Roma old boys Benatia, Pjanic and Szczesny star for Juventus in narrow win
It took Roma's former players to secure Juventus a 1-0 victory Saturday, taking them to within a point of Napoli at the top of the Serie A table.
On Friday morning, Turin based newspaper Tuttosport ran a front-page headline that read "From losing Romans to winning Juventini" accompanied by a picture of Medhi Benatia, Miralem Pjanic and Wojciech Szczesny to stoke the ire of Roma and their coach. As it transpired, Juventus won the match thanks to the performance of those very three men as Pjanic dictated, Benatia scored and Szczesny blocked every chance aimed at him.
A match that Juventus controlled in the first half, playing a delectably intense game to open the scoring, Roma really only caused them problems toward the end of the second half when they raised the pressure and looked to overwhelm Juventus.
Unfortunately for them, they were inaccurate and out of ideas, managing only two shots on target to allow Juventus to win another game and claim another clean sheet.
Solid in midfield and secure at the back, Juventus are back to being the fortress they once were, playing with maturity and intelligence to close out the game and earn all three points.
Juventus were really made to suffer in the end, and they should have closed out the match earlier, by scoring more than one goal. Producing several chances and 22 shots on goal, eight of which were on target, Juve need to be more clinical to avoid such nervy endings to a game.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Another win for Massimiliano Allegri, who left some of his best players on the bench, didn't use up all his substitutions and yet still earned all three points against a dangerous opponent.
The team suffered at the end, but both he and his squad ought to be applauded for their eighth consecutive clean sheet and the win against a direct rival for the title.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 8 -- Absolutely superb. Made an excellent last-gasp save to deny Patrik Schick in addition to other saves such as the one to deny Stephan El Shaarawy, ensuring Juve earned all three points.
DF Andrea Barzagli, 6 -- Composed and experienced, Barzagli stopped Diego Perotti from making an impact and ensured solid play and quick thinking.
DF Mehdi Benatia, 7 -- Barring the miscommunication at the end with Chiellini that allowed Schick a chance for goal, Benatia was fantastic. His reactions are so quick, his interventions hugely important, and it was his goal that won Juve the game. Good in the air and in reading the game.
DF Giorgio Chiellini, 7 -- Made an error that led to Alessandro Florenzi's chance for goal, but barring that, he was very good, utilising his strength and experience. A warrior that intervened at every opportunity to make life difficult for Roma and especially Edin Dzeko.
DF Alex Sandro, 6 -- Made a few mistakes when he lost concentration, at times not even realising when to step up to play Roma's attack offside. Offensively he pushed forward and always looked to recover and hold onto possession.
MF Sami Khedira, 7 -- One of his better games, where he read everything perfectly to make interesting runs as well as block the opponent. Back to his tactical best.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 8 -- Came so close to scoring, but forced a great save from Allisson in what was another excellent performance from the player. Constantly looked for the right option, his passes always perfect, he dictated the tempo and grabbed control of the game.
MF Blaise Matuidi, 7 -- What energy and what speed of thought. Came close to scoring, had the energy to continue making important runs into the box and caused Roma all sorts of trouble.
FW Juan Cuadrado, 6 -- He will never be great at keeping hold of possession, but he worked hard for the team, especially defensively. Concentrated, alert and hard-working on the night.
FW Gonzalo Higuain, 6 -- Wasn't his night. He had several chances for goal but was unable to convert. You cannot fault him for how well he combines with his teammates and works for the team.
FW Mario Mandzukic, 6 -- Always willing to do whatever it takes for the team. Won his aerial duels, defended admirably well and delivered several key passes, but Juventus need a more effective attacking presence to help Higuain and raise the level in the final third.
FW Federico Bernardeschi, N/R -- Didn't make an impact.
MF Claudio Marchisio, N/R -- Provided experience to close out the game.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.