demolished Real Madrid 5-2 in the Eusebio Cup at Estadio da Luz.
Antonio Conte was facing a much tougher opponent than Hertha Berlin, but had a stronger squad to face them. The tactician was able to welcome most of his Nazionale players back: though Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli missed out on the action due to injury, Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Emanuele Giaccherini, and Sebastian Giovinco, all took part.
Despite this was Gigi’s Buffon first game as primary captain (following the departure of Alessandro Del Piero), the goalkeeper did not wear the armband. Antonio Conte, the club, and certainly all his players made a powerful symbolic gesture to let that honor go to Leonardo Bonucci, who, like Conte, is currently battling questionable charges in the Calcioscommesse scandal. A clear statement of “club unity” in these difficult times…
★ ★ ★
Benfica started the night on the stronger foot. Juventus has played a bit more counter-attacking than normal in pre-season, and today with the Águias’ high defensive line, Juve’s attackers struggled to stay onside in the first opening minutes. The Bianconeri kept handing possession to their opponents as Benfica pressured them across the pitch, but were relieved to see the Lusitanic side struggle to create any meaningful chances.
As the first half on, the match started going into Juve’s favor. The Bianconeri started to keep the ball more consistently and shifted their opponent’s tactics towards counter-attacking, a shift that lasted for most of the game’s remainder. It was certainly a bit strange to see a Portuguese side playing with more “negative” tactics, while the Italian side held possession and built play up slowly. At the end of the first half, neither side had any real great opportunities.
The second period started out much as the first ended. Alessandro Matri started to hold off from making offside runs, and won a ball when released over the top but was lightly tripped by Maxi Pereira, prompting the referee to award a penalty. Ale32 stepped up to take the penalty himself, and… softly hit it to the keeper’s left and straight into his arms. It was easily readable and struck without power, a very poor spot-shot and perhaps additional proof of Alessandro’s low confidence at the moment.
Conte made a fair amount of changes through the second half, sending on players like Milos Krasic, Reto Ziegler, Emanuele Giaccherini, and eventually youngsters like Joel Untersee, Alberto Masi, and making his debut after a long protracted transfer saga, Paul Pogba. Benfica threw on experienced hitman Oscar Cardozo, who immediately started causing problems for Juve’s (young) backline.
Portuguese fans erupted into joy in the 88th minute, when Cardozo headed in a fairly easy goal. Untersee attempted to force his man outside, but Luisinho cut inside on the elft and delivered a curling cross to the Paraguayan striker, who lost Masi’s man-marking and headed in past Storari. It was 1-0 late in the game, and a win practically wrapped up for Jorge Jesus’s side.
Juventus however, especially under Conte, are known to “Never Say Die”, though the equalizing goal would come again through an unlikely source. Having given Luisinho a bit too much space on the cross/assist to Cardozo, Joel Untersee made up for the error by advancing down the flank and delivering a great cross into the Benfica box. Having saved Juve at 1-0 down in the last second at Hertha Berlin, Milos Krasic did it again, tapping it in with the outside of his boot to make it 1-1 past goalkeeper Artur. Just like in the Hertha match Krasic equalized with the last kick of the game, and it will very likely be his last in Bianconero: latest reports indicate the winger has signed for Turkish club Fenerbahçe for €7m.
Overall, a 1-1 draw is a decent result for Juve, considering how much further Benfica was in training and the scoreline by which they defeated Real Madrid. The Bianconeri largely held their own throughout the match, and a tied game is the fairest result.
★ ★ ★
Special applause must go to Luca Marrone and Sebastian Giovinco today.
GIOVINCO, in his first match in Bianconero in over 2 years, did quite well. His first touch, turning ability, short-term acceleration, vision, and passing ability continually created space and chances for Juventus. Super-Seba always looked inventive on the ball, and even had a few decent pops on goal. His creativity and unpredictability will greatly help Juve’s front line.
MARRONE once again started in a central defensive role (having played defense against Hertha as well) and played excellent: Benfica were largely reduced to long-range shots and crosses, and this second consecutive positive display should hint at a possible CB future for the young midfielder this season (especially given the potentially long ban Bonucci has to face). Marrone’s play-making skills at the back should be well-appreciated by Conte.
The Nazionale players overall were a bit of a mixed bag, but that’s completely acceptable given they are even further behind training than the rest of the Juventus players. Andrea Pirlo (sporting a newlook 3-4 day beard) looked a bit slow and his passing was hit-or-miss, while Claudio Marchisio was unfortunately forced off with some back pain. Bonucci and Buffon held their own, but didn’t play particularly outstanding.
It was a solid performance from Conte’s men, one that showed growth since the Hertha Berlin match. But in truth, the question marks looming over Juve’s upcoming season have little to do with training or performances on the pitch…
|GOALSCORERS: 88′ Cardoso (B), 92′ Krasic (J)
| JUVENTUS (3-5-2): Buffon (46′ Storari) – Lichtsteiner, Marrone (65′ Masi), Bonucci – Padoin (81′ Untersee), Vidal (81′ Pazienza), Pirlo (78′ Pogba), Marchisio (30′ Giaccherini), Asamoah (73′ Ziegler) – Giovinco (73′ Krasic), Matri (57′ Quagliarella). COACH: Conte.
UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: Leali, Rugani, Boakye.
UNAVAILABLE: Chiellini (injd), Barzagli (injd), Lúcio (injd), De Ceglie (injd), Isla (injd), Pepe (injd), Vucinic (muscular fatigue).
REMAINED IN TURIN: Motta, Melo, Iaquinta.
| BENFICA (4-4-2): Artur – Maxi Pereira, Luisão, Garay, Melgarejo (78′ Luisinho) – Javi García, Witsel, E.Pérez (56′ Nolito), C.Martins (56′ Rodrigo Mora) – Gaitán (6’ Bruno César, 66′ Ola John), Michel (46′ Cardoso). COACH: Jorge Jesus.
UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: Paulo Lopes, Saviola, Kardec.