Federico Chiesa scored twice in the Old Lady’s win at San Siro on Wednesday evening, tearing highly-rated Milan left-back Theo Hernandez to shreds.
He was the undisputed man of the match and his brace allowed the Bianconeri to move within seven points of leaders Milan, with a game in hand.
The former Fiorentina star had even hit the woodwork with a magnificent volley minutes before breaking the deadlock, making the most of a smart back-heel assist by Paulo Dybala.
Even if Theo has shown signs of improvement in the defensive phase this season, Chiesa exposed him like nobody else had done before.
The French winger was caught off position in both Chiesa’s goals and many more times during the game. He also failed to create genuine problems going forward for Juventus.
“I needed someone who could prevent Theo from attacking,” Pirlo confirmed at the end of the game.
Even if the Old Lady are still some way off the top of the table, this win can boost the self-confidence of Pirlo’s side, just like their away Champions League win at Barcelona did in December.
Ironically, Juventus have impressed more against big sides this season, rather than against the so-called ‘small teams’.
They won against Milan, who were the only unbeaten team in Europe’s leading leagues, they beat Barcelona 3-0 last month and recovered from one goal down despite being reduced to 10 men at the Olimpico against Roma at the start of the season.
It's good news for Pirlo, who will face Napoli in the Italian Supercup final and Inter in Serie A in January, but Chiesa wasn’t the only difference maker for the Old Lady at San Siro.
Juventus’ depth was also as decisive and it is no coincidence the Serie A champions closed the game with a Weston McKennie goal, set up by Dejan Kulusevski. Both had come off the bench just a few minutes earlier.
Depth could be key factor in the race for the Serie A title this season.
It is impossible to discuss Milan-Juve without taking into account the absentees. The Rossoneri were without the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ismael Bennacer, Matteo Gabbia and Alexis Saelemaekers. Sandro Tonali was suspended, while Rade Krunic and Ante Rebic tested positive for COVID.
Juventus had Alvaro Morata injured, Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro positive for Coronavirus.
Imagine how Pioli felt, who had prepared such a tough game without some of his most important players only to find out hours before the game two of his most valuable replacements had COVID.
The former Lazio coach had to adapt Davide Calabria as a defensive midfield and the Italian right-back did well in his new position, even scoring the equaliser in the first half.
But take a look at the possible replacements at Pirlo and Pioli’s disposal and you would understand where the difference between the two sides lay.
Milan had Ciprian Tatarusanu, Andrea Conti, Pierre Kalulu, Brahim Diaz, Mateo Musacchio, Daniel Maldini, Lorenzo Colombo, Leo Duarte and Marco Frigerio.
The players sitting on the Juventus bench were: Giorgio Chiellini, Arthur, Weston McKennie, Merih Demiral, Carlo Pinsoglio, Federico Bernardeschi, Marco Da Graca, Alessandro Di Pardo, Manolo Portanova, Nicolo Fagioli, Dejan Kulusevski and Gigi Buffon.
Without Ibra, Rebic and Saelemaekers, Pioli had no options to change the game when he needed it, while Juventus’ third goal was set up by two players who came off the bench.
Depth was vital for Juventus to beat Milan and depth will be crucial to win the Serie A title. This, of course, does not only apply to Bianconeri and Rossoneri, but also to Inter, Roma, Napoli and Atalanta.
The fixture list is as busy as ever due to the COVID pandemic, which can also take players away from the squad from one day to the next. It happened to Milan and Juventus this time, but it had already happened in the past with other clubs, in Serie A and Champions League.
Max Allegri, who won the Scudetto with both Milan and Juve, loves to say “the management of unexpected events is fundamental in order to achieve success.” That rings true this season more than any other, as coaches will need that quality and a deep squad in case of emergencies.