Juventus managed to barely pip AC Milan 1-0 to head into the International break on top of Serie A, as Maurizio Sarri continued his unbeaten start to the reigning Italian champions’ manager. Paulo Dybala’s 77th-minute strike gave the Bianconeri all three points in what was otherwise a bland performance which required Wojciech Szczesny to make persistent saves to stop Milan from running away with any points.
Story of the Game
Both sides tried outwitting each other early on, but the Bianconeri had the first big chance. In the 13th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo played an incisive through-ball to Gonzalo Higuain, whose shot from a tight angle was clawed out by Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Krzysztof Piatek had a golden opportunity to give Milan the lead in the 16th minute, when Suso’s expert cross met his header, but the attempt went well wide. The visitors went close again in the 25th minute, when a well-worked move saw Andrea Conti lay up a powerful header from Lucas Paqueta, forcing a solid diving save from Wojciech Szczesny.
Federico Bernardeschi attempted something special in the 30th minute, but his shot after breaking past few bodies went well over. Both teams went close to scoring before the half-time whistle, Milan forcing some more strong saves off Szczesny through Piatek and Theo Hernandez and Ronaldo forcing one from Donnrumma, but the deadlock wasn’t broken.
The Bianconeri seemed reenergized after the break and Bernardeschi had another shot draw wide in the 51st minute. A few minutes later, Higuain played a fancy flick to allow Blaise Matuidi to take a swipe at goal, but his curling attempted braced just wide.
Paulo Dybala surprisingly replaced Ronaldo later and almost making an instant impact when he played a delightful chipped pass to free Higuain in the 56th minute, but the Argentine’s shot from a narrow angle went well wide.
Milan almost bit back two minutes later, when Paqueta played a stellar through-ball to send Piatek through, but his shot was again saved by Szczesny’s reflexes. Matuidi had another swipe at goal at the 66th minute, playing a sweet one-two with Douglas Costa before seeing his shot go over Donnarumma’s head.
Hakan Calhanoglu forced another strong stop from Szczesny in the 75th minute, as pressure mounted on the Bianconeri to scurry for a goal. But then some Dybala magic happened. In the 77th minute, the Argentine played a beautiful one-two with Higuain before going past Alessio Romagnoli and blasting it into the net with a strong finish.
Calhanoglu forced another solid stop from Szczesny in the 84th minute, with his powerful attempt from long being parried out strongly. Higuain had a golden chance to seal the deal in the 90th minute, but his shot from close scurried over. Juve held on regardless, going into the break on top of the league.
Takeaways from the Game
Maurizio Sarri’s substitutions decisive once again
It almost felt like déjà vu from the mid-week UEFA Champions League game against Lokomotiv Moscow as a substitute won the game for Juventus against Milan. That day, it was Douglas Costa who came on and produced a moment of brilliance and Paulo Dybala did it on Sunday. The Argentine was a menacing figure since coming on, but showcased his utter brilliance by going past Romagnoli before slotting in emphatically to win the game for an under-par Juventus side.
Considering he replaced someone like Ronaldo, Dybala thrived under the pressure and linked expertly with fellow Argentine Higuain. He loves scoring against Milan and continued his good record against them with a beautiful winner which takes his side back into the top of Serie A. Costa was also creative after coming on, while Adrien Rabiot helped see off the game. Maurizio Sarri’s plan worked a charm once again.
Milan are finding back positive rhythm under Pioli
It still isn’t long ago when #PioliOut was trending on twitter as Milan fans rejected the thought of Stefano Pioli managing their side. While he doesn’t have the best record as their manager yet, the improvements are quite apparent. He’s reinvigorated Calhanoglu into working harder and being a more creative figure, while Paqueta’s a much more robust midfield cog under him.
He’s making those who suffered under earlier management thrive under his and bringing back that compactness the Rossoneri need to get competing among the top again. That won’t be easy to pull off, but the Italian’s finding the right combinations for Milan to start playing effective football again. They created well-worked chances tonight and were just denied by Szczesny’s heroics, as Pioli and co must concentrate on the positives rather than the negatives of the result.
What’s going on between Sarri and Ronaldo?
While the game wasn’t decided by any means, Maurizio Sarri decided to make a controversial change in the 55th minute when he decided to take off Ronaldo and bring on Dybala instead. The Italian has recently explained how the Portuguese sensation is struggling with knee issues, but Ronaldo’s disgruntled reaction to being substituted told a different story.
Perhaps Ronaldo isn’t playing according to his manager’s expectations or Sarri wants to make a statement on how he’s the alpha in the dressing room. But a possible rift between these two influential figures can never be good for the Bianconeri, as the two need to find an impasse and Sarri must figure out a way on how to base his system in such a manner that the Portuguese can start delivering consistently once again.
Wojciech Szczesny put in an absolute clinic in his goal to prove why he’s regarded among the best in Europe. He made 7 saves in the game, including some spectacular diving ones to keep Milan frustrated and make sure the Bianconeri have a chance at winning the game throughout 90 minutes.
But it was Dybala who won them the game with an incredible super-sub performance. The Argentine looked menacing right from the get-go with his clever passes and deft movement, as he proved his class by scoring another beauty to prove why he was right to stay at Juventus.
Lucas Paqueta was a stand-out for Milan, working very hard in midfield and delivering going forward. He won back possession on quite a few occasions, drove his side forward with clever passes and almost got a goal himself.