Juventus vs. Chievo: 5 Things to Glean from Wednesday's Game
Today's game between Juventus and Chievo at the Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi was, at times, sluggish and controversial.
The Bianconeri were generally devoid of creativity, even while enjoying a phenomenal 71 percent of possession. The Flying Donkeys looked dangerous at times on the counterattack, but they spent the majority of the match packing the middle of the field.
Despite the general lack of excitement, there are a lot of things that can be taken from this game.
What have we learned? Read on to find out.
Keeping Fabio Quagliarella Was a Good Idea
Fabio Quagliarella celebrates his gritty equalizer early in the second half.
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Fabio Quagliarella was all but gone from Juventus this summer on several occasions, but Antonio Conte eventually stepped in to veto any sale.
Conte was distressed at the firesale of strikers that Juve seemed to be orchestrating at the end of the transfer window. Despite the addition of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente Conte, Conte wanted an experienced hand in his back pocket. After Alessandro Matri's move to AC Milan, Quags was that hand.
He showed his worth in the Champions League against Copenhagen and again in his start on Wednesday. He turned eight shots toward the goal and hit the target with four of them.
His 47th minute equalizer was a superb display of grinta. After receiving a pass from Paul Pogba, he fired one shot and then another at Christian Puggioni's goal before he finally clawed the ball into the net with one arm leaning on the post.
He came off with 15 minutes to go for Tevez, but he had a solid performance overall.
While he may not ever again recover the form he enjoyed in the first half of the 2010-11 season, he is a valuable player on Conte's squad.
Leonardo Bonucci Is as Essential to the Attack as He Is to the Defense
Leonardo Bonucci is the best ball-playing centre-back in the world, period.
There's no one better at launching accurate long balls from the back, and his position in the center of Antonio Conte's three-man defense is perfectly suited to making the most of that talent.
Bonucci's ability to distribute from the back is rapidly becoming a key component of the Bianconeri's attack. With opposing teams focused on denying Andrea Pirlo the room he needs to pull the strings from his regista position, Bonucci's long passes—averaging about 9.5 successful connections per match—are important to Juve's ability to break out and initiate an attack.
He's equally capable of making killer passes that finish off an attack since his central position in defense allows him to penetrate into another opponent's half and deliver a final ball over the top. He's made three sublime assists this season from that kind of run—two against Lazio and one against Hellas Verona.
With Bonucci sitting on the bench as Conte rotated his squad, the attacking threat from the central defensive position was simply nonexistent. Angelo Ogbonna was a capable defender, but when he gained positions similar to the ones Bonucci does, he couldn't deliver the same type of balls to assist the forwards.
In important games, it is going to be imperative that Bonucci is on the field.
Fernando Llorente Needs More Games to Round into Form
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Fernando Llorente finally got his first extended game action this week. After a mere cameo appearance in the opener against Sampdoria in his first month in a black-and-white shirt, rumors started that the Spanish marksman would be seeking a move away from the Juventus Stadium as early as the January transfer window.
Llorente scored the winner against Hellas on Sunday, but he didn't find the net Wednesday against the other Veronese representative in Serie A. It's clear that his extended benching at Athletic Bilbao last year eroded his match fitness, and one of the reasons he's been on the sidelines so long is his need to gain that back.
Still, the training ground and game day are two different things. Llorente is making progress, but Conte needs to put him on the field more in order for him to redevelop the lethal form that categorized his last season at Athletic.
Llorente got into good position a few times and put two shots on target, but neither one was particularly menacing.
His first was a header off a deflected Mauricio Isla cross that had no momentum by the time it reached him. Llorente had to provide all of the power and failed to hit the ball on the sweet spot of his head, and Christian Puggioni saved the attempt easily. The second was off of a cross from Claudio Marchisio that was pulled behind him, forcing him to reach back for his header without much power.
Llorente has shown the positioning and touch that made him one of Juve's top targets, but he needs to stay on the field in order to hone the blade.
Conte will need to figure out how to combine him with his other strikers—Mirko Vucinic or Sebastian Giovinco working behind him could make for a potent combination—but for Juve to be competitive in all three competitions this year, regaining Llorente's form is a huge key.
Juve Needs to Stop Switching Off
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The Jackie Chan remake of The Karate Kid didn't have many redeeming qualities, but one was the priceless line, "your focus needs more focus."
That line could have applied to several situations for Juve this season, and Wednesday was no exception.
Cyril Thereau's opening goal came very much against the run of play and was absolutely avoidable. When Gianluigi Buffon received a back pass and was looking to redistribute, he fluttered a pass to the left that was intercepted by Gennaro Sardo, who slotted to Thereau for the finish.
It was a careless mistake, one that hasn't been seen from Buffon since a similar howler against Lecce late in the 2011-12 season.
One of Antonio Conte's biggest fears this year is complacency. Winning the league two years running—with an unbeaten season thrown in to boot—is bound to create a sense that things are simply meant to be. That can lead to mistakes like what we saw on Wednesday.
Juve is still the most talented team in the Serie A, but talent is nothing if it isn't focused. Juve need to start screwing things down in their heads, because one of the pursuing teams will scupper their dreams of a third-straight league crown.
The Conspiracy Theorists Can Calm Down
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I watched today's match at the Football Factory at Legends in midtown Manhattan. I ended up sitting next to a young Italian man who either hated Juventus—not uncommon for those that don't love Juventus—or was the only Chievo fan in New York.
Either way, when Chievo's Alberto Paloschi had a goal disallowed on a grossly incorrect offside call, he blurted out to no one in particular, "This is natural. It happens every time!"
Conspiracy theories amongst fans think that the big clubs in Italy—Inter, Milan and Juve—get preferential treatment from officials because the powers that be want them to succeed. The latest "evidence" for this was Mario Balotelli's late penalty on the final day of last season that put Milan into the Champions League at the expense of upstart Fiorentina.
Any conspiracy theorists can calm themselves down today, though. This was a clear case of mistaken identity.
At the time of the initial shot that Buffon parried, there was a Chievo player in a clear offside position. However, that player wasn't Alberto Paloschi.
The assistant ref simply mistook the two and raised his flag.
It was no grand conspiratorial act, just a simple mistake. It's not an acceptable one by any means, and it greatly altered the game, but that's all it really was.