Juventus ran out comfortable 4-0 winners on Friday night when dispatching relegation-threatened Lecce, but only after the Salentini gave their hosts a helping hand. It was a score-line that reflected harshly on Fabio Liverani’s team, as until Fabio Lucioni saw red after just 30 minutes, the Giallorossi had firmly established themselves in the game.
Prior to kick-off a home victory was expected to be a formality, a case of how many for Juve against Serie A’s leakiest back-line. However, early exchanges were a pleasant surprise for the neutrals watching on. Lecce were bright, handling possession excellently and showing composure as they bounced the ball around the league leaders. The Bianconeri were sluggish, their press was hollow with an apparent lack of desire to take control of proceedings.
Lecce coach Liverani had come prepared and his players took to the pitch with plenty of belief in their approach. Unfazed by facing an attempted high press from Juventus, they welcomed the challenge, shifting shape to aid their escape from ‘keeper Gabriel. Their 5-3-2 was morphed into a formation resembling 4-2-3-1, using the double pivot of Jacopo Petriccione and Panagiotis Tachtsidis to bypass Juve’s front line. Once Lecce secured possession in midfield, they would use their full-backs/wingers to maintain control, stretching the pitch and regularly using switches of play that would force Sarri’s team to retreat.
The Old Lady responded by trying to push their midfield higher to put the aforementioned Lecce pair under pressure, but their attempt at this was disjointed as the away team continued to have joy in possession. Juve’s front three should have narrowed in, forcing the ball outside rather than keeping the forward passing lanes open. Lecce ventured forward on a number of occasions and had openings they could have made more of.
The Italian champions’ problems have been well documented this campaign and despite an improved display against Bologna earlier in the week, the opening 45 minutes here felt like a return to those previous poor performances. Sterile possession, a lack of movement and all of Juve’s play in front of the Lecce defence, carrying little to no penetrative threat. With a dearth of forward runners to defend, Lecce need not drop too deep, allowing the visitors to go tight against Juve on occasions. Using 5-3-2 without the ball gave them numerical superiority defensively, encouraging Juve wide, Lecce would quickly shuffle across to overload the wings and force Sarri’s players backwards.
Juan Cuadrado and Blaise Matuidi were situated deep, resulting in a line of four across the half-way line. Juve’s full-backs receiving possession in deeper areas this way meant they would draw team-mates towards them, playing into Lecce’s hands. La Vecchia Signora were stalling, a reluctance to position themselves higher and push the tempo of the game. Lecce weathered a few dangerous attacks before the break, but went in level. Playing a man down, the writing was on the wall for the southerners.
A previously passive Paulo Dybala gave his side an early second-half lead with a delightful goal, providing Juve the platform they needed to stroll home. The introduction of Douglas Costa for the extremely disappointing Adrien Rabiot energized the attack, proving yet again that the Brazillian is a better impact sub than a starter.
Cuadrado and Matuidi were now playing much higher, occupying and stretching the Lecce defence. There was a wider variety of movement coming from midfield, creating spaces to attack. With a man advantage, Sarri’s team began to shift the ball quicker. Carrying a threat around the sides and with players ahead of the ball, Juve were now occupying the pitch and able to add the missing intensity from the first half. Further introductions from the bench provided fresh impetus for the Bianconeri, a withering Lecce had no reply and would have been relieved when the final whistle arrived.
Despite the result, Lecce will take some comfort from the opening stages. A loss here isn’t going to define their season, but a titanic battle against fellow relegation candidates Sampdoria this coming Wednesday could. As for Juventus, there will be continued questions around performance, but the numbers make for positive reading. A fifth consecutive clean sheet with Matthijs de Ligt dominating again, much needed goals from open play and Cristiano Ronaldo taking his tally to 18 goals and four assists in his last 14 outings.
In an ominous sign for Serie A, the lead at the top now stands at seven points awaiting Lazio’s match, as the Bianconeri continue their march towards another Scudetto.
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