It was a huge weekend for the Bianconeri, probably the most important of this latter half of the season. Sitting a razor-thin three points (or one full win) ahead of Napoli, a match against the Purple People Eaters (can’t help it) appropriately coincides with the former taking on third place Lazio in Rome. Three points were thus of the utmost importance, and after a difficult first leg 0-0 draw, the once formidable-looking Fiorentina limped into Turin for this crucial fixture. While the Fiorentina hierarchy childishly cries about innocuous references to the most famous of Florentines, Dante Alighieri and his Divine Comedy, emotions were running high for tifosi of Le Viola, known for
famously shamelessly unfurling a banner reading “-39.” The stage was set for another bitter fight for two arch “rivals” at the Juventus stadium.
Yet, on the pitch was a different story.
MATCH ANALYSIS by John Cascarano
Missing some key pieces with Giorgio Chiellini still injured and Leonardo Bonucci still suspended along with coach Antonio Conte, Juventus lined up with Gianluigi Buffon behind Andrea Barzagli, Luca Marrone, and inexplicably Federico Peluso. M-V-P remained in tact in midfield, flanked by Stephan Lichtsteiner and Paolo De Ceglie who, in what would end up being a key matchup on the flank all game, was on Cuadrado duty. Mirko Vucinic and Alessandro Matri topped off the attack.
Things began quickly for Juventus, with Marchisio missing a couple of legit chances to put his team ahead early. This was predictably followed up by some fast counter-attacking by Fiorentina, with Stevan Jovetic looking slick early, dribbling and getting into open space neatly. However, the Montenegrin himself was unable to convert either. On the other end, our own Montenegrin would be denied by Emiliano Viviano at the near post. A short while later it would again be Jovetic at the center of the action, scooping and controlling a loose ball in the box and delivering a low shot which Buffon made a brilliant reaction kick-save on.
By this point, Juventus were able to settle the match down, control the pace and play their style. Unlike some recent post-Holiday frustrating displays, it would only take 20 minutes for Juve to break the deadlock. A fatally poor clearance attempt by Gonzalo Rodriguez was brilliantly trapped by Mirko Vucinic, controlled, and volleyed past Viviano into the net. While everyone will focus on the shot which left the Fiorentina keeper powerless, the neat touches on the setup, conducted with effortless ease by Mirko, was so notable.
From there, Juventus would not take their foot off the gas. By the half hour mark, the Bianconeri would keep the pressure on. Another neat run of play with a beautiful pass from Pirlo to find Lichtsteiner streaking into the right side of the box. Nothing would come this, however, except another dangerous looking counter attack which ended in an ambitious but skied Jovetic strike.
Two minutes later, Mirko would again capitalize on a mistake from Rodriguez, winning the ball deep into Fiorentina territory and forcing a one-on-one with Viviano. He probably should have had a brace, but there was no good angle for him to get a decent shot off, causing him to fire straight at Viviano.
By this point, two major story lines developed: Alessandro Matri had been running all over the advanced end of the pitch, tirelessly fighting for each 50/50 ball he could get in on. Meanwhile, on the same flank, Juan Cuadrado and Paolo De Ceglie gave the opposing defenses trouble. Both number 11s hustled up and down the pitch, constantly fighting for the ball and to get off some neat crosses. I was particularly intrigued by Cuadrado’s performance, not sure whether to be impressed or incensed. He played hard and I was impressed by his quickness, yet seemed to constantly flop around drawing fouls. Oh my God, he’s Fiorentina’s own Sebastian Giovinco…
At any rate, the fruits of the first story-line’s labor would pay off. Another impressive-passing run of play culminated with Vidal making an absolutely gorgeous, incisive pass to Ale Matri, who lost a shoe during his run, and slotted it home. Tossing his shoe in the air before making his trademark “chicken-head” celebration gestures, one could tell how Matri was to again get on the score-sheet. It was a well-deserved and needed goal, and he would finish out the half with the same intensity. Clearly someone is trying to send a message.
After half-time, Juventus would pick up right where they left off. More possession and neat passing would see Ale Matri try a reversal of his own goal, as he nearly set up Vidal himself for a goal eight minutes after half. Meanwhile, De Ceglie continued to go run-for-run with Cuadrado, bombing down the flank before eventually being clipped by the Udinese-owned-Colombian, before eventually being stymied by Rodriguez. PDC drew a foul in a potentially dangerous spot, but Pirlo’s indirect effort was low and easily handled.
Shortly thereafter, Angelo Alessio would decide that Paolino had enough, exhausted from patrolling the left flank. Martin Caceres would come into replace him and, despite being able to play in the left wingback position, would switch spots in the center with Federico Peluso (where the latter should have played in the first place, if at all). On the attacking end, Sebastian Giovinco would replace Mirko, who had done a lot off the ball all game.
The remainder of the game was relatively uneventful. Juventus continued to control the game, and a run from Lichtsteiner with a flick cross was tapped just wide by Matri to deny #32 a brace… Yet another beautiful clearance by Barzagli down the right flank earns a deserved ovation from the tifosi at Juventus stadium… A good low curling effort by Giovinco from the top right edge of the box, punched away by Viviano… Paul Pogba interestingly inserted into the game for Ale Matri… Caceres with a nice stop on another counter-attack, making me wonder what would have occurred had Peluso still been there… A slick Pogba pass to Marchisio, attempted bicycle kick by Vidal, resulting eventually in a shot by Pogba deflected out for a corner…
And finally, an absolutely stunning run by Adem Ljajlic, which Buffon had to finally come out and snuff out, which resulted in a counter-attack of Juventus’ own, ending in Giovinco being muscled off the ball onto the ground by two defenders. I totally did not see that coming.
LE PAGELLE by John Cascarano
Gianluigi Buffon: 7.0 - Had little to do, once again, but earns points for the brilliant kick-save off Jovetic early on. That could have made it a completely different game.
Federico Peluso: 6.5 - Played well. Or maybe just didn’t play incredibly poorly? I’m not sure. Perhaps it was one of those games where defense/keeper had little to do, and everyone looked better as a result. Still, credit where it’s due – he did not cost us a goal.
Luca Marrone: 7.0 - Completely flawless vice-Bonucci performance.
Andrea Barzagli: 7.5 - What else is new?
Paolo De Ceglie: 7.0 - Paolino was all over the left side of the pitch, fought tirelessly, and made a cross or two. A much needed, emphatic performance. I’m happy giving him more time on the left side but, with Asamoah’s impending return, that’s going to be the end of the Paolino experience for now. Hey wait, ASAMOAH is coming back!!!
60′ Martín Cáceres: 6.5 - Nice to see Martin get some playing time. Did well to stifle a possibly deadly counter-attack on his flank.
Claudio Marchisio: 6.5 - Did the Marchisio thing. A few nice touches and clever flicks, lots of movement off the ball, and did more than meets the naked eye.
Andrea Pirlo: 6.5 - Did the Pirlo thing. Yada, yada, yada… could have taken his indirect free kicks (and corners) a bit better.
Arturo Vidal: 8.5 - Was all over midfield, seemed to win each and every ball, and set up the nail in Fiorentina’s coffin. Man of the match performance for Vidal.
Stephan Lichtsteiner: 7.0 - The Swiss Express bossed the right flank, and made his trademark incisive runs into the box nearly setting up/scoring at times. A typical Lichtsteineresque performance.
Mirko Vucinic: 7.0 - For a player with a penchant for laziness, I was impressed by his hustle tonight. That tenacity allowed him to score a screamer of a decisive goal, and nearly add to it later in the half.
61′ Sebastian Giovinco: 6.5 - Created some nice scoring chances, like that low curling effort which looked like it was going in.
Alessandro Matri: 7.5 - A much needed positive performance for Ale. Ran around like mad, fought for every ball within a 10 foot radius of him, and made his way onto the score sheet. Showed why 12 to 18 months ago, many considered him the most complete Italian striker at current form.
76′ Paul Pogba: s.v. - Looked a bit uncomfortable at times pushing up field.
Conte/Alessio: 8.0 - Clearly they were meticulous in preparation, and Fiorentina had no answers for their tactics. Job well done.
ANALYSIS WRAP-UP by John Cascarano
Yes, the second half was virtually uneventful. But this was just the type of performance the team needed to snap out of a post-January malaise which has become so typical. It reminded me of a lot of games from earlier in the season where Juventus would build a multiple goal lead in the first half, and then just shift to cruise control – but though that metaphor is not intended in a negative way, as if the team was falling asleep. Although no more goals were had, Juventus was easily able to control of the game, play their style, hold onto the ball, and making cruising to three points, swatting away random counter attacks with virtual ease like King Kong swiping at planes around him.
And of course, a match against Fiorentina is not a match without some level of hypocritical, childish, provinciale behavior. After the match, cameras caught Emiliano Viviano pull the Juventus shirt Andrea Pirlo exchanged with a Fiorentina teammate off his shoulder, toss it to the ground, and kick it. Oh yea, did I mention how offended, nay, “speechless” the front office was over the nerve Juve brass had to make a reference to Dante? Stay classy, Fiorentina.
At the end of the day, the final score was 2-0, but it was never really that close. And both goals were scored by strikers – how about that? I’ll take it.
ANTONIO CONTE IL NOSTRO CAPITANO!
Juventus 2-0 Fiorentina Video: All 2 Goal Plus Full Highlights