Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri sent out more or less the XI we expected, with Douglas Costa getting a rare start. Injuries and suspensions (as well as a grueling midweek fixture) forced Fiorentina boss Giuseppe Iachini to rotate his side heavily, including a debut for defender Igor, who’d been in the team for all of 2 days.
To nobody’s surprise, the visitors sat very deep early on, inviting the hosts forward and looking for space on the break. Aside from a pretty obvious dive from Miralem Pjanić early on, the Viola rearguard held firm, and it was going forward where they nearly produced magic: Marco Benassi flicked a cross on with the outside of his foot and Federico Chiesa nearly flicked it home. From the corner, Pol Lirola forced a tremendous save from Wojciech Szczęsny with a beautiful volley, and Patrick Cutrone whiffed on the follow-up cross by Germán Pezzella. Igor bumped Cristiano Ronaldo on a cross that could have used a VAR check, but that didn’t come until Pezzella blocked a Pjanić shot with his arm; while it was very harsh, as he was screened from seeing it until the last moment and was clearly making an effort to pull his elbows in, the new law ignores intent, so Ronaldo stepped up and powered it home.
Fiorentina battled valiantly but weren’t able to summon much from open play aside from a Benassi belter that whistled past the post, although they did threaten from set pieces. Juve, on the other hand, kept pushing into the box, and it took an inspired Bartłomiej Drągowski to keep them out despite a few good shots. Late on, though, referee Fabrizio Pasqua handed the hosts a very dubious penalty as Rodrigo Betancur tangled up with Federico Ceccherini in the box; it sure looked like Cecche had beaten him to the ball, but a shriek and a flail later saw Pasqua point to the spot, where Ronaldo converted again. A stoppage time header from Mathijs de Ligt rounded out the scoring, although the the final result was very harsh on the Viola, who’d been at least as good as their hosts.
Drągowski—7.5: Made a string of highlight reel stops and frankly looked better than his compatriot at the other end, although it’s doubtful that the higher ups for Poland will see it that way. Much quicker than his bull-like build would have you think, particularly getting down to low shots. Not at fault for any of the goals at all.
Ceccherini—6.5: The penalty was absolutely not his fault, and he’s got nothing to be embarrassed about here. Mistake free and solid, mostly keeping Ronaldo in check and maintaining solid positioning.
Pezzella—6: Completely erased Gonzalo Higuaín from the proceedings and contributed well against Ronaldo. Also had a couple of dangerous moments on the other end, including one attempt that was whistled dead after two Juve players collided and Pasqua decided that the Viola captain had mind-controlled them into it. Unlucky for the penalty, but them’s the breaks.
Igor—7.5: Eye-opening. Big, strong, and fast, he kept pace with Douglas Costa easily and was nearly impossible to beat on the ground or in the air. Surprisingly good with the ball at his feet, too. Aside from one bad moment which could have been a PK, was nearly flawless, especially in the first half.
Lirola—6.5: Another strong performance from the Spaniard, who earned his 100th Serie A appearance. Put in that cracking volley and produced some other nice moments going forward. Kept it tight at the back, helping well against Ronaldo.
Benassi—6.5: As good as we’ve seen from Marco all year. Ran, provided some vertical passing, kept the ball moving whenever Fiorentina actually had it, and nearly scored an ice-cold effort. Even worked on the defensive end. Really strong performance from a much-maligned player.
Pulgar—6.5: Did typically Pulgar things, breaking up play and occasionally switching the play well. Offered little going forward outside of some good set piece deliveries, although he did have a fine effort from distance early on. Didn’t let Juve play in front of the defense.
Ghezzal—5: Probably the weakest link. Had trouble coping defensively with Cuadrado, who continually underlapped into his space. Popped up occasionally in attack for a cross, but was mostly a passenger. Playing in a new role probably didn’t help him, and with Alfred Duncan lurking, we probably won’t see Rachid here again.
Dalbert—5.5: Had a few outstanding moments, including a brilliant tackle late, but really needed to offer more as he attacked the vacant space on his wing that Cuadrado left.
Chiesa—6: Had several moments in which he came close but couldn’t quite get it right at the end, including two in which his touch let him down and let slowpoke Leonardo Bonucci catch up to him. Seemed more willing to share the ball today but still got his head down a few times.
Cutrone—4.5: Varied his movement well and tried to hold up play, but that’s not a battle he’ll win against Bonucci and de Ligt. Starved of service throughout and totally borked the only good chance he had. Better days are ahead, though, and we’re not worried about him.
Vlahović—4.5: Didn’t really do much in his limited minutes.
Sottil—n/a: Had a couple of nifty dribbling moves but wasn’t really out there long enough to change things.
Agudelo—n/a: Got a debut, which is exciting, at least.
Three things we learned
1. Italian refs are gonna Italian ref. The first penalty was legit, although pretty harsh. But the second was a joke, and there were several other calls and non-calls that seemed a bit one-sided. In fairness to Juve, they weren’t purely passengers, but you have to think that this result flatters them quite a bit and wouldn’t have happened without some help from the man with the whistle. That we’re all so outraged only goes to show what suckers we are: this is the same thing that’s been happening for decades.
2. Bartłomiej Drągowski has become one of Italy’s best goalkeepers. Goalies are a strange breed. In a sport defined by its skill with feet, they use their hands. Where other players move around freely—defenders get forward and strikers track back—they stay put. Given that the point of soccer is to score goals, they’re an almost anarchic force, dedicated to preventing the stated intent of the game. It’s a widely-accepted bit of wisdom that all keepers are a bit funny in the head. Maybe that’s why we don’t always appreciate them enough. So let’s all just take a few deep breaths and enjoy Bart’s unlikely rise to one of the best plying his trade in Italy. The fact that, say, EA Sports has ranked 23 (!!) goalkeepers in Serie A as better than him is, to quote Didier Drogba, a f***ing disgrace. I’d take Bart over all but maybe 3 or 4 other custodians in Italy right now.
3. Rocco’s all-in. The Fiorentina owner delivered a blistering critique of the referees’ performance, then clapped back at Juventus vice-president Pavel Nedved for criticizing his comments. Between the fire here and the big-time January acquisitions, Commisso just showed that he’s ready to lay it on the line for this club, which is a welcome change of pace. It’s not going to be a smooth rise to the top because those don’t exist, but you can bet that he’s going to do his damnedest to bring for the team and the city, and that’s all you can ask for.