Del Piero to the rescue, once again. Il capitano bianconero was the lone Juve scorer in tonight’s away game vs. Catania, a match which, had it been won by the Etnei (as the Sicilian team are called back in the old boot), certainly couldn’t have been called a steal. You can say what you want about teams returning from their holidays not fully fit or thinking they are “still on vacation” (it happened to Manchester United for the post-Xmas game, although they also had problems of another nature to deal with), and it seems to have happened to Juve. Catania stepped onto the field tonight with every intention of grabbing something from this game, and where the technical ability wasn’t sufficient to match up to the Bianconeri’s level, the Etnei made in tactical cohesion and true fighting spirit. However Juve is always Juve, the team that “never gives up”. They proved it once again tonight, by scoring their 8th point-winning goal of the season in the final 15 minutes of the match.
Catania’s start of the match was really at 100 miles an hour. The rain falling on Stadio Angelo Massimino did nothing to cool the Etnei’s boiling spirits, much alike their fans who were chanting and cheering on their team through the whole 90 minutes, enjoying every second of a match-up who had been missing in the Sicilian city since November 20, 1983, the date of the last Catania-Juventus fixture.
Tactically, based on the good performance against Siena Claudio Ranieri decided to entrust playmaking duties once again to Tiago Mendes, and spearheaded his unusual 4-4-2 diamond formation with Cristiano Zanetti as defensive midfielder and Nedved/Nocerino the center-mids. Unfortunately for Juve, the Portuguese player’s “motor” never really got going today, and Tiago’s performance both offensively and defensively left a lot to be desired. Unsurprisingly, he was subbed at half-time.
But other than that, Juve’s match really took off on a bad start because in minute 15 they were already one goal down, courtesy of Gionatha Spinesi volleyed flick on a Giuseppe Mascara aerial through ball. Replays showed that the Catania player was most probably offside, but on that circumstance you can’t really blame the linesman because the call was millimetric. Molinaro didn’t see it that way, and mistakenly let Spinesi completely unmarked to receive the cross, and Buffon was rooted to the spot. 1-0 Catania.
That was essentially the score at half-time, because the Bianconeri were really having trouble in getting close to the net to create dangerous situations. Del Piero was trying his best to send the Catania defenders spinning, or force them to commit fouls from a manageable dangerous-free-kick distance. With little results however, because the Juve captain’s set piece deliveries were wide off the mark.
At the restart, Ranieri decided to modify his line-up and revert back to his usual 4-4-2 wing-attack. Marco Marchionni replaced Tiago and started playing funambulo on the right wing, while Nedved drifted on the left. The entrance of the ex-Parma winger was precisely what Juve needed, to bring back the spark in an offensive set-up which had otherwise been very poorly provided thus far. Trezeguet especially, almost non-existent throughout the 1st but only because, at most, he had probably received 2-3 playable passes the entire match. The one good chance ending up on the Frenchman’s head (exploiting a good Salihamidzic delivery) ended up being a “steal” for a better-placed Nedved behind him, and actually ended up way over the bar. Shame.
In minute 56, Marchionni got through on the right wing, entered the box and hoofed a delicate cross for Del Piero just inside the box. The Juve captain threw himself into a spectacular overhead kick, which would have certainly deserved better fate but ended up a good 2-3 meters over Ciro Polito’s crossbar. Bad luck for Juve.
In the last 15 minutes, it was time for desperate measures for Juventus. Ranieri inserted Vincenzo Iaquinta and Raffaele Palladino for Salihamidzic and Nedved, thus ending the match with 3 strikers and 2 offensive wingers. I guess that somehow it worked, because it put the Catania defenders just under enough pressure for Marco Biagianti to upend Alessandro Del Piero inside the box, and force the referee to point to the spot. Pinturicchio swiftly transformed the PK, giving Juve a hard-earned point in the 91st. The Bianconeri will take it, momentarily climbing to 2nd spot in the rankings.
All that remains to be seen now, is whether Inter and Roma also have players who haven’t completely digested the holiday Panettone.
|GOALSCORERS: 15’ Spinesi (C), 91’ pen. Del Piero (J)|
|CATANIA (4-3-3): Polito – Silvestri, Terlizzi, Stovini, Vargas – Edusei, Izco, Biagianti – Colucci (67’ Martinez), Mascara, Spinesi (88’ Gia.Tedesco). (bench: Bizzarri, Sottil, Gazzola, Llama, Millesi). Coach: Baldini.|
|JUVENTUS (4-3-1-2): Buffon – Salihamidzic (81’ Iaquinta), Legrottaglie, Chiellini, Molinaro – Nocerino, Zanetti, Nedved (75’ Palladino) – Tiago (46’ Marchionni) – Del Piero, Trezeguet. (bench: Belardi, Birindelli, Grygera, Almirón). Coach: Ranieri.|