Juventus traveled to the Nanjing Olympic Sports Cente to face Inter Milan in the International Champions Cup on Wednesday. It was billed as a clash of the titans in the Serie A, enacted far from home, however, both clubs were coming into the game on the back of defeats.
Inter Milan had lost to Manchester United in their first game of the tournament and were looking to bounce back. Juventus too had lost an entertaining encounter with Tottenham Hotspur, despite scoring 2 goals in the game.
Both teams were trying to start fresh under the stewardship of new managers. While Antonio Conte had been frustrated by the lack of transfer activity at Inter, Maurizio Sarri had no such complaints. The Serie A champions had invested heavily in the transfer market, combining big-money signings with free transfers and it was now time for Sarri to get the results.
The Italian started with Wojciech Szczesny in goal, with Joao Cancelo, Matthijs de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci and Mattia De Sciglio making up a back four. Adrien Rabiot started alongside Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi in midfield, while upfront, Gonzalo Higuain resumed as the focal point of attack alongside Federico Bernardeschi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Serie A champions were in for a shocker at the start, when new signing Matthijs de Ligt scored an own goal in the 10th minute. However, Ronaldo equalized for Juventus in the 68th minute. The game then went into penalties, where Juventus won the game 4-3.
Sarri finally achieved his first win as a Juventus manager and here are the 5 players who impressed for Juventus in the game.
#5 Gianluigi Buffon
The veteran goalkeeper replaced Szczesny during the break and had a comfortable second half, making a couple of saves and helping Juventus keep things simple at the back. However, his qualities were evident during the tiebreaker, where he made three stops to help Juventus win the game.
Gianluigi Buffon stopped Inter’s first spot-kick, from Ranocchia, and then also denied Longo. He eventually kept out Valero’s kick and helped Juventus win on penalties. There's no denying the fact that Buffon still has the abilities to perform at the highest level!
#4 Blaise Matuidi
The Frenchman had new partners in the midfield on the night, but Blaise Matuidi was his usual calm and composed self on the field. He closed down the opposition with intent and tried to make things happen for Juventus. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, Pjanic had an off day, which meant that Matuidi had to shoulder added responsibilities on the field.
Matuidi dropped deep to help out his defenders, especially at the back of Inter Milan’s continuous pressure in the first half. He was always available for a pass and was an outlet to play the ball out from the back. With the ball at his feet, Matuidi tried to unleash his forward players at the earliest, wasting little time in decision making. He joined the attack quite often and even had a decent chance to score.
The former PSG man was ultimately substituted in the 78th minute, with Muratore arriving in his place.
#3 Matthijs de Ligt
In his first start for his new club, the former Ajax skipper endured a nightmare, scoring an own goal in the 10th minute that put Juventus on the back foot. While Matthijs de Ligt was definitely unlucky to concede the goal, he showed tremendous strength of character to keep his composure after the initial set back.
De Ligt did not let his blunder dictate his outing - instead, he gave a glimpse of his qualities on the field. The Dutchman threw himself around, blocking and thwarting the initial onslaught from the opposition. Even though Inter Milan dominated the proceedings after the goal, de Ligt helped Juventus keep things tight at the back. His tackles in the box were spot on, while his positioning was also good.
The youngster was substituted at half-time, with Sarri preferring to preserve his new signing, but de Ligt, despite registering an own goal, gave a good account of himself.
#2 Federico Bernardeschi
The Italian started on the right side of the front three and was a menace throughout the game. Federico Bernardeschi is blessed with tremendous speed and technical abilities, and he used it to the fullest against Inter.
Whenever he had the ball at his feet, the Italian was fearless, charging at the opposition and trying to create chances for his team. His combination play with Higuain and Ronaldo was also praiseworthy, with the Italian complementing both his teammates well.
Besides running the channels and driving forward with intent, Bernardeschi was also a tireless worker on the pitch. He regularly tracked back to help out his midfielders and even dropped deep to pick up the ball near his own box to initiate attacks.
When Juventus broke away on the counter, Bernardeschi caught the eye with his ability to run beyond his markers and opening up spaces for his teammates. Unfortunately, he missed a penalty during the shootout, but that doesn't take away from how good he was on the night.
#1 Cristiano Ronaldo
The Portuguese continued on the left side of the attack, a position that is earmarked for him in the Juventus team. Ronaldo was quite decent in the defeat against Tottenham, but he was lacking match fitness, as is normally the case in pre-season games. However, the Portuguese still managed to score a goal against Spurs, highlighting his importance to this Juventus team.
Against Inter too, Ronaldo was the main attacking threat at the beginning of the first half, driving at the opposition defense and trying to take them on his own. He was full of tricks and flicks but still seemed to lack the little spark that sets him apart from others. Despite that, a moment of magic from the Portuguese was still enough to help Juventus make a comeback into the game.
And so, when Juventus won a free-kick near the box in the 68th minute, up stepped Ronaldo. His free-kick got a lucky deflection off the Inter wall and sailed into the far corner. Juventus were level! He also converted his penalty kick during the tiebreaker and helped Sarri register his first win as the Juventus manager.