Consider each single cliché or stereotype you’ve ever heard almost about Italian soccer. The affinity for tactical chess matches. The defensive solidity. The conservative approaches. The caginess.
All of them utilized to one of many largest video games of the Serie A season on Saturday, the second-v-third conflict between Juventus and Lazio. And so they’ve been making use of loads currently. The title race, for the primary time shortly, has been something however predictable, however the video games that can resolve it have been predictably boring. Predictably tense. Predictably low-scoring. Predictably uneventful.
After which none of that mattered. None of these stereotypical traits mattered. As a result of up popped Paulo Dybala to steal one more large 1-0 win for Juventus on the loss of life:
The little Argentine had appeared gassed – bottled up by Lazio, restrained by a scarcity of assist from teammates, muted by a sluggish, congested recreation that was all the pieces you’d have predicted it to be.
However with one remaining flick of his wand, he slipped the ball by the legs of Luiz Felipe, slithered away from him, fended off Marco Parolo with mighty-mouse energy, and vindicated a Juve technique that in any other case would have been condemned.
The six-time reigning champions, the dominant pressure in Italian soccer this decade, have been the primary offender for all of the big-game caginess over the previous three-plus months. Juventus has a correct title struggle on its palms for the primary time for the reason that first of these six titles. Its plan for profitable that struggle has seemingly been to easily keep away from it – to not lose it.
It has been decided to make each potential title-decider as boring as attainable. Ever since a 3-2 loss to Sampdoria in November compounded early-season struggles, Juve has shut up store. It has conceded only one objective in 17 video games in opposition to Italian opposition. It has met every of its top-five brethren as soon as, and has refused to have interaction within the sort high-octane tussle followers would have hoped to see.
The combination objective tally in these 4 video games, although, has been validation: Juventus 3, opponents 0.
The Bianconeri scored early in opposition to Napoli and Roma, and held out for 1-0 victories. In between, they settled for a 0-0 draw at residence in opposition to Inter, again when Inter was additionally a title contender. They had been fairly completely happy to sacrifice three factors to make sure one.
They appeared content material to take action once more on the Stadio Olimpico in opposition to Lazio. Supervisor Max Allegri switched to a 3-5-2 formation with Blaise Matuidi, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic clogging the center of the sphere. The outcome was … nothing. The sport was as excruciating because it was simple to tune out. Juve hadn’t had a shot on objective earlier than Dybala’s winner. A stalemate gave the impression to be on the playing cards.
And had it been, Allegri and Juventus would have been in for criticism. Their method has primarily been to financial institution on Napoli slip-ups. Juve has been rolling, unbeaten in all competitions for the reason that Sampdoria defeat, winner of 9 in a row in Serie A. In that context, a draw completely would have been acceptable.
However not within the context of Napoli’s tempo. The league leaders had received ten in a row. Had Juve dropped two factors at Lazio, it was at risk of falling six factors behind prime spot, with Napoli set to host Roma later within the day.
And had it ended the day six again, its conservative method doubtless would have been picked aside, held chargeable for what many would have seen as a failure.
As a substitute, because of Dybala, it appears ingenious. Ten factors from the final 4 video games in opposition to the massive boys appears like a possible title-winning return. And the three most up-to-date factors despatched all kinds of strain flooding to Naples in Europe’s most intense title race.
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Henry Bushnell covers world soccer, and infrequently different ball video games, for Yahoo Sports activities. Have a tip? Query? Remark? E mail him at email@example.com or comply with him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.