There comes a time in the career of a soccer player (several times if he’s lucky/talented) during which he’ll have what is commonly known as “the perfect day”. Basically, a day during which every pass, every shot, and every touch of the ball will be dead on the money. While Juventus fans (myself included) are still waiting for that day to arrive for Tiago, the wait for Zdenek Grygera is over. With Del Piero left enduring the defenders’ heavy man-marking and Zanetti fighting off his physical problems, the Czech defender turned scorer, assist provider, and goal saver vs. Genoa today: a long-awaited performance from a player which, compared to pre-season expectations, has been slightly disappointing for the Bianconeri. To be only talking about Grygera however, would be unfair to this Juventus team and their coach Claudio Ranieri. Heavily criticized this week for Juve’s recent bad run of form (1 point in the last 3 games), the Italian manager was capable of restrengthening his troops, bring back tactical cohesion, and pick the right players for today’s Serie A engagements.
Speaking of ‘right’ players, Ranieri’s biggest (and most talked about) choice today was the inclusion of Zdenek Grygera from minute 1 in a rather unfamiliar left-back position. With Molinaro out of action, the most obvious adjustment would have perhaps been to shift Giorgio Chiellini to his ‘old’ wing-back role and insert Guglielmo Stendardo in the center, but the Juve manager has always had high hopes for the ex-Ajax center-back and today we understood why. On the same wing, Hasan Salihamidzic replaced the suspended Pavel Nedved, while Momo Sissoko was given his second starting role of the season (alongside Cristiano Zanetti) in the Juve midfield. On the other end, Genoa manager Gian Piero Gasperini was also dealing with a few notable absentees but chose not to alter his regular 4-3-3 formation, fielding the Leon-Borriello-Sculli attacking trio supported by Abdoulay Konko in the center.
As the match started, the visitors immediately started to apply pressure on the home team, evidently remotivated by their manager and Gigi Buffon’s words earlier this week. An effective strategy for the first few minutes, until Genoa realized they were playing at home and it was up to them to dictate play. The Rossoblu’s fast counters started to instill feelings of anxiety in the Juve players, whose accuracy of controls and short passing began to falter. Nothing too worrisome for Ranieri mind you, but coupled with the physical problems of Zanetti, there were signs of a potentially rising problem amongst Bianconeri ranks.
That is when Grygera decided to take matters into his own hands, or in this case (a correction that will come easy) feet. In minute 25 following a Zebina free-kick from the right wing, the ball was controlled by Salihamidzic inside the box and cleared short by the Genoa defense, eventually rebounding towards the Czech wing-back slightly on the left. Grygera didn’t waste too much time thinking, and armed an absolute ripper with his right-foot from outside the box, on which Alessio Scarpi could only get a touch. 1-0 Juve with a goal that will make you say “BOOOYA!!” many times over.
From then on, the match changed to the advantage of the visitors. Zanetti returned to his midfield position, despite the slight injury problems, and Juve progressively grew in confidence. Not to mention they were featuring a Zdenek Grygera in superman-form on the left wing: controlling a long ball forward, the Czech player’s first touch towards the center opened up acres of space, and allowed him to converge to the edge of the box to slip the ball between Domenico Criscito’s (the on-loan player from Juve) legs. Beating the offside trap and receiving the pass: none other than David Trezeguet, one of the few players capable of disappearing from the match entirely, but who doesn’t need more than one opportunity to prove why managers leave him on the field for 90 minutes. The touch and finish low inside the right post meant 2-0 Juve in minute 33.
The two-goal deficit really sent Genoa into tactical chaos (or close to it). Finding it very hard to cross the midfield line, the Rossoblu were drawn to commit to a series of overly-energic challenges on which referee Emidio Morganti was forced to take appropriate punishment. The first half ended on a 2-0 scoreline for Juve, and a total of 5 yellow cards dished out by the man in charge.
The match ‘climate’ didn’t offer many improvements in the 2nd half, during which another 2 yellow cards were displayed (of course, the fact that pouring rain was coming down on Marassi stadium didn’t do much to help in that regard). Genoa however knew they needed to up the tempo and rapidly get on the scoreboard, or this match was as good as lost. The highlight of the match for Il Grifone came in minute 51, when a Fabiano cross from the left-wing found the tackled deflection (probably with an arm) of Marco Borriello, on which Buffon really had to show off his reflexes to keep Juve’s goal safe.
It was Genoa’s biggest chance to re-open the match, but alas the only one. Juve had by then resumed control of operations, with Zanetti winning back balls and executing spot-on passing, and Del Piero showing his technical mastery with a few one-touch controls on the run. Camoranesi and Sissoko were running their heart out, pressuring on each ball (perhaps too much) and otherwise actively participating in Juve’s offensive efforts. The Italian-Argentine even came close to goal, when a speculative goal-line clearance by Konko found his boot and forced Scarpi to a rather uneasy save (under the circumstances).
In the final minutes, Vincenzo Iaquinta (on for Del Piero) brushed the goal-post with a shot from outside the box, and Genoa had the opportunity the score one for honour in the last play of the game (Borriello’s cross finding Figueroa inside the box, but the shot was wide thanks once again to Grygera keeping guard). With this win, Juve’s distance to Fiorentina (who lost the Tuscan derby vs. Siena today) in the Serie A standings has been brought back to 4 points, and the rumours concerning Ranieri’s fragile job safety wiped out completely.
|GOALSCORERS: 25’ Grygera (J), 32’ Trezeguet (J)|
|GENOA (3-4-3): Scarpi – A.Lucarelli, De Rosa (78’ Figueroa), Criscito – M.Rossi, Konko, Milanetto (64’ Vanden Borre), Fabiano – Leon, Borriello, Sculli (59’ Di Vaio). (bench: Lanza, Ghinassi, Raggio Garibaldi, Masiero). Coach: Gasperini.|
|JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Buffon – Zebina, Legrottaglie, Chiellini, Grygera – Camoranesi, Sissoko (69’ Nocerino), C.Zanetti (74’ Tiago), Salihamidzic – Del Piero (78’ Iaquinta), Trezeguet. (bench: Belardi, Birindelli, Stendardo, Palladino). Coach: Ranieri.|