Last-gasp goal allows Juve to open 9-point lead

Posted by Mina Rzouki

Valerio Pennicino/Getty ImagesSixteen minutes after coming on for Kwadwo Asamoah, Juve's Emanuele Giaccherini (right) scored the winner in the 91st minute off a pass from Paul Pogba.

It was a goal that condemned Catania to an underserved defeat and broke the hearts of the visiting squad who remained so attentive for 90 minutes. For Juventus, substitute Emanuele Giaccherini's score in stoppage time extended their lead at the top of the table and might have just won them the Scudetto after Napoli once again crashed, at Chievo Verona.

-- Match report: Juventus 1-0 Catania

Rolando Maran's side have achieved unprecedented success this season, outdoing the great Vincenzo Montella team of last term. Boasting more points at this stage of the season than last year, Catania's organised manner and physical strength has seen them remain both consistent and incredibly difficult to break down, allowing them to pick up points and climb up the table almost unnoticed.

Juventus knew they were in for a difficult game and needed to remain focused and alert throughout to avoid conceding at home. However, the energy expended against Celtic midweek saw the Old Lady struggle to find the usual dynamism to her game to make the most of all the possession she was afforded.

After an early fight for control, Juventus swiftly settled and took command of the ball and began to construct attacking movements. Catania allowed the Old Lady to take the initiative, safe in the knowledge their defensive organisation would complicate matters for the home side. Playing a high line and squeezing the space in the middle, Juventus had to rely on intricate movements in hopes of piercing through, especially considering the poor performance of the Bianconeri wing-backs.

Juventus could not count on excellent wing-play to create space through the middle for the forwards to exploit. Kwadwo Asamoah was especially disappointing. Despite defensive discipline, he struggled to provide the necessary width while proving incapable at running at defenders and overcoming his markers to offer offensive penetration. Looking lethargic and confused, he has yet to put in a worthy performance since his return from the African Nations Cup.

The plan from Maran’s side was to patiently defend before counter-attacking when given the opportunity. However, Juve’s swift transitions limited the potency of the Sicilians' attacking strategy, allowing them to only take shots from distance.

However, the imprecision within the Bianconeri side proved a deciding factor. Unable to rely on individual talent, Juventus simply failed to pick that vital pass or deliver that accurate cross to overcome a stubborn defence. As such, Catania were dependent upon their opportunistic nature, quietly hoping to benefit from potential errors the home side might commit.

In the second half, Catania stepped up their pressing game and further highlighted Juve’s inaccuracy. The pressure forced Andrea Pirlo into a terrible second half in which he failed to properly control the ball as possession was cheaply surrendered. Several mistakes from the usually controlled midfielder led to belief from the Catania attackers, who took advantage to push forward.

Marco Biagianti was especially impressive for the away side. His well-timed tackles, effective clearances and accurate passing ensured Juventus struggled to control the midfield in the manner they have grown accustomed to under Antonio Conte.

An increase of tempo and greater urgency made the challenge between the sides that bit more interesting but it was Conte's substitutions who made all the difference in the end.

The arrival of Alessandro Matri, Fabio Quagliarella and Emanuele Giaccherini led to greater enthusiasm and a greater desire to push through. Matri's insistence on dropping deep to tackle and win back possession to launch his side forward perfectly demonstrated the grinta within a side now desperate to capitalise on Napoli's woes.

It took a man-of-the-match performance from none other than 19-year-old Frenchman Paul Pogba to secure maximum points for the Bianconeri. His continued belief, his ability to shield the ball and carry it to the final third and his hard work to deliver the cross led to Juve's last-minute goal. His positioning was flawless, his determination was that of a champion while his range of passing and dribbling ability offered the side a vertical presence that proved crucial against the stubborn Sicilian defence.

Pogba's cross allowed Juventus to have another chance at goal and a perfect ball to the middle saw Giaccherini act fast to convert perfectly. The goal broke the hearts of the Rossazzurri half of Sicily today, as a dedicated defence that remained almost perfectly attentive throughout were defeated at the last moment.

Juventus have taken advantage of every error committed while their never-say-die attitude saw them prevail to leave Napoli watching from the distance. Milan are coming for them at full-speed but is it too little too late for there to be a serious challenge for the title?

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