Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the starting XI as he starred in a Juventus win against Sampdoria to continue their unbeaten 2018/19 season in Serie A.
Allegri has led his team to break their own record of 53 points at the halfway stage of the season (19 games). With 17 wins and two draws, it has been a stratospheric first half of the season for the storied coach. The Old Lady also equalled Torino’s record, set in 1948, of collecting 101 points in a calendar year.
Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t leave the day without taking yet another record though. By scoring the opening goal, he became the highest-scoring Portuguese player in a single Serie A season since Rui Barrios scored 12 goal in the 1988/99 season. Ronaldo has taken just half a season to do it.
With two of Serie A’s top goalscorers on show in Ronaldo and Quagliarella and 22 goals between the two sides in their last six meetings, this game was never going to be short of entertainment.
It was the ex-Real Madrid man who fired Juve ahead after just two minutes. Squaring up against Sampdoria’s Sala on the left edge of the 18-yard box, he bent a low shot around Ferrari and past Audero, the goalkeeper on loan from Juve.
Not to be left off the scoresheet after scoring in the last eight consecutive games, it was Fabio Quagliarella who stepped up to slot home his side’s penalty on the 33rd minute after VAR confirmed Emre Can’s handball inside the box. That goal put him level with David Trezeguet, the last man to score nine in a row in Serie A in 2005.
VAR took centre stage again for Ronaldo’s second, confirming the referee’s original decision to award the penalty after a Gian Marco Ferrari handball inside the 18-yard box. That wasn’t the end of the controversy though, as the visitors thought they had secured an away point after finding the back of the net in stoppage time when substitute Saponara pounced on Juve’s backup goalkeeper’s mistake only for VAR to rule the goal out and give all three points to the home side.
Bentancur was sent off last time out against Atalanta and was therefore suspended. However, Ronaldo and Pjanic returned for Bianconeri, while Bonucci was rested. Wojciech Szczesny pulled out of the starting XI in during the warm-up, adding to Cuadrado, Cancelo and Barzagli on the injury list.
Perin made a start in replace of Szczesny, a solid replacement who had not conceded a goal in his previous three appearances after joining in the summer transfer window. Chiellini was partnered with Rugani in central defence with Sciglio and Sandro right and left back respectively in Juve’s 4-3-3 set up.
Pjanic marshalled the midfield along with Matuidi and Can, with Mandzukic, Ronaldo and Dybala across the front three.
Sampdoria were missing Joachim Anderson to suspension, and both Bartosz Bereszynski and Edgar Barreto through injury. Ex-Juventus forward Fabio Quagliarella, who will turn 36 next month, was included though having scored in each of his last eight Serie A appearances.
Giampaolo set his side out in their usual 4-diamond-2, looking to match and restrict Juve’s passing ability. On-loan Juve goalkeeper Audero started in goal, with Colley and Ferrari commanding a back four along with Sala and Murru. Ekdal sat at the bottom of the diamond, flanked by Linetty and Praet with Ramirez playing in the attacking midfield role. Caprari partnered Quagliarella up front.
The Ronaldo impact was clear to see on his return to the lineup after coming off the bench to secure an away point against Atalanta last time out. Although it was Mandzukic who was labelled as the central striker for this game, it was Ronaldo whose presence was most felt, and often through overloading different sides of the field.
As the images illustrate above, Mandzukic often drifted out to play on top of Sampdoria’s right back, Sala. His aerial presence along with the threat of Ronaldo was demonstrated often, with 35% of Juve’s shots coming from the left channel, 41% from the centre and just 24% coming from the right channel.
With Sampdoria right-back Praet winning the second most tackles on the day, his work was cut out after being isolated against one of the best players of his generation in Ronaldo.
With Dybala largely holding a free role, his positions varied from the left channel to an inverted number 10 at times. This countered Sampdoria’s diamond allowing equal numbers in attacking moments and better pressure on the ball in defensive moments.
His role was crucial on the day, totalling an 84% pass completion rate but providing four key passes. His ability to combine with Can and Scigalo in the right channel created positional superiority on one side of the pitch. This allowed for numerical superiority on the left with Mandzukic and Ronaldo receiving diagonal cross-field balls from Dybala. The latter found Ronaldo no fewer than nine times, despite their opposing starting positions. He didn’t pass to anyone else in an attacking position more often.
With Pjanic and Dybala both starting, Giampaolo set out to take away as many build-up options as possible for Juve. Setting up in a 4-diamond-2, it was Ramirez who had the job of stopping the playmaker Pjanic picking Sampdoria’s defence apart.
The image above illustrates the starting positions of Ramirez, in close proximity to the Juve playmaker. Caprai and Quagliarella played on top of Chiellini and Rugani when possible, forcing them to play sideways rather than into the next layer of space through Pjanic.
Whilst Pjanic, Chiellini and Rugani were occupied by Sampdoria’s front three, it was the role of Linetty and Praet to take away Can and Matuidi, until the ball got into a channel area. At this point it was their role to release from a central area to get pressure on the ball, particularly when Sciglio and Sandro found possession. It was then Ekdal’s role to fill passing lanes or screen the target man Mandzukic or indeed Ronaldo when he’d rotate inside.
With Ekdal, Praet and Quagliarella all in the top five of tackles won between the two teams, their jobs may be justified through these numbers.
Juve played 13.03% long passes compared to Sampdoria’s 8.54%, and an average pass length of 21.5m, almost two metres longer than their average this season. This may be of small comfort to Giampaolo after experiencing his team’s first loss in eight contests.
Having dropped just four points all season, Allegri will be delighted with the first half of the season, moving into the winter break 11 points clear of nearest challengers Napoli.
Juventus all but kept Sampdoria at a safe distance throughout the game, with only a few moments of concern for The Old Lady. Giampaolo and his team will be happy enough with their showing at the league leaders’ home though, maybe feeling like they could have added to their seven-game unbeaten streak. After all, they had won five out of their last seven games to leave them 7th in the league, just 3 points off fourth place Lazio. They may well be involved in what will be a hotly contested race for Europe in the second half of the season.
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