The wheels keep rolling for the reigning league champions as Juventus had another successful week. On deck for Juventus was a meeting against Sampdoria, who Juve opened their campaign with a 3-0 win in the season opener back in September and another Derby D'Italia matchup with Inter this time in the first leg of the Coppa Italia Semi-Final. Juventus got the results they were after which is ultimately all that matters but there are still some questions surrounding Pirlo's team in terms of being able to kill off opponents and being able to maintain the balance in play for a full 90 minutes.
While these questions may remain with some, one question was starting to be answered, for me anyway. Can Chiellini still be a key contributor for Juventus? In terms of key performers, Chiellini has without a doubt been one in terms of the turnaround after that loss to Inter back on January 17th and he has put in some good performances and it isn't a coincidence that there is a much calmer and organized feeling at the back when he is involved. Heading into this match with Sampdoria many fans were shocked at seeing De Ligt on the bench. While I admit I would've started him, I understood why Pirlo did this for not one but two reasons. We all know the struggles Bonucci has in defending as of late especially in 1v1 scenarios, we also know his strength of that long stretch pass. A simple shift of Bonucci is one of those side CB's when we shift into our offensive formation and we now gain another angle and element to our attack and while some see this exclusion of De Ligt as something negative from Pirlo, I see it as him understanding how important not only he is but also Chiellini and splitting the two up so one is always in the heart of that defense and with that in mind it's hard to disagree really.
So, we face Sampdoria and Chiellini put on another clinic, the highlight being a great intervention on a great opportunity to score from former Juventus forward Quagliarella to keep Juventus up by one after Chiesa had put us in front around the 20th minute. Chiellini celebrating this with his signature celebration and yell, hard not to feel the energy through our Capitano. We did let off the throttle in this but Chiellini and co. rendered Sampdoria toothless and kept the clean sheet. Ramsey added a second and we continue the winning ways heading into that midweek Derby D'Italia, in which we were sure to see De Ligt start but now the question was who else plays next to him? The answer to that was Admiral. We were about to see our young guns take the stage with the experienced ones on the outside in Cuadrado and Sandro.
The midfield saw the usual suspects in Bentancur and McKennie, however to the surprise of many myself included no Arthur. Instead, we see Rabiot start and up top, the lineup was rounded out by Kulusevski and Ronaldo. The latter starting to face criticisms that perhaps father time is catching up to him. Can you imagine betting against this serial winner and one of the best goal scorers of All Time? Everyone had to feel it was only a matter of time before he truly gets firing. While against Sampdoria many fans were frustrated in his play, he still unlocked Sampdoria twice to be a part of the goals we scored, with s great one-two with Morata and a beautiful long ball to find Cuadrado in stride which led to our second. So even in a down performance by his standards, he finds ways to contribute. Against Inter, he would do just that.
We fell behind very early to our bitter rivals through a Lautaro goal in the 9th minute. We would control the play, however, and in the 26th minute would receive a PK for a foul in the area on Cuadrado. Cristiano Ronaldo would step up and do what he does best and finish these and even up the tie for the Bianconeri. We continued to control play however, the next goal wouldn't come from our own creation but a lapse from a young defender and a magnificent read and gamble by the living legend himself Ronaldo as he put pressure on a backward pass and the youngster Bastoni thought he could play around Ronaldo but his touch let him down and Ronaldo stripped him of possession and despite having a wide-open net the finish was much more difficult than it appeared as he was at a difficult angle which was also intensified by the fact he was on his off foot. He struck it and the ball had a curve and as Juventini worldwide held their breath, as what was a matter of seconds felt like an eternity, this ball approached the goal hit the post, and then crossed the line. The lead now belongs to the Bianconeri. We finish the half looking strong and in control but would we avoid that habit of taking our foot off the throttle in the second half? Would Pirlo make some changes? While we controlled play the left side of the formation was a bit clunky with Rabiot, Bernardeschi, and Sandro, and Kulusevski while doing great at shutting down Brozovic wasn't offering nearly enough up top. We come out in the second in the same setup, we struggle as outside of the opening handful of minutes Inter dictated play but our golden boy De Ligt set the tone absolutely crushing Barella with a challenge that sent the Italian midfielder into a front flip. Demiral who had started off the match looking a bit unsettled put in an absolute masterclass, including a sure goal save on Sanchez with the net wide open, alongside the dominating dutchman the two were huge for us as we saw this through and continued the winning streak since the Jan 17th meeting against this same Inter. While we did see some adjustments and this team has grown steadily throughout the season as well as our manager Pirlo, I believe it's fair to say we still may need a few tweaks.
While Pirlo has shown a great ability to read opponents and make corrections from a match to match basis, I feel he could still work on in-game corrections and adjustments. He had an opportunity to help us keep control against Inter and at times he plays with fire in terms of players with bookings who he leaves out on the pitch. However, that does show a lot of trust in those players and maybe why they are rewarding him with valiant efforts match in and match out as of late. Guys lie Bentancur who has been playing through a nasty foot injury. Demiral wants more minutes and was shown faith in an adverse situation. McKennie the newcomer who has now been deemed an untouchable in the starting XI.
Still, though we must be able to manage the full 90 and avoid these letups and maintain the balance of play for the entire match. I do think we are well on our way and this match was yet another one that I couldn't help but feel if it were the pre-winter break Juventus, we wouldn't have gotten the result. The progress is there, the defense is shaping up nicely and the midfield is working more as a collective for the most part and if we can get CR at his absolute best, then LOOK OUT! I continue to be very excited about this project and the work done by Pirlo. This month of February will be a bigger test than January and that was deemed a do or die month so the pressure is mounting on the squad but we are much better prepared now and we went through that month with only one blemish, so let's have some faith, strap in and enjoy the ride.
Next up a battle with Roma, which will be another measuring stick match as we know the last time we faced them early in the season we were nowhere near established and they picked us apart and we were fortunate to get a draw, let's see the growth and where we stand now in what is sure to be a highly entertaining match. Then of course the second leg of the semi-final of the Coppa Italia in which Inter will get Lukaku and Hakimi back in the fold, this will again be a measuring stick and see if we can still control this team with two of their biggest weapons and if we advance, this would be another huge momentum uptick for the psyche of this young club and Pirlo. Saturday can't come soon enough! Bring on the Romans, Forza Juve! Fino Alla Fine!