Match of Last Weekend
Taking a brief break from my Top 25 of the first half of the season, here’s a game from last weekend that is likely to feature in my top 25 of the second half.
On the same Sunday that saw the start of the Africa Cup of Nations kick off, 5th-placed Juventus visited 7th-placed Roma, each hoping to get back into the title race. Assistant Marco Landucci took charge as Max Allegri watched from the stands, having been suspended for abusing a referee after Juve’s 1-1 draw with Napoli at midweek. The action started early, with Tammy Abraham putting José Mourinho’s Roma ahead and then Paulo Dybala answering for Juventus in the opening 20’. Just after the half hour mark, Federico Chiesa went down with an injury (it would turn out he had torn his ACL, ruling him out for the rest of the season and Italy’s World Cup qualifying playoff) and had to be replaced by Dejan Kulusevski.
In the opening 10’ of the second half, Lorenzo Pellegrini fed Henrikh Mkhitaryan for a deflected goal that looped over Wojciech Szczęsny, then scored a lovely free kick won by Roma’s new young striker, Felix Afená-Gyan. Shortly after the hour mark, Landucci (with or without Allegri’s guidance) brought on Álvaro Morata and former Grêmio and Barcelona midfielder Arthur Melo. Their impact was immediate, and with just under 20’ remaining Juventus drew level with two quick goals from Manuel Locatelli (heading in a Morata cross) and Kulusevski (poaching a rebound off a Weston McKennie-assisted Morata shot). The latter of those had an extended VAR break before being confirmed, immediately after which defender Mattia De Sciglio added a third to put Juventus ahead with just over 10’ remaining.
Roma responded by earning a penalty when Kulusevski used his arm to block and Abraham bicycle kick off a corner. Szczęsny had saved a penalty in the reverse fixture to preserve a one-goal win, and he did the same in this one. That still left time for Giorgio Chiellini to come on and open a gash in Pellegrini’s head through an ariel duel, for late Roma substitute Carles Pérez to narrowly miss in injury time, and for Szczęsny to tackle a breakaway chance off of Abraham’s toe for a perfectly timed ending to a fantastic game. Juve would produce another solid performance in midweek, forcing Internazionale to extra time in the Supercoppa Italiana, suggesting that Allegri may be beginning to turn things around for the Old Lady. Tactical Analysis from: Cult of Calcio, Between the Posts.