He's done it again. The mad golfer Simone Pepe scored once again today against Novara. It was the first goal in a 2-0 Juventus victory. Pepe would continue to be a spark plug for the Juventus attack, troubling the Novara defense for the entirety of the game. Indeed, the winger surely earned himself recognition as today's 'Man of the Match', an achievement he is earning on a frequent basis this season.
Though Pepe excelled as usual, there were some differences in the Juventus squad that played today. Leonardo Bonucci and Arturo Vidal were both out serving one game suspensions. So Antonio Conte's men were without one of their best defenders and one of their best midfielders.
To cope with Bonucci's absence, Conte shifted Giorgio Chiellini back into the centerback role. It was a brief sojourn from Chiellini's new (at least in the medium term) role as a left back. True terzino Paolo De Ceglie started this game, and it was his cross that led to Pepe's first goal. De Ceglie was lively while attacking, but he was lackluster on defense. Meanwhile, Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli were superb in the middle of the backline.
Vidal was replaced by Emanuele Giaccherini. While Giaccherini is naturally a winger, he has played as a midfielder before. Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo started in their usual roles, though Pirlo was later substituted by Michele Pazienza.
As Mirko Vucinic is still injured, Conte started Alessandro Del Piero in the left wing position. Meanwhile, Fabio Quagliarella started his first game of the season.
Conte's replacements all performed well. De Ceglie was a revelation on offense, but struggled sometimes while defending. Luckily for him Novara are not that explosive in the attack. However, this is a red flag in terms of playing De Ceglie against a team like Udinese or A.C. Milan.
Giaccherini had a very solid game. He showed a great amount of hustle and worked hard to interrupt several of Novara's passes in the midfield area. He was involved in several goal scoring opportunities for Juventus, but they remained just that—opportunities.
Quagliarella had an excellent game. He scored his first goal of the season off of an Andrea Pirlo cross. Juventus had earned a corner and Pepe (off the corner) passed to Pirlo. Pirlo crossed to Quags who headed it in for a goal. It was a great moment for Fabio and one could clearly see how overjoyed he was. After almost a year of hard work to recover from his injury last January, Quags was back to his scoring ways. The fans gave him a big ovation for his efforts when he was later subbed off, and he definitely earned the applause.
On the other hand, Alessandro Del Piero was a bit disappointing in front of the goal. He certainly helped Juventus build attacks, but he had many misses. Some of his shots were incredibly—agonizingly—close, and some were pretty awful. He seemed to take it all in stride though, and I'm sure the goals will come eventually from Del Piero, they always do.
Novara, much like Cesena a few games earlier, tried to 'park the bus' and hold on for a draw. This tactic is a common one for the smaller Italian sides, but Juventus totally nullified it when Simone Pepe scored in the fourth minute. The entire strategy relies on going totally defensive and getting the 0-0 draw. Obviously, when the other team scores that's not possible.
After that, they switched to a more counter attacking style. They were still essentially parking the bus, with a five man defense, but they were at least trying to create attacking motion. Regardless, they only made a handful of opportunities at most. The Novara offense was little more than a distraction for Gianluigi Buffon and Co.
Juventus spent most of the game trying to score that second goal. They had 26 shots (12 shots on goal) throughout the course of the game. Once they did (thanks to Quags), they tried to score a third. Quagliarella was taken off for Alessandro Matri, and Del Piero was subbed off in favor of Marcelo Estigarribia. I was pretty confident that Matri would score the third goal for Juventus, but I was wrong.
Though Juventus never found that third goal, they were still at the right end of a 2-0 victory. They brought home three points, and are now guaranteed a share of first place going into their showdown with Udinese.
Udinese is the team that they would be sharing first place with today. It all depends on how Udinese does in their game against Lazio later today. Even if they loss, they have a chance to even things out against Juventus in the midweek game.
This is a pretty big game for Juventus. A win, and they will have defeated the other four teams in the top five of Serie A. They have already defeated A.C. Milan, Inter Milan, and Lazio. They can finish the sweep against Udinese, but it won't be easy. Udinese are a good team, as are Juventus. The only thing we know for sure is that the two sides will put on a great match.
After that, it all comes down to the players and the tactics. Conte surely has something up his sleeve, though Udinese skipper Francesco Guidolin probably has a few tricks too.
This game against Udinese will not decide the season. There are many more games, and Inter are yet to stage their second half renaissance. Still, a win against Udinese pretty much cements Juventus as the speculative (keyword) favorite to win the Scudetto this year.
You can follow David Tenenbaum on Twitter: @DTenenbaum