Tag Archives: Serie A

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 v Livorno Preview

8 Apr

I expect Llorente will be starting given his absence from the Lyon match. As for who starts alongside him, logically it will be Giovinco or Mirko. Hopefully Seba, for I would very much like to see him given a run of games before the end of the season, and really stake a claim for his continued presence in our squad next season. For he is a player who I feel is as much at risk as Mirko and even more so, Quagliarella, when it comes to making space for attacking improvements in the Summer.

We crushed local side Ivrea 10-1 last Friday afternoon with Agnelli, Conte and Beppe Marotta all in the stands. Conte deployed an interesting 3-4-3 formation-
Storari
Caceres Bonucci Ogbonna
Lichtsteiner Padoin Marchisio Peluso
Giovinco Quagliarella Vucinic

Not sure of all the scorers, although Mirko, Quags, Giovinco and Juve fans favourite Padoin were amongst them.

It would be a surprise to see the above formation, although it makes sense to offer a break to Pirlo, Chiellini and especially Asamoah as well as giving Ogbonna and other strikers the chance to gain some much needed match fitness. Any team we place on the field should be good enough to crunch Livorno, but with the gap down to 5 points presently, I expect to see Pogba and Llorente added to the first XI (at least).

Whilst local piedmont side Ivrea are far removed from a serie A side, winning any game so handsomely breeds confidence and re-invigorates the winning mentality. So the more of that crowd that play, the better.

Any doubt whatsoever regarding the fitness of Tevez must preclude even a cameo. The enforced break for Vidal will surely do his muscles if not his head the world of rejuvenation for like others, he has appeared jaded of late.

I hope and expect that whoever we choose between the sticks enjoys a quiet evening, and with that in mind, I’d rather pick Santo Buffon. Keep the old man fresh and sharp.

The presence at the friendly match of the president and directors was surely designed to give the team a jolt.

Livorno have only won one of their last five but will be buoyed by holding Inter to a draw last week and are scrapping for survival, so expect no easy ride. However, this match is one of our easiest (on paper) of the end of season run-in and we must be expected to win and win well. Give our fans something to cheer for from their hearts, not just their throats.

Juventus 1 – 0 Catania

11 Mar

Juventus v Catania

Buffon-
Showed alertness and his usual classy zeal through mopping up everything thrown at him, commanding in the air, solid with the handful of shots that came his way, comfortable throughout. 7/10.

Barzagli-
He has become a monster. Extremely hard to beat one on one, his physical strength, as with the other two beasts at the back, coupled with a sound footballing mind and fairly quick legs for a big fella make him surely one of the finest defenders in Italy. Also produced several brilliant long passes, a part of his game I have seen emerge more this season. 7/10.

Bonucci-
Leonardo has really matured this term, finally showing consistency in decision making and whilst some of his distribution is wayward, more of it is useful. A fine showing, with little getting past him. In a 50/50 challenge I fancy him every time. And so does the attacker, hence attempts to pass or hold up the ball when faced with Bonucci, rather than attempt to go through or around him.7/10.

Chiellini-
Perhaps due to Asamoah’s awful showing, Giorgio felt it necessary to involve himself further up the field. Whatever the reason, his typically beastly defensive work was marred by the haphazard nature of his forward runs. At times, he bordered on becoming a liability in the opposing half. 5.5/10.

Asamoah-
His worst game in a Juve jersey. Lacking confidence when heading forward, uneasy in the tackle, very few deliveries into the box, seemingly preferring to turn and pass sidewards if not backwards. This wasn’t helped by the lack of presence in the 6 yard area, yet still…Asamoah was poor and with Peluso in such fine form of late, the Ghanaian better up his game sharply or face the bench…5/10.

Lichsteiner-
The old battle-axe fought hard, outshone his opposite on the left flank with his defensive and offensive game. Linked well with Pogba, and was kept busier than hoped for by the pesky little forwards of Catania. Could do with a break against Bologna, but still held the fort in this one. 6/10.

Pirlo-
Another player who didn’t have the best of afternoons, with many a pass going astray. His tendency to lose the ball in key positions is of increasing concern, especially when married to a conviction to turn to the referee whenever he loses the ball, rather than instantly give chase to attempt to atone for his error. Needs a break, or a kick up the arse from Conte.5/10.

Marchisio-
Off the pace, and out of sync with the rest of the team. Claudio seemed lethargic, despite the misfortune of his stabbed effort past the post. A strong case emerged for Pogba/Pirlo/Vidal. However, he is such a wonderful player we can forgive him this poor performance. Did little brilliantly, but nothing woefully. 6/10.

Pogba-
By far the best player on the field. His physique, drive, bravery, pace and heart are all developing at an astonishing rate and its become now, common-place, to see too much class in the 19 year old to believe anything other than he is going to be a world class player. Hopefully, in our colours. Man of the Match for his endeavour, responsibility to defend as well as support and become the attack al aligned with considerable tenacity in the tackle. I haven’t seen such delightful technique and Spartan muscle combined so beautifully since Viera made his debut for Arsenal in the mid 90s…raw around the edges, a true legend in the making..9/10.

Vucinic-
He managed one decent shot. Link-up play was abysmal. Won very little in the air or on the ground, seemed sick, and on occasion it felt like the team gave a collective sigh when yet another ball was passed to him and he either fluffed his lines or ran the wrong way. Should have brought Quags on to replace him after half time. 5/10.

Giovinco-
Appeared more alive than his poorly partner in the final third and certainly buzzed around more, won some useful free kicks, showed good pace and determination, yet ultimately offered nothing more than an eager to please link-man operating between our midfield and the opposing defence. I don’t like these two playing together, no matter what the statistics suggest. Never enough presence in the box for my liking, which narrows the channels of our play going forward. 

We are never going to get the best out of Giovinco if we continue to play him in a role which demands more running back than is natural for his best game to appear, and also, to make matters worse, placing a strike partner alongside him who blows far more cold than hot. 5.5/10.

Matri-
Excitable and desperate to get involved in the fray, with the clock ticking he didn’t once refrain from hustling the opponents and his good work helped in the build-up to the goal. Not long enough to settle into a comfortable flow but did what was asked of him. 6/10.

Quagliarella-
One save at point blank range which he could have done better with, and then a decent shot from just outside he box. A shame not to see him arrive on the field far sooner, preferably from the start. More at ease playing with Matri than Giovinco was with Vucinic, whatever that may means…though we had tired our opponents by this point in the game. Which counts for something, to some people. 6/10

Giaccherini-
I proudly take the credit for adorning the squeaky imp with the nickname ‘the little goblin’ many moons ago, which I have seen since adopted by many others. One of those moments of inspiration which come regrettably too seldom…The same winds responsible for my attempts to disseminate Frederick’ Kruger’ Sorensen, given his apparent idolization of Nightmare on Elm Street hero Freddy Kruger…Still, back to the little goblin…
…He was useful last season. I concluded quite quickly that he was not a great footballer, but extremely fit, pacey, a bit of a wriggler and capable of doing exactly what Conte tells him, in terms of where to run and when. He managed some very useful goals in games when our lack of outstanding talent in offence was directing us towards a draw, and he kept pestering and hustling and sliming his little goblin paws all over the opposition, until finally, he triumphed. His major value is persistence. As proved the case yesterday. I was cursing him, watching him lose the ball time and time again, his passing not good enough for Pro Vercelli let alone Juventus. I almost started to feel sorry for him, but settled upon cringing. Shaking my head in disgust, he scored the goal…from a 4 he jumped up to a 9, because that goal, for which we had been hunting high and low for the best part of 93 minutes, put us 9 points clear at the top of Serie A. 9/10.

Conclusion-
We dominated -mostly- but Catania held their own admirably. A little more luck and we would have won the game long before Conte made the substitutions and Giaccherini scored the amazing winner right at the death. It must be especially demoralizing to have played so well, often pinging the ball around with pace and accuracy and intelligence, and then, be undone so late on, by of all players, the little goblin. I have sympathy for our opponents. Only teams like Inter and Napoli and Lazio to some degree, deserve to suffer ‘defeat by Goblin’. 

Pirlo, Vucinic, Marchisio and Asamoah were all off the pace, with Pirlo looking worse only because he is the main pivot of our team, with everything flowing through him. Perhaps I have been a bit harsh on the marvellous gypsy-queen, but he has set very high standards and I expect more of him than the repeated petulant turns to the ref whenever he is tackled and dispossessed. 

Peluso must come back into the line-up next week for the ghanaian has returned from south Africa, not even half the player he was when he left us. We can’t afford to be nursing players back to form in this crunch period at home and in Europe. Conte may well have to make some tough decisions. Peluso for Asamoah isn’t one of them, but the following will be-

Vidal has been in fine form, arguably one of the best midfielders in the champions league this season. His league efforts are of comparably high standard. Pirlo has to play, given his incredible technique on the ball, but what of Pogba? The Frenchman oozes class and completely over shadowed Claudio in this game. I am not suggesting he is a better player than Marchisio, only that he is in brilliant form physically and mentally. 

Vucinic was poor yet again, at times atrocious. After bearing witness to the basic but potent connection between Quags and Matri in the week, it was horrible to see Mirko so unable to connect well with anyone in the final third. One wicked effort is all he had to show other than plentiful poor dribbles, failed hold-ups and slothful runs. Matri and Quags both seem more eager, more determined and more capable than both Mirko and Giovinco. La formica atomica played well enough, but he needs a stronger running front man, to really show his best, and also, better support on the left flank coming out of defence. Asamoah’s horrors-how didn’t help matters there.

I’d be tempted to go for a-
Buffon
Lichsteiner Barzagli Bonucci Chiellini Peluso
Vidal Pirlo Pogba
Matri Giovinco/Quagliarella
next week, away to Bologna.

With our attempts to bite and rip up-front lacking incisors, I focused instead on the positives, which were all about the defence. Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini are one of the greatest back lines I have known, not just at Juventus, but of all teams. Their physicality was a nasty experience for the Catania forwards and wingers, as it often is for whoever faces them. Barzagli’s passing was worthy of Matthaus. Or Beckenbauer. Bonucci remains jagged at times, but that famous lack of composure has improved dramatically and his calmness and tackling abilities make him immensely more valuable than when we first snared him. Nothing much needs to be said of Giorgio. His attacking play is sometimes useful and sometimes wretched, the latter today, but in his own backyard, he was his usual indomitable behemoth. As a unit they keep getting better…The purchases of Bonucci and Barzagli both now seem like genius business by a much maligned transfer director…

A hard fought win, which came about with several key players performing well below their high standards. Constructive moves from the bench by Conte, and I can’t fault his selection. We haven’t played amazingly well very often since the new year, but have found ourselves 9 points clear with 10 games left. Many reasons to be cheerful…