Juventus dropped a pair of points ahead of a Serie A title race showdown vs. Napoli over the weekend.
Crotone and Juventus played out to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday evening, the point proving vital for the home side in their bid to stay in the Italian top flight.
An early goal from Alex Sandro gave Juventus a highly anticipated lead. However, a piece of second half wizardry from Simeone Nwankwo handed the hosts a well earned point heading into the weekend.
Crotone came into the match with the small hope of earning some highly unexpected – yet much needed – points against top of the league Juve. Stuck in the bottom three, the home side started the game one point behind 17th placed SPAL as the business end of the season looms, and a free swing at the Old Lady posed a great opportunity to move up the table.
Heading into the game, Juventus boss Max Allegri, rather surprisingly, admitted that this match is more important than his side’s weekend encounter with title chasing rivals Napoli. With the heartbreak of Champions League action well and truly behind them, and a six point lead at the top of Serie A, a routine win over a struggling side was expected as Il Bianconeri turned their focus fully on a seventh straight Scudetto.
It took until the ninth minute for any chance to open up. A deep cross from Stephan Lichtsteiner whipped inwards towards the back post, Gonzalo Higuain only inches away from getting a touch onto as the ball bounced out for a goal kick.
It was only seven minutes later when Juve did the inevitable and began the scoring. Crossing seeming to be an effective route for Allegri’s side. This time it was Douglas Costa racking up his seventh assist of the season. The Brazilian, teeing up compatriot Alex Sandro whipped the ball in from the left with venomous pace. Sandro’s connection from outside the six yard are flew across goal and into the top right corner.
As the half grew on, it became more or less a case of the visitors very much in control, but to little avail. The dominance of Juventus’ midfield was apparent, but Crotone’s defense conducted itself well and allowed little room for the creative juices to flow in the final third for Allegri’s side.
Crotone did manage to cause the traveling defense some problems in the first 45. Moussa Diaby – the 18-year-old prodigy receiving his first Serie A start – seemed the brightest spark of the team. In the 45th minutes the youngster managed to weave his way through the Juve defense, but the resulting shot fell straight into the hands of Wojciech Szczesny.
The second half started with not too much to strike a conversation about. The most interesting moment arrived in the 58th minute, when Mehdi Benatia was judged to have passed the ball back to his keeper intentionally – handing Crotone an indirect free-kick from Juve’s six yard area. It came to nothing though as Szczesny sprinted off his line to block the laid off effort.
The not-so-entertaining second half quickly shot into gear after 20 minutes, though. Simeone Nwankwo latched onto a lose ball with a spectacular overhead kick from inside the box, firing the ball to the right of an outstretched Szczesny to level the score line.
It was only five minutes after Simy’s goal when Blaise Matuidi so nearly restored the Old Lady’s lead. Breaking free of his marker from about 25 yards out, the Frenchman let fly from distance. His effort, heading into the top left corner, was somehow pushed away by Crotone stopper Alex Cordaz.
This fine save was bested by the same keeper only two minutes on. Higuain, situated on the penalty spot, rooted a fierce volley on goal from a speculative cross into the box. The Argentine hit it with some force but somehow Cordaz got his legs to the effort.
No matter what Juve could throw at the lowly Crotone, nothing was able to get past Cordaz and his well regimented back line.
The game played out to a 1-1 draw, and Juve’s grip on the Serie A title loosened a little, dropping two points as Napoli beat Udinese.
However, as for Crotone, this point will be a huge boost for the team in their relegation battle.