With Serie A returning from its annual winter break, reigning champions Juventus welcomed Hellas Verona to Turin, the visitors having failed to secure a victory in any of their 17 previous league games this term.
They would fail to do so again here, the Bianconeri running out comfortable winners in their first outing of 2016. Before Christmas, Massimiliano Allegri had overseen seven consecutive wins by his team, and the coach discussed the importance of continuing that streak in Tuesday’s pre-match press conference.
“We must approach the game in the right way, especially from a psychological point of view, as switching back on is always hardest after being away,” he told reporters at the club’s training centre. “The boys needed some time off but have come back fired up and trained well all week.”
Adam Digby @Adz77
Stop me if you've heard this before but a guy wearing no. 21 for @juventusfcen just curled home a freekick https://t.co/cx7GGu4Q4B2016-1-6 14:09:39
Allegri went on to say that his side had “dropped too many points against so-called ‘smaller’ teams,” and he ensured they were in no mood to repeat those mistakes against Hellas. Just eight minutes had passed when Dybala curled home a superbly taken free kick, marking the Argentinian’s 11th goal of the season.
While Juventus were doing well without first-team regulars Mario Mandzukic and Andrea Barzagli, the absence of Luca Toni clearly hurt the visitors. Giampaolo Pazzini drew a fine save from Gigi Buffon, but all too often the Veronese side struggled to create any real attacking threat on the rare occasions they were able to press forward.
Hellas goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini did well to deny Alvaro Morata and Claudio Marchisio but would be powerless to prevent a superb header from Leonardo Bonucci as he nodded home another pin-point set piece from Dybala.
They would take that two-goal lead into half-time, and Simone Zaza would grab a third in the second half to seal all three points in a superb team performance that demonstrated the depth and quality available to Allegri.
As well as Barzagli and Mandzukic, the coach also left out Juan Cuadrado and Patrice Evra, with Alex Sandro doing a superb job in place of the latter. Indeed, the Brazilian wing-back was arguably Juve’s most impressive player here, turning in an excellent display that highlighted just why the club invested so heavily in him this past summer.
According to their official website, the Bianconeri paid former club FC Porto €26 million for Sandro, who then signed a five-year contract with the Italian giants. Despite the presence of established veteran Evra, he has already begun to prove to be worth that high fee with a string of eye-catching performances.
The ability to deliver match-winning assists against Milan, Torino and Manchester City showcased his attacking prowess, but Sandro has also continued to be a diligent defender each time he steps on the field.
That continued on Wednesday afternoon, with the graphic in the tweet below highlighting the extent to which he dominated the entire flank against Hellas Verona. It shows he made three tackles, four interceptions and two clearances while also completing 29 of his 35 pass attempts (82.9 percent).
Adam Digby @Adz77
Alex Sandro vs Hellas(7/1/16): 3 tackles, 4 int, 2 clearances, 29/35 passes (82.9%), 2/3 take-ons (via @StatsZone) https://t.co/Q2NNbjJXDK2016-1-6 23:03:57
It also indicates the 24-year-old was successful in two of his three attempted take-ons; he was a continual source of torment for the opposition defence as he repeatedly linked up well with both Dybala and Paul Pogba down Juve’s left.
But despite Sandro’s excellence, overall it was a victory for the entire team, which Zaza noted as he spoke reporters immediately after the match. “Today’s game might have become easier as it progressed,” the Italy striker said, per the club’s official website, “but that’s down to our ability and good work. Now we need to take this form into our next fixtures.” There is little doubt Juventus will look to do just that when they visit Sampdoria this weekend.