A point managed, but winning run ends for Juve

Posted by Mina Rzouki

The final whistle blew and Paul Pogba fell to the floor, a look of anger and frustration visible on his face as he fought with himself. Most teams would have accepted their fate and the result, having been forced to play with only ten men for the majority of the match. But not Juventus. They desperately wanted that 13th consecutive league victory and did all they could to accomplish it and further demonstrate the winning mentality that Antonio Conte has managed to give the Old Lady. Sadly for them, the run has ended; a 1-1 draw was all they managed in the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday night against Lazio.

- Report: Lazio 1-1 Juventus

What a different Lazio side we saw play, one that possessed none of Vladimir Petkovic's timidity but all of the squad's ferocity. Prior to Petkovic's dismissal, we witnessed a side that was inaccurate with their passing, suffering from a psychological meltdown and incapable of finishing off any good goalscoring opportunities. What we have seen under new manager Edy Reja is a side more willing to fight, that maintained concentration and displayed more confidence on the pitch. Of course, also having Miroslav Klose back playing consistently has made all the difference.

The forward continuously put the Bianconeri back-line in danger as he provoked and pounced on every error. His predatory nature coupled with his timely runs forward exposed the vulnerability in the Bianconeri defence and demonstrated just how important he is in guiding Lazio back to winning ways, even if his finishing needs some work.

The Biancocelesti opted to play a cautious game initially, closing up gaps and intercepting Juve's passes to win back possession and block vertical penetration. Showing no real urgency to impose their own style of play, it took Klose's runs to change the game. In the first instance, Gianluigi Buffon was forced into demonstrating his footballing skills when he attempted to keep the ball away from Klos. But when the German managed to get past defender Angelo Ogbonna in the 24th minute, Buffon brought the striker down and was shown the red card.

A penalty was conceded and Antonio Candreva scored while Juventus were forced to sacrifice Kwadwo Asamoah to bring on Marco Storari. Remarkably, going down a man inspired Juventus and they started to play a marginally better game in their new 3-4-2 formation, 3-5-1 when not in possession.

Despite dominating possession, the decision to play long balls and look for Fernando Llorente by bypassing the midfield tended to frustrate. Often it led to the side losing possession and allowing Lazio the opportunity to work their way back forward, even if they too struggled to keep hold of the ball.

One of the few times Juventus actually worked their way up intelligently, relying on short vertical passes, they managed the equaliser. The move was spectacular, the runs superb and Llorente's finish was outstanding. He may not always delight for the entirety of the match, but there's little anyone can do to stop his head from accomplishing the magical. The equaliser aside, the Spaniard's ability to use his strength to hold the ball up allows Juventus the right to play in the final third and continuously construct goal scoring opportunities to push forward.

The second half saw a more determined Bianconeri side, but Lazio never gave up, even if they struggled to make their numerical superiority count. What was interesting was how Juventus' midfielders alternated their roles. Despite taking on the Andrea Pirlo role, we regularly saw that Claudio Marchisio was allowed to make runs forward into the box and press for the ball high up the pitch while Pogba adopted a deeper position than all of the midfielders. We also saw Pogba dribbling forward as Marchisio kept an eye on the defence with Arturo Vidal contributing in all areas of the pitch.

Speaking of midfield combinations, Reja deserves credit for making the Cristian Ledesma and Lucas Biglia partnership work, something Petkovic struggled with earlier in the season. With both directors focusing on closing down lanes and distributing the ball, they managed the job well, even if Reja concedes that there is room for improvement.

This wasn't the best we've seen from Juventus and concerns have been raised as to how vulnerable the side look when it comes to defending set-pieces. However, this match also demonstrated the side's mental strength and the ambition the players still possess despite all that they have won. It wasn't the victory they wanted, but it was a valuable point achieved nonetheless.


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