Del Piero (pen) 70
A freezing night in Turin saw Juventus turn up the heat in front of a half-empty Stadio Olimpico in what was Alberto Zaccheroni’s first game in charge of the Old Lady against one of his former sides. Eager to win over the Juve tifosi who either voiced their disapproval of his appointment with their feet by staying away or by staging a silent protest, Zaccheroni dispensed with his favoured 3-4-3 formation and stayed with the 4-3-1-2 system his players were used to under the recently departed Ciro Ferrara, which was due more to a lack of available personnel than a deliberate change in tactics.
As expected, there was a marked change in attitude with the impetus of impressing the new Coach, but more importantly, the Bianconeri produced a much more measured and composed display in contrast to the type of performances displayed during the last four months under Ferrara’s stewardship. The home side started to dominate proceedings from the outset with Brazilian playmaker Diego orchestrating things from his position behind Amauri and Alessandro Del Piero. The ex-Santos man had started to find his early-season form in recent weeks unlike those around him who were struggling, and he again was the man the Old Lady faithful looked to in the hope of catching Napoli who were occupying the last Champions League spot. As Diego started to control the game with some dangerous play outside the Lazio penalty area, he also found himself in excellent scoring positions on at least two occasions, however, he was found wanting as he was culpable of missing each time.
Lazio went into this game having picked up only five points in their previous five games, and like Juve, had also struggled for form. January signing Sergio Floccari was sorely missed as whatever possession they had could not be converted into clear-cut chances. Lazio Tactician Davide Ballardini opted for a four-man midfield to stifle the Juve midfielders, which went to plan as neither Felipe Melo nor Mohamed Sissoko were given the freedom to push up and support Diego – the former having another miserable game to add to his collection of abject performances. However, by playing safe in the centre of the field, his two strikers became increasingly alienated as the first-half progressed, and it was little surprise to see the Aquile create so few scoring opportunities.
Amauri had one of his better games as he tried to out-muscle the Lazio defence at every opportunity and produced some inviting lay-offs for his team-mates, but it was Del Piero who struck the first blow after he picked himself up to convert a second-half penalty after being brought down by Mobido Diakite – a decision which even stunned the home crowd. However, old habits die hard as eight minutes later, they failed yet again to hold onto a lead. Stefano Mauri latched onto a Mauro Zarate pull-back which stand-in keeper Alex Manninger could do nothing about, and provided an extra spring in the Biancocelesti’s steps as they, like their city rivals the weekend before, went in search for the winning goal.
While this was a marked improvement in performance for both teams, a lack of killer instinct is sorely lacking – and that will surely define where they end up at the end of the season.