Be it the intense training sessions in 40ºC Philadelphia sun, or be it the short preparation time, Juventus’s North-American adventure didn’t start in the best of ways Saturday. In a rather packed (and rainy, with a tropical rainstorm coming down shortly after kick-off) BMO Field in Toronto, the Bianconeri played the first friendly match of their North-American Tour, losing 2-1 to a well-prepared and better fit Sporting Lisbon team.
The difference in preparation between the two squads was rather evident, as contrary to Juve this was Sporting’s 3rd friendly this Summer (the club is set to play Europa League’s preliminary round mid-August), yet despite extenuating circumstances Juventini might have slight causes for concern with what they saw on the field Saturday, particularly regarding the team’s interpretation of Mr. Conte’s tactics. But let’s proceed in order.
The match featured Juventus donning their stylish pink shirts, facing off against Sporting’s green/white horizontal stripes. Conte veered off his expected 4-2-4 formation: Buffon in net, Lichsteiner-Chiellini-Barzagli-Ziegler in defense, Pirlo & Pazienza the lone central midfielders, and up top an attacking force formed by Krasic/Marchisio on the wings and Quagliarella/Matri in the center. Very close no doubt, to Juve’s starting eleven for the season to come.
It didn’t take long for the Portuguese to open the scoring alas, the goal arriving in the 13th minute to cap a good period of domination by our opponents: a Sporting corner-kick found the header of ex-Rossonero Onyewu, who redirected it to the center where Yannick Djaló applied his instep finish unopposed. Rather dodgy marking by the Juve defense, Buffon shaking his head and rightly so. 1-0 Sporting. Before the goal, the only real hihglight featuring Bianconeri was a diagonal shot by Milos Krasic from the right wing, going wide of the target.
You’d have thought that going down by one goal would have shaken things up for our team, but the Juve players really struggled to get out of their abulic state of mind. Pirlo was trying to do what Pirlo does best (long-range passes for the runs of Quagliarella in the center, or Krasic on the right), but his accuracy left something to be desired. The difficult weather conditions (the commentators’ comment was: “the Toronto heavens have opened”) certainly did not make high-class technique easy, but ironically our Portuguese counterparts (well-vested in technical displays of their own, and therefore usually more handicapped by such rainy conditions) didn’t seem to mind. So much so that in the 36th minute they doubled their scoreline, and in rather impressive fashion. Stealing the ball in the center of the park, Yannick Djaló moved forward, side-stepped two Juve players (including Pazienza, looking rather inadequate on the occasion) and slammed a powerful left-footed cracker inside Buffon’s far post. 2-0 Sporting, and really nothing Gigi could have done on this one.
The remainder of the half didn’t really have much to show, except Juventus finally finding some space to attack at last. Krasic in particular was having a good time on the right wing, seemingly re-invigorated from the holiday break. His pace was given a chance to shine again, as the Serbian midfielder beat his man several times and went to the byline to swing a few crosses in, unfortunately what the Juve players did with those at the other end left something to be desired.
At the break, Conte essentially changed the entire line-up (with the exception of Chiellini), and Juventus finally started offering something different. Primavera product Elio De Silvestro notably, really seemed to relish his chance to shine because he looked the most lively Bianconero out there: he was often finding space on the left-hand side, taking defenders one-on-one with his pace, or trying to get a few shots in.
Yet despite the effervescent primavera presence (completed by the partnership of Giandonato-Marrone in the middle), Juventus continued to struggle to hold possession, leaving Sporting to dominate most of the plays. It was interesting then to see the players follow Conte’s instructions with their tactical disposition on the field: whenever Sporting had possession, the entire team (with the exception of ADP/Toni) essentially retreated behind the line of the ball, ready to pounce and hit off on the counter-attack. A core characteristic of Antonio Conte’s teams in recent years, yet still lacking polish so early in pre-season.
Ironically despite Sporting’s domination very little action came in the way of Storari, as Juve’s #30 certainly had a quieter evening compared to Gigi in the first half. In the meantime, Martínez started his redemption campaign (fingers crossed) by showing some good technical skills on the right wing, keeping the ball under his control and relaying it wide with good and key passes. The first two landed to De Silvestro (attempting a one-time outswinging shot saved by the keeper) and onto the head of Luca Toni (scoring, but seeing his goal rightly disallowed for offside). The third one, a through ball in the 79th minute for Alessandro Del Piero, resulted in what unmistakably can be called the goal of the night. Beating the offside trap and waiting to get on the right corner of the penalty area, Pinturicchio lofted the ball high over the Sporting keeper with an absolutely wonderful chipped shot, sailing inside the left post. Wondergoal by ADP, and certainly what all of the BMO field Juventini had been waiting for. 2-1
That was really the highlight of the night, as there wasn’t really much else Juve did or the match had to offer after that. Except perhaps the appearance of ex-Bianconero Valeri Bojinov in Sporting’s ranks, or a semi-scuffle created by Luca Toni, who tried to get revenge on a similar foul minutes prior and went really hard on Sporting’s Rinaudo (no, not that Rinaudo), much to the dismay of the Portuguese team (the ensuing yellow card for Toni could have been a straight red).
Worth a mention are ADP’s free-kick which found the head of Bonucci (resulting in a looping attempt forcing the Sporting keeper to punch the ball over the crossbar, more for safety than anything else) and a good passing build-up involving all of Giandonato, De Silvestro, ADP, Martinez, and Toni in quick succession (Toni’s final headed through ball for ADP was too long and neutralized by the defense). The match ended there, on a 2-1 deserved scoreline for Sporting.
|GOALSCORERS: 13′, 36′ Djaló (S), 80′ Del Piero (J).
| JUVENTUS (4-2-4): Buffon (46′ Storari) – Lichtsteiner (46′ Motta), Barzagli (46′ Bonucci), Chiellini, Ziegler (46′ De Ceglie); Pirlo (46′ Giandonato), Pazienza (46′ Marrone) – Krasic (46′ Martínez), Matri (46′ Toni), Quagliarella (46′ Del Piero), Marchisio (46′ De Silvestro). Coach: Conte. (UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: Manninger, Sorensen, Grygera, Pasquato, Immobile).
| SPORTING LISBON (4-1-3-2): Rui Patricio (46′ Boeck) – Joao Pereira (82′ Goncalves), Carriço (71′ Polga), Onyewu (71′ Llori), Evaldo – Rinaudo – Pereirinha (67′ Rubio), Schaars, Djaló (82′ ojinov) – Van Wolfswinkel (67′ Andre Santos), Postiga (67′ Andre Martins). Coach: Domingos Paciência
What They Said After the Game:
Source: La Repubblica Sport
We didn’t manage to reach the intensity we wanted, but let’s not forget that yesterday we had a heavy fitness session. We certainly must grow and some players must get their self-esteem back: after two difficult years the need to rerieve faith in oneself is inevitable. I liked the work rate I saw on the field, the pride reaction in the 2nd half, no one wanted to lose. Besides if we wanted to be sure not to lose any games, we could have continued playing against amateur teams. These matches against clubs of international caliber such as Sporting are most welcome. They were ahead of us in terms of preparation, since they have Europa League commitments soon. They were fresher, but we cannot think of avoiding high-intensity training sessions just to save energy for friendlies. On the contrary we must go forward with our training program, because there is a lot of work to be done.
Today the attention and dedication we demonstrated in our recent training sessions took their toll, we each played 45 minutes but it is understandable to show signs of fatigue and that not everything was working out there on the field. Concerning my goal though, I’m glad I remained lucid in that particular play, choosing the only possible solution that would put the the ball in the net. It was an intense, gritty game, less “friendly” as one would have thought. When you are dealing with two teams trying to build their future though, this is normal. The difference in preparation was evident, but we had a good reaction in the second half.
Winning always helps one to find confidence, but we knew that with such a high workload in training we might have lost a game or two in the beginning. Now we will also try to get a good result in our next games. Until about the 60th minute we struggled because of their high-pace tempo. It’s obvious they are ahead of us in terms of preparation as we never really managed to get the ball to our strikers, but when they slowed down and backed up we managed to get our heads out of our shell. Losing is disappointing, but we know there is a lot to work on. We are trying to apply what the manager is telling us, I am convinced we will do better in the following games. Certain mechanisms within the team are improving. We must be more careful during dead-ball situations, because these can compromise the result of a match, however I think the coach can be satisfied with the work rate and determination we demonstrated on the field.