Juventus made the short journey to France this weekend, taking on Marseille in this year’s edition of the Robert Louis-Dreyfus Trophy. Saturday's game was played in honour of the Ligue 1 side’s former owner, who died in July 2009, and a well-fought encounter saw the home side emerge as 2-0 winners by the time the final whistle blew.
Manager Massimiliano Allegri named a strong starting lineup at a packed Stade Velodrome, welcoming Roberto Pereyra back into the team after his experience with Argentina at this summer’s Copa America. Ahead of him, the coach paired Alvaro Morata with Mario Mandzukic, looking to see the latter continue from his match-winning performance against Lechia Gdansk on Wednesday.
Gigi Buffon took his usual place in goal, with Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra occupying the two full-back positions alongside another new central defensive partnership. Injuries had robbed Juventus of both Andrea Barzagli (groin) and Giorgio Chiellini (thigh), meaning Martin Caceres was called into action next to Leonardo Bonucci.
In midfield, Allegri opted to field Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba alongside Sami Khedira, with the coach looking for inspiration following the departures of Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal. His new-look trio would last just 26 minutes, however, as German international Khedira was stretchered off with what looked like a thigh injury.
Having failed to open the scoring despite creating good chances for both Morata and Pogba, the misery for the visitors was compounded less than 10 minutes later. Romain Alessandrini mishit a cross from the right flank that subsequently looped over Buffon, and the Bianconeri captain was unable to prevent the ball from dropping into the far top corner.
Things would become worse for the Italian champions shortly before half-time, with the referee showing Lichtsteiner a red card for dissent only moments ahead of the break. A raft of changes disrupted the flow of the game in the second period, arguably leaving Juventus with more questions than answers as they head into their Super Cup meeting with Lazio.
Travelling to China for the Italian top flight’s traditional curtain raiser, the Bianconeri will hope to recover some of their injured players and the cohesion that underpinned last season’s success. As they powered their way to a domestic double and the Champions League final in 2014/15, Allegri’s side always appeared to be in tune with one another, and that has undeniably been absent from their three friendly outings this summer.
That is somewhat understandable, given the departures of Pirlo, Vidal and Carlos Tevez, of course, with the unknown injury status of Khedira only reinforcing the feeling that the team is missing something.
Yet ready to step in, just as he was last term, is Stefano Sturaro, the young midfielder who arrived from Genoa back in January for an initial fee of €5.5 million, per the club’s official website. Having made 13 appearances for the Rossoblu before making the switch, the 22-year-old featured in 15 more games after becoming part of Juve’s squad.
The most high-profile of those was undoubtedly the first leg of the team's Champions League semi-final clash with Real Madrid, a performance that Allegri singled out for praise following a 2-1 victory. “Sturaro only came here three months ago and he's grown a lot, which is also great credit to the club,” the coach said, per the UEFA website, after a mature display from his young charge.
The team will undoubtedly give him more chances in the coming weeks, and he will hope to take them as well as the one he received against the Spanish giants. Seen as a vital component of Juve’s future, Sturaro will be an important figure from the outset this term, thanks to the injuries and exits forced upon the Old Lady.