Summer signings Douglas Costa and Blaise Matuidi help Juventus reach Coppa Italia semifinals
Juventus were not at their best but still managed to defeat Cagliari 1-0 on Saturday evening, albeit controversially.
Juventus started the match well but Cagliari refused to lie down and roll over, playing an excellent match that perhaps should have ensured they walk away with something. Utilising their pace and creating several key chances, Juve were left rattled and forced to count on Wojciech Szczesny.
The Old Lady did eventually get the goal in what was a physical second half but it came under controversial circumstances. Medhi Benatia had seemingly elbowed Leonardo Pavoletti but play was allowed to go on and Federico Bernardeschi scored soon after.
Unable to control possession, Juventus were struggling and lucky not to have conceded a penalty as the ball hit Bernardeschi’s arm but they did eventually get over the line and record another victory to remain second in the Serie A table.
Szczesny has proved once again that he can be relied upon at the back, transmitting a sense of calm. Alert, aware and quick to react, he was spectacular on the night proving Juve are in safe hands once Gianluigi Buffon retired.
“If people want a competitive league, it’s one thing, but if they want a league where all the big clubs always win, then they should tell us,” said Cagliari President Tommaso Giulini. VAR was meant to a be a reliable tool used to stop people from crying foul every time a big team got the decisions but it’s instead creating more controversy as people are doubting referees and still pointing the finger in a suspicious league.
Manager rating out of 10
6 — Massimiliano Allegri was forced into two substitutions due to the injuries to Sami Khedira and Paulo Dybala but he reshuffled his men well. Juve may have secured the win but Allegri must work on ensuring his side do not run so many risks at the back and play with more intelligence when facing a combative side.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK, Wojciech Szczesny, 7 — Excellent save from point-blank range from Pavoletti then got down and pushed the ball away. Pulled off another great save on Diego Farias in the first half. Strong, alert and aware, Szczesny has more than proved himself capable.
DF Andrea Barzagli, 6 — Did well to halt Pavoletti when called in, demonstrating strength, and repeated his brilliance again with Farias, rescuing the side. Alert and decisive in defence.
DF Medhi Benatia, 6 — Nice finish for his goal rightly deemed offside but defensively he can be overly aggressive and a bit rough around the edges. Lucky to not have ruined it all for Juve with that elbow to Pavoletti’s face.
DF Giorgio Chiellini, 6 — A few mistakes from the defender who struggled against the opponent. A little overwhelmed which ensured he wasn’t as aware and well positioned as he would have liked but grew better and more determined, ending the game with his usual bandage around the head after colliding with Fabio Pisacane.
DF Alex Sandro, 5 — Another poor performance from the player who gave the ball away far too often and committed silly fouls but he did cut a lonely figure on the left.
MF Sami Khedira, 5 — In matches such as these, it’s vital Khedira uses his experience and intellect to help control the game and ensure teams like Cagliari don’t take over and overwhelm. Couldn’t manage that on the night.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 6 — Caught in possession a few times and like his companions suffered. Knows how to get down and battle when needed, drawing fouls and playing with more maturity.
MF Blaise Matuidi, 5 — His passing game wasn’t on point while his limitations were exposed in a match that required a mature and composed performance. Instead, the player made it clear he was overwhelmed.
MF Federico Bernardeschi, 6 — Hit the post, delivered a beautiful pass forward for Gonzalo Higuain and then scored a beauty thereafter by making a well-timed run. But for all his ability, Bernardeschi can be a liability. Lucky to not have conceded the penalty.
MF Paulo Dybala, 6 — Very good between the lines to create danger but the match was made difficult by how much Cagliari surrounded him in an attempt to hinder his performance. Taken off with an injury.
FW Gonzalo Higuain, 5 — Difficult match for him to make an impact and he made mistakes but he worked hard for the side in trying to relieve the pressure when pushing forward. Surrounded often when he did have the ball.
FW Douglas Costa, 7 — He is yet to really understand how best to apply his unique list of skills to this side. His instincts can let him down a little but his pass for Bernardeschi was nothing short of perfect.
FW Mario Mandzukic, 6 — Came on to do what he does best, sacrifice for the side.
DF Stephan Lichtsteiner, NR — Came on to ensure defensive security.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.