On a day that saw Juventus‘ decade-long Calcio monopoly brought to a close by the man that kickstarted it all, the Bianconeri came back from the dead in Udinese to bolster their top-four hopes.
The hosts took an early lead through a fierce Nahuel Molina drive after Juve were caught out by a smart Rodrigo De Paul free-kick. The majestic Argentine proved the protagonist in Udinese’s late decline, however, as he gave away the free-kick which led to Juve being awarded a penalty (for his handball) that Cristiano Ronaldo would duly convert.
A point, though, would seemingly not be enough to save Andrea’s bacon. Step forward Cristiano and his clutch gene. The Portuguese icon’s late header handed the Bianconeri all three points and lifted Pirlo’s side to third in the Serie A table.
Here are the Juventus player ratings from the victory.
GK – Wojciech Szczęsny
The Pole’s harshest critics will say he should’ve done better with Molina’s drive but the strike was hit with some venom from close range. Otherwise, Szczęsny looked pretty comfortable as Udinese threatened sporadically.
RB – Danilo
While the Brazilian was far from spectacular, the consistent full-back performed his function with the utmost diligence.
Pirlo’s return to a more symmetrical 4-4-2 handed Danilo greater attacking responsibility and some of his underlaps were smartly timed. He was assured defensively and produced some important clearances in the air.
CB – Matthijs de Ligt
Udinese’s emphasis on transitions ensured the Dutchman was rarely tested as part of a settled block, but de Ligt nonetheless produced an impressive performance. He asserted his dominance over a fading Udinese attack and offered the surprising glimpse of quality in the opposition’s box.
CB – Leonardo Bonucci
The Italian skipper was tested by Stefano Okaka’s physicality early, but his savvy ensured he’d win the battle with the Udinese forward. It was refreshing to see a more controlled Bonucci performance in what’s been an indifferent season for the once elite centre-half.
LB – Alex Sandro
Defensive astuteness was almost undermined by a showing lacking assertion in possession. The full-back is a shadow of the once attacking force he was four or five years ago, with many of his passes underhit and crosses erratic.
Nevertheless, the left-back should be commended for an improved second-half showing.
RM – Juan Cuadrado
As Juve went in search of a goal, once again the plan looked too simplistic: get the ball to Juan Cuadrado and pray. How many times have we seen that this season?
Nevertheless, the Colombian’s effort can’t be faulted but on this occasion, the responsibility proved overbearing.
CM – Rodrigo Bentancur
I continue to find more flaws in the Uruguayan with each passing week and, to be honest, it’s remarkable how he continues to retain his place in Pirlo’s XI. Bentancur’s deficiencies in the build-up remain clear and today he circulated possession at such a tepid pace.
However, his work in the defensive phase should be commended. His combined eight tackles and interceptions joint-led the Bianconeri.
CM – Weston McKennie
There were aspects of McKennie’s performance that I liked. Returning to the midfield pivot, the impressive space interpreter was often able to gain positional superiority over Udinese’s midfield between the lines. Such movement drew Rodrigo Becao out from the defensive line, leaving a huge vacancy in behind the Brazilian, but Juve failed to exploit the space created by McKennie.
Otherwise, the American was typically tenacious but perhaps didn’t have the impact that Pirlo desired.
LM – Federico Bernardeschi
The sequence just after half-time in which Bernardeschi embarked on a Bambi on ice-like venture in his own third epitomised not only his Sunday afternoon, but his entire Juve career as well. Just horrendous.
ST – Paulo Dybala
There were moments, but mere moments. The half-turn in the build-up to his saved right-footed shot was sumptuous but, overall, Udinese effectively shut out the Argentine in the right half-space throughout.
Dybala’s quality waned as the game progressed in what proved another disappointing outing since his return.
ST – Cristiano Ronaldo
THE SCENES! Forget how bad Ronaldo was the majority, the clutchest of them all produced the goods when Pirlo oh so desperately needed it. His penalty was perfect and header emphatic.