Better late than never. Paulo Dybala’s brace against Lokomotiv Moscow spared Juve’s blushes, but the win shouldn’t mask just how poor the Italian champions were.
Maurizio Sarri, who has for the most part got his team selection right so far this season, didn’t this time. He might’ve anticipated that Lokomotiv wouldn’t come to Turin to attack, and they didn’t, finishing the game with a paltry 23% possession.
Sarri’s inclusion of both Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira backfired. Faced with two banks of four in front of him, the German, who lacks the dynamism to skip past players and is only good when running into open spaces, was a non-entity throughout the game, and was oddly replaced by Gonzalo Higuain only two minutes into the second half. Matuidi, whilst lacking the guile, does at least offer relentless running and physicality.
After the win against Bologna last weekend, Sarri complained of having sterile possession, yet the same sterility was laced throughout Juve’s play against Lokomotiv. With the periphery of the Russian penalty box congested with players, they failed to spread the play often enough, at times trying to SarriBall their way through the mass of bodies. It wasn’t working. Juve’s tempo was ludicrously slow.
For the most part Juve were confined to striking from distance, with 28 shots, it’s their second most in their history in the competition, yet Guilherme in Lokomotiv’s goal didn’t have to extend himself for the majority.
It’s difficult to know what to make of Leonardo Bonucci these days. In some games you see flickers of the old, pre-leaving Juventus-in-the-summer-of-2017 Bonucci, but mostly what you see nowadays is Bonucci masquerading as a defender, looking the part without wanting to do the job that is required of defenders. What his intentions were in the build up to Lokomotiv’s goal is frankly anyone’s guess, his attempt at defending was an affront to the basic concept of the art.
The introduction of Higuain made all the difference, he gave Juve an intensity they had been sorely missing throughout the game, and there will now be calls for Sarri to play Ronaldo, Higuain and Dybala together from the start, especially in games like this, where the away team have no aspirations to play for a win.
Dybala’s first goal was wondrous, almost Messi-esque in the way he shaped his body to curl the ball past Guilherme. His second was arguably technically harder to execute, slicing the ball across the goalkeeper’s path, making it even harder to save.
In the grand scheme of the season, this performance, and the game itself, will be forgotten about by the weekend, but it’s another win that keeps Sarri’s unbeaten record at Juventus intact, and for a manager who has self-professed to being a slow starter with his clubs, that’s worrying for the other European heavyweights.