Andrea Pirlo & makeshift Juventus enjoy watershed night in spirited victory over Lazio

Andrea Pirlo & makeshift Juventus enjoy watershed night in spirited victory over Lazio

You just know that Juventus’ 3-1 victory over Lazio will be awarded an entire episode of airtime in the latest Amazon ‘All or Nothing’ documentary, don’t you?

The early setback, the Rocky montage, the turnaround against all odds, Alvaro Morata screaming “There are no quitters here!” down the camera lens. And then the animalistic, head-pressing celebrations between manager and player.

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But behind all the bravado and theatrics, we witnessed the growth of a manager learning his trade on the job and coming out on top against one of the most tactically-astute coaches in Italy.

The last time Simone Inzaghi and Andrea Pirlo exchanged blows, it was the Lazio boss who had the last laugh, snatching a dramatic late equaliser after knocking on the door for the majority of the match.

Juve weren’t bad on that particular day, but their failure to dominate and kill off the game was indicative of their season’s issues as a whole. The rookie boss has had to lick his wounds on a number of occasions since that meeting on November 8, but he ended Saturday’s clash as the rightful winner of this particular duel.

Pirlo set the Bianconeri up in peculiar fashion, and prior to kick off supporters’ hopes of claiming all three points probably significantly diminished. There were at least three square pegs in round holes in his patchwork team selection, with several inclusions – and exclusions – raising eyebrows within the fanbase.

Juve began with a back four, with converted right back Juan Cuadrado covering one flank and faltering winger Federico Bernardeschi tasked with guarding the left-back spot. At the heart of the defence stood Merih Demiral, the only man playing in a position he’d worked his whole life to occupy, while left-back Alex Sandro accompanied him at centre back.

Got it? Good. Let’s continue.

Pirlo then planted a surprise in the midfield, opting not to start Weston McKennie or the returning Arthur, but to deploy defender Danilo as a holding midfielder. His job was primarily to stop Lazio’s devastating counter-attacks, which have become second nature to the likes of Luis Alberto, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ciro Immobile over the years.

Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot were picked to get Juve moving in the middle of the park – a decision which baffled many supporters and left them fearing the worst.

The major exclusion in the team however, was that of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese star was rested with the midweek Champions League battle against Porto in mind, but it also allowed Pirlo to experiment in a post-Ronaldo world.

Instead, Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski operated out wide, while Morata led the line.

If the first 20 minutes were anything to go by, then Pirlo had massively dropped the ball. His side were punished for their sloppy start after only 14 minutes, when Kulusevski played a blind pass into unmarked space and Lazio winger Joaquin Correa raced onto the loose ball, turned Demiral inside out and fired coolly beyond Wojciech Szczesny.

On this evidence, it was going to be a long 90 minutes. But I Bianconeri rallied and as everyone grew into their new roles, they began to find their rhythm and flow. Ramsey and Morata led the charge, with the Welshman providing a much-needed link between midfield and attack, while the Spaniard pressed, harassed and dropped into space to show his full centre-forward repertoire.

It was Morata’s movement which created the equaliser on 39 minutes, falling into a pocket of space between the Lazio midfield and defence and then slotting an incisive pass through to the charging Rabiot, who finished like a man who scores those types of goals every week.

The Frenchman showed his has the capability, but it’s time to produce it on a weekly basis.

From that moment on, the game was in Juve’s control and this time they made damned sure to kill it dead.

The bustling bundle of energy and electricity that is Chiesa was responsible for the next blow dealt, racing onto a bouncing ball to spring a counter-attack of his own before rolling a pass into Morata’s path, and the Spaniard didn’t disappoint.

It was another precise and powerful effort, lashing a shot beyond Pepe Reina before he’d even had a chance to stick out a hand. That stunning strike sparked scenes of wild celebrations and caused Morata to scream, “Non molla nessuno qui!” which translates to “No one is giving up here,” or words to that effect.

One for the Amazon cameras? Perhaps. But it was also a battle cry to those who have doubted the spirit and fight this squad possesses in recent weeks.

Two minutes later, Juve went for the jugular. Ramsey danced on the ball in the penalty area, and Milnkovic-Savic fell for his ploy, tripping the midfielder and conceding a penalty.

Morata stepped up and stroked the ball home, and it was game over.

It was a breakthrough night for Pirlo and his players, against an opposition that has caused them countless problems in recent years.

The Italian coach showed that he’s not just a bookworm, but he is able to practically apply his theories from his dissertation and he’s slowly turning this Juventus side into a more flexible and malleable group. That’s something even Massimiliano Allegri and Maurizio Sarri struggled to do, by the way.

His stars are clearly responding to his ideas, playing out of position for the good of the team, and celebrating each goal and victory like it may be their last. There is life in the Old Lady still, and as far as this season goes, it’s all to play for at the top of the table.

It may be next year when we see the real fruits of Pirlo’s work, though. Trust the process.

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