Ale Matri, Juventus Strike Down Udinese in Top of Table Showdown
At the beginning of the month, Juventus and the club's fans were becoming exceedingly worried about a possible—and recently traditional—drop in form.
Then, the Old Lady's fortunes started to rise.
Juventus persevered to a 2-0 win over Atalanta. Then, on Tuesday in the Coppa Italia, Juventus crushed Roma 3-0. Now, to bring that winning streak to three games from two, Juventus has beaten top-of-the-table rivals Udinese 2-1.
The game was, at times, utterly similar to their 0-0 draw a month ago. But, at other times, it was very different. The chief difference, of course, was the goal-scoring.
Antonio Conte had Juventus playing in a 3-5-2 today, mirroring Udinese. This formation has been used by Juventus on several occasions this season, though rarely has it been the starting formation.
The backline consisted of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. Barzagli was, per usual, magnificent. He had six interceptions, second only to Chiellini's seven, and he was the rock in Juve's backline throughout the game.
This was needed, as Leonardo Bonucci made a pair of puzzling errors.
Regular readers know that I am a big fan and big defender of my dear boy Leo, but I will say that he had a poor second half today.
His first big mistake came during an Udinese counter attack. He was high up in Juve's half, and he pushed up to try and intercept an Udinese pass. His timing was just off, and his attempt failed.
Thus, he found himself out of position, and Udinese were fast on the break. Some Juve players scrambled to stop Udinese, and, after a few contentious moments, Barzagli came in with an interception to stop the play.
His second mistake did not have as severe consequences, though it could have.
While in possession near Juve's box, an Udinese player closed him down. Bonucci panicked, and his errant pass went straight to another Udinese player. Luckily for Leo, Giorgio Chiellini came in with a fine challenge to stop the danger.
Despite his mistakes, Leo did well in other areas.
He had blocked two shots, one of which was a particularly forceful Antonio Di Natale effort. Additionally, he had a 93-percent passing accuracy rating. This is higher than that of any other starter.
Perhaps most importantly, he displayed great chutzpah by shoving Antonio Di Natale right in front of the referee. Bonucci was arguing with the ref, and Di Natale ran over and started getting in Leo's face.
So, he got a nice shove.
Leo's recent inconsistent form has continued today, but this is still not a confirmation of his doubters. He hasn't had an all-around bad game recently—just a few notable mistakes.
His passing has continued to be important for Juventus in her own half, and, so far, Barzagli has been adept enough at fixing Juve's jams. Still, Leo needs to nip these silly mistakes in the bud going into February. He can't rely on Chiellini and Barzagli; he needs to return to the Bonucci of the first half.
Juve's midfield was a mixed bag.
On the wings, starters Marcelo Estigarribia and Stephan Lichtsteiner had fines games, though Lichtsteiner went off late in the game with a slight injury. This was the first game of the Serie A season in which Lichtsteiner did not play the full 90 minutes.
In central midfield, Emanuele Giaccherini and Arturo Vidal put in strong performances.
Granted, Vidal did have one stretch of play where a nagging injury bothered him. It was not severe enough to get him off the field, but he was limping for several minutes. Still, he was handling the ball and making passes. Some of the passes were sloppy, but still impressive for a man on one good leg.
He eventually recovered, and had a fine game.
The other man in midfield, Andrea Pirlo, put in a sublime performance.
Pirlo's performances often serve as microcosms of the team's entire play. Today, his fine play mirrors Juve's.
His passing was, as always, the fuel for the engine of the Juve offense.
The two men injured against Atalanta, starting eleven stalwarts Simone Pepe and Claudio Marchisio, both made substitute appearances.
Marchisio had a good performance, assisting on the second Juve goal.
Pepe's play was adequate, especially when considering he's coming off an injury.
Up top, Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri had different games.
Quags put some pressure on Udinese's keeper Samir Handanovic, and, in the end, he had an important part in Juve's first goal.
On the other hand, Matri was superb. He scored both of Juve's goals, and each was characteristic of Prettyboy Ale.
The first came from an Estigarribia cross out wide. Quags received the header and got it to Matri, who fiercely sent it into goal. Matri has struggled to score lately, so this goal was a fantastic confidence boost to the poacher.
Udinese would equalize shortly after the second half began with an Antonio Floro Flores goal, but Matri eventually put Juve on top once again.
Vidal passed to Marchisio, who had been playing up after he subbed on for Quags. Marchisio displayed his great touch by flicking the ball on to Matri, who slid it right past Handanovic into the far post.
It was a trademark Matri goal, and it was beautiful.
All in all, it was an alright performance by Juventus. Offensively, they were on par at times, though they also struggled at other times to create opportunities.
Still, two goals against one of the top defenses in the league is nothing to frown about. On the other side of the spectrum, they had some rather annoying defensive lapses. They would dictate play for swathes of match time, and then some silly positioning error would let Udinese launch fierce counter attacks.
Juventus got the three points, and Udinese now have to worry about Inter passing them in the standings. Juventus have also now beaten all of the top four teams, with return matches against Inter and A.C. Milan, plus Coppa matches against A.C. forthcoming.
Parma is up next, on Tuesday. Hopefully, Juventus can repeat their 4-1 thrashing from opening day. Praise Conte, and Forza Juve.
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