Tag Archives: Ogbonna

Juventus 1 – 0 Bologna

20 Apr

Approaching this match, knowing that two wins in our next two league fixtures would send us to Rome needing only a draw to clinch our third straight scudetto, there was reason to be both excited and nervous. Especially after our rivals earned a valuable 0-1 away victory in Florence, reducing the gap between us back to five points.

Tevez and Vidal were named on the bench, both players still nursing slight injuries with Bonucci and Lichstiner suspended.

In place of the suspended Bonucci, Ogbonna put in another solid showing.

To the surprise of nobody, Conte lined up with our trademark 3-5-2, offering Giovinco a chance to continue his recent spurt of fine form in attack alongside Llorente. Behind him, Pirlo took up the position of fulcrum, flanked by Pogba on his right and Marchisio on the opposite side of the trident. Out wide in the wing-back areas, Asamoah matched up with Isla (who came in for the suspecneded Lichsteiner). It was Ogbonna who took up the Bonucci role, which at times can seem closer to libero than pure stopper.

We emerged from the traps at a decent pace. Immediately pushing forward and applying pressure to the Bologna blockade. Our opponent’s plan to defend in large numbers, keep 9 men behind the ball at all times and show zero interest in scoring was evident from the first whistle. Even when they were given the chance to counter, we invariably had 2-3 defenders to clean up at the back masterfully.

Pogba was looking lively. Pirlo in fine fettle. Asamoah strangely subdued, although he was faced with a wall of opponents whenever attempting to make in-roads into the final third. On the opposite flank, Isla was seeing much more of the ball, largely due to the dominating physical presence and wonderful technique of the nearby Frenchman.

Most of the first half was taken up with the same slow, deliberate build-up passing game we so often adopt against smaller teams whose prime objective is to hold firm defensively and cut off our supply routes on the wings and through the middle. Llorente found a few useful positions, as did Giovinco, but the two of them are yet to find any harmony as a pair, with both operating on different wavelengths at crucial moments when a chance could have been created and finished.

No changes were made by Conte in the interval. Clearly his thinking was that we would win the war of attrition, continue our laboured, obvious passing game, wear them down, hope for a moment of magic, or a mistake for us to capitalize upon.

Pogba – Possibly the greatest midfield talent on the planet.

It took until the 64th minute for us to finally break the dead-lock. And what a beautiful goal it was, arriving from the explosive feet of Pogba. Picking the ball up in the inner right channel from Isla, the youngster brought the ball down and smashed an unstoppable drive past the keeper from just outside the box. Just reward for an overall performance which stood out for its power, precision and skill. A true rifle-shot of a strike.

The goal caused a momentary wave of added confidence in our ranks and confusion in the Bologna rearguard yet soon enough the status quo reappeared and we reverted to the calm pressure routine whilst keeping things tidy at the back.

Padoin made a late appearance and did absolutely nothing and it was pleasing to see Vidal make a brief cameo in the dying moments. What was somewhat discouraging was the manner in which we spent the final minutes growing increasingly concerned and inviting Bologna onto us. For the first time in the whole match our opponents seemed to believe they could get something from the game and we were on the back-foot until the ref blew the final whistle. Immense relief washed through the ranks and stadium as a whole, with passionate embraces all round between manager and players symbolizing how much this victory meant to the club.

Stand out performers were few and far between since we were hardly tested defensively. And had a mountain to climb offensively due to the stifling, smothering tactics employed by Ballardini in the enemy dug-out.

Pogba was the most potent player on the field. More capable than any other of not only retaining possession when faced with an opponent, but also carving out space. Only fellow beasts can match him physically and his skill-set on the ball is slowly but surely maturing. Less fancy tricks, more successful dribbles. His shooting has never been in question, especially from long range.

At this rate, the 21 year old will soon be regarded as not only a world class talent in the making, but as one of the best midfielders in the world, such is his progress this season. There seems no major weakness to his game. Perhaps the most important transfer of the close season will be a non-transfer, keeping Paul at the club for at least another season, hopefully more.

Barzagli was average on his return to first team action, lacking match-sharpness as to be expected, but our fortunes are greatly improved by his calm presence in the first XI. The quicker he regains form the better our chances of success. Ogbonna was strong in the tackle, decisive and error-free, attempting to replicate Bonucci’s distribution responsibilities in a muted fashion.

I was interested to see Isla. He produced an assist for Pogba, worked very hard on the touchline and was noticeably more involved in the game than his counter-part on the left. The Chilean could have scored himself, after cutting in beautifully and launching the ball goalwards with his left boot. Has he done enough to warrant completing his purchase over the Summer??? For me, not in the slightest. Best to renew the co-ownership or attempt to recoup the 9m initial outlay for the 50% stake. Asmoah looks good value for the 18m we paid. To spend as much on former Udinese pal Isla would be criminal.

Up top, Llorente was useful for flick-ons and lay-offs, but rarely came close to a clear cut opening. His strike partner, Giovinco, won plenty of free-kicks, caused a steady nuisance and created a couple of good chances for other players. However, neither player impressed.

A mention should be made of Marchisio, who – as always – stuck to his task diligently, put his health on the line on a few occasions when blocking or intercepting the ball, found himself kicked, scythed, pole-axed and shoved all over the place. He is truly a great servant to the club.

Bologna were very robust in their approach to the game. Our strike force of the spaniard and imp was too weak to break through the brutal attention of Sorensen in particular, but also Antonsson, who pummelled the flimsy front men repeatedly throughout the match. This is one of the main problems with Giovinco; his complete lack of physicality. As for Llorente…I expect better of him, but it will take time to adjust fully to the sharp differences in defending between la liga and Serie A.

Freddy ‘the ice-man’ Sorensen showing off his pretty ear necklace…

It was a very encouraging performance by 22 year old Freddy Sorensen. A player I have admired since he first broke into our line-up in late 2010, merely months after joining our primavera in the Summer. His natural strength and intelligent reading of the game marked him out back then as a player of serious potential and I am glad to see him more than hold his own around far more seasoned professionals. If we are in the market for a centre-back, Conte and Beppe would be wise to consider the Dane. His contract runs until 2016 and I hope we renew the co-ownership deal in the Summer. Whilst his value continues to rise, prudence suggests we maintain the present situation.

The victory was welcome and deserved but our inability to break down a resilient opponent once again highlighted what I see as a lack of malleability or reactivity in Conte’s tactical thinking. He rarely seems to have any Plan B, nor appears particularly well prepared to take advantage of an opponent’s weaknesses. Conte’s method is to stick with the 3-5-2, pass the ball as much as possible, left, then right, then left, then right, slow paced build-up. Its all so predictable. And without the muscle, hustle and class of Tevez in the final third, and swash-buckling Vidal forcing mistakes and driving forward at every opportunity we are fairly easily contained.

Still much to learn, but at 44 years of age, Conte is already well on the road to becoming a Juve legend in the dug-out. His third scudetto in three seasons at the club will be a tremendous achievement. But what of Europe??

Conte needs to work on systems which draw such stubborn opposition out of their fortress. Laying siege works most of the time, but as we saw with Copenhagen, our lack of Plan B or C can truly be our downfall. We win by attrition in such circumstances or via a moment of magic as we saw from Pogba last night.

Instead of Padoin, why not bring on Vucinic?? Instead of Vidal, why not send Quagliarella into the fray?? Protecting a 1-0 lead at home to Bologna is understandable at this delicate stage of the campaign, though a step removed from a team confident of their superiority. Substitutions are another area in which as time wears on, I find Conte lacking.

When was the last time we saw him turn a game with a master stroke from the bench?? When was the last time he outfoxed a wily opposing manager through exploiting a weakness in a team we faced??

Its not only the playing staff which needs to improve, collectively, if we are to strive onwards and make moves to return to greatness on the European stage. It is also the management.

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Juventus 3-1 Chievo

17 Feb

Could Pirlo steer the troops to victory against Chievo???

Player Ratings-

Buffon – 6

His fate was tied to that of the defence in front of him, which was lacking confidence and security throughout the match. Thankfully, Bonucci put in a solid shift leaving Buffon with very few direct shots to deal with. Several of his decisions to parry and punch rather than catch the ball could of put us in danger.

Lichsteiner-6

We are used to so much more from our swiss nazi. His energy levels seemed fine, but the final ball was profligate and I felt that he lacked confidence in Caceres (especially after that horrible own goal!). An off day for the marauding wingback.

Caceres- 5.5

Hardly one of his best showings for the club. I am fond of the lad, for his tackling and determination, but am close to concluding he is best deployed on the flank (where he plays for his country). Needs to work on his positional awareness.

Bonucci-7

He was the rock we needed in absence of his two regular partners at the back. Cleaned up, covered brilliantly, distributed the ball carefully and made his presence felt in both boxes. Five interceptions, five clearances and two shots blocked. A mature performance from Leonardo.

Ogbonna –6.5

Still yet to persuade me that he is worth the money we spent, but in his defence its his first season and he hasn’t had many games. Perhaps a run in the side would settle him down and bring out his best form. Deserves praise for keeping things simple and the ball moving whenever he received it. He made 98 passes, but the vast majority were over 5-10 yards, which suggests his plan was to sit deep. Which is different to how King Giorgio plays, who despite his lack of technique on the ball, loves to bomb forward and try to get involved.

Pirlo-8

The most talented man on the field. Drove forward constantly, made himself available as the fulcrum of all our attacking play. Put himself about defensively. Two assists…always a danger from set pieces. He ran the Juve show from start to finish. Tremendous, but its what we have come to expect from the great man…

Marchisio-7

Never stopped running and gave great support at the back to Ogbonna and Asamoah. I was so happy to see him get on the score-sheet. Never one to complain, just gets his head down and gets on with the job. As mentioned further down, he is a definite second choice for me behind Pogba, but few teams will have such a wonderful back-up.

Vidal-6.5

Dogged in the challenge, but offered little moving forward. Maybe this was partially due to an awkward outing by Lichsteiner, forcing the Chilean to hold the fort more than forage in the final third. He appeared low on steam, yet still dependable. His season has been magnificent, its to be expected to find a run of games where he is below his best form.

Asamoah -8

Probably would have been closer to a 7 but that goal was magical. We don’t see that much of his prowess in that position driving through the middle, and it was one of those moments which made me think he is somewhat wasted out wide. His defensive work was average, and with Chievo heavy in numbers in both fullback areas, he found it hard to make headway in the final third. Wonderful strike though.

Llorente- 6.5

Well marshalled by the Chievo rear-guard, chances were running at a premium for the spaniard. Took his goal well enough but his link-up play with Giovinco was non-existent, the two of them often found far too close together. I hope that Osvaldo’s arrival doesn’t affect his form negatively.

Giovinco-5

Displayed great enthusiasm but was simply out-muscled or ran into a group of players too many times. His movement was out of sync with the rest of the team, but what can we expect when he hardly plays. Ran out of tricks or into a Chievo wall whenever a good chance seemed possible. The critical reception of the crowd when he was subbed off will have done his confidence no good, which shouldn’t be happening, especially when we are winning a game at home, top of the league and unbeaten in 15 matches. He deserves more respect, yet I assume, the fans feel they deserve more from him…

Osvaldo- 6

Instantly at ease on the field, Danni was given twenty minutes to impress when Chievo were shutting up shop and fatigue was setting in for both sides. He found two chances, one of which he nearly put away, the other, rather wayward. His link-up play with Tevez was present throughout and I suspect he has a chance of starting one of next two games.

Tevez-6.5

Showed eagerness to involve himself and linked up well with Osvaldo. Merely a run-out to prepare him for our tie with Trabzonspor on Thursday.

10 goals and 3 assists from 17 starts in his maiden Serie A season…

Overview-

The early stages of the game saw Chievo forced back and a lot of possession at our feet, as to be expected. It became quickly clear that our opponents were making up for their deficit of quality with brute force, with several of their tackles bordering on atrocious. What pleased me was to see how we reacted to the onslaught of hacking and scything, trips and barges. It began with two brilliant fouls by Pirlo and Marchisio, which demonstrated that if they wanted a scrap, we would be happy to oblige. I like that about our team, its one of those those vital ingredients which have been gradually creeping back into our game since Conte appeared on the scene. Its grinta…

The Asamoah goal was a thing of beauty. How often would we see such incisive penetration were he deployed as one of our central midfielders?? It is a good question, which cannot be answered until/unless we employ a specialist LWB. The one-two and the finish were sublime.

Marchisio got the goal his efforts deserved, threw himself into challenges, made himself available all over the field and gave as good a performance as I have seen of him for many moons. However, it was evident for the entirety of the game that our midfield was noticeably weaker without Pogba. It was suggested, by myself as well as many others last Summer, that this season could see il principino deposed from the starting XI and its easy to see why. Claudio is a wonderful servant to the club, technically solid, intelligent, but a weaker player than Pogba, in all areas of the game other than covering and moving around un-noticed. Yet I feel that despite Pogba’s understandable inexperience and greater comfort in the offensive phase of the game, the frenchman is not far off the italian defensively, due in no small part to his physique and robustness of bone and gristle. Whereas Claudio reads the play, senses danger with more zeal, I would always rather be facing him in a challenge on the ground or especially in the air, than Pogba. As with the player I measure as the only central midfielder superior to Vidal, (Yaya Toure), when Pogba has the ball, players literally bounce off him…He is very hard to stop once driving forward. His natural advantage of height and strength allow him more time to think before passing or shooting.

Speaking of Vidal…he is suffering from a lethargy of sorts. I would have preferred to see him rested for this game. He tackled well, but was far from his usual swashbuckling presence moving forward. Part of that problem could well be down to Caceres and an off game by Lichsteiner, both of whom I did not feel played well. Its tricky at times to see how he could ever get into our starting XI, certainly as a CB. He loves to tackle, but positionally, he is often suspect, and can tend to stand off players when worried about what is behind him. Which worries me even more!

Without Pogba to create from the centre and Tevez fighting his way all over the pitch, we became, at times yet again one dimensional, with literally everything going through Pirlo. Adding in another creative force makes us a far more dangerous team.

Llorente toiled hard but often found himself in the same area as Giovinco, which didn’t help matters. Regardless, he got his goal, well taken in the air, where he will become absolutely lethal I am sure, in time. The front two were not working in tandem, which had a knock-on effect for the rest of our play. Not just Llorente, but also Tevez, both act as reference points in the final third. The Argentine is a dwarf, but he not only has superb body strength but he uses it very smartly. Asking Seba to muscle it out with uncompromising centre-backs is a waste of his talents and our tactics. There seems no room for him in our 3-5-2.

If we want to make the most of his natural abilities, we would place him in a role between midfield and attack, not ask him to fight to even receive the ball against giants. That role does not presently exist. Whilst it seems reasonable to assume he will be heading out in the Summer, his final chance at Juve finished, I do wonder how he could perform in a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2. And then there is that extremely successful stint at Parma to consider…Something along the lines of 15 goals and as many assists, when deployed often as one of a front pairing in a 3-5-2 (although equally often as an AM in a 4-2-3-1).

Pirlo seems in fine fettle and the Tevez/Osvaldo axis seemed far more dangerous a pairing in the brief time they had to shine, yet some of that was due to their freshness. I get the impression they could be rather handy together.

Defensively we were far from stable. Ogbonna was more impressive than Caceres, but the absence of Chiellini and Barzagli was palpable and at times a major concern. Let’s hope they are both ready for the Europa tie mid-week.

Overall, a 3-1 home victory, with 4 of our starting XI rested, with the only goal conceded something of a freak occurrence, is hardly worth whining about. Still, I have to admit that I felt that same unease as from last season, when we would sometimes dominate games but find it hard to turn our dominance into clear cut chances. Llorente’s goal was fortunate, given the keeper’s position, who should have cut out the cross. Marchisio’s was off a rebound, always a luck affair. One other clear chance for Osvaldo…other than which, not much to show for 64% possession.

We struggled in aerial challenges, no doubt due to the absence of Pogba in the middle, who towers above most players, and also Tevez in attack, whose ability to win the ball in the air, bring it down and play it on, is rarely mentioned but always valuable.

Essentially, we were disjointed in defence and attack. Had we started with Pogba, Tevez, Chiellini and Barzagli I suspect we would have pummelled Chievo. As it stood, we were still worthy winners, yet were scrappy and lacking ideas/ intelligent movement for much of the game.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsZ0pDjrySw