Weston McKennie and Juventus are three wins away from their second straight Coppa Italia trophy, after a dramatic, last-second victory over Sassuolo saw them reach the final four of the competition.
Juventus 2 – 1 Sassuolo
The Bianconeri scored in the opening and closing moments of their quarterfinal game against Sassuolo on Thursday night, with their American star going the distance in midfield and nearly scoring on multiple occasions in their dramatic last-second victory.
Even though the visitors generally had more of the ball throughout the game, the new-look Juventus, who included both of their major new arrivals Dusan Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria in the starting lineup, were far more effective with their possession, particularly in Fiorentina’s danger zone.
The nearly doubled the number of shots on-target compared to their opponents, holding a 10-6 advantage, and were unlucky to have only scored two as they also had two ricochet off the woodwork. In fact, the vast majority of their 20 total shots, an impressive 18, were taken inside the penalty area, whereas the Viola only made nine attempts from inside the 18-yard box.
McKennie was his usual impressive self, having 68 total touches on the left side of the midfield, completing 76% of his 42 passes, launching off four shots, two of which were on-target, one of the misses off the woodwork, and winning 10 of his 15 duels on the ball.
The hosts were off an running from the start, scoring the opening goal in the third minute. McKennie attempted a shot from the top edge of the area, which was initially blocked by Brazilian center back Ruan, but looped high and fell to the foot of Paulo Dybala for a volleyed finish from ten yards out.
Unfazed by the early disadvantage, Sassuolo pulled even in the 24th minute, largely due to a lackadaisical defensive effort by Juve on the transition. Junior Traoré played a quick one-two with Gianluca Scamacca to work his way into the left side of the area, and with no Juve defenders willing to close him down, he drifted into space on the left side and looped a shot to the far corner, beyond Mattia Perin’s reach.
McKennie came close to putting Juventus back into the lead after 35 minutes, forcing Gianluca Pegolo into a save at the near corner, then the 40 year-old keeper did well with his angles to stop Vlahovic two minutes later.
The American was again denied ten minutes into the second half, this time by the right upright when he found space for a blast from 15 yards out. He then came even closer in the 72nd when his powerful header off of a Dybala free kick was blocked by Pegolo, with the frantic follow-up sequence involving several Juventus players directly in front of goal miraculously not putting the ball over the line.
In the end, Juventus would finally have reason to celebrate, putting a cap on Ruan and Fiorentina’s disappointing night in the 89th minute. Vlahovic showed why he is worth every penny of his €70 million transfer fee, claiming the ball in the left flank with multiple defenders between him and goal, and then proceeding to round Mert Müldür to find space near the endline.
His attempt to fire it in at the near corner took a deflection off of Ruan’s hip and past the otherwise well-positioned Pegolo for the 2-1 winner.
With the pairings having already been set from the Round of 16 onwards, Juventus already know they will face Fiorentina, who defeated Atalanta earlier in the evening, in the two-legged semifinal. The first leg will take place in Florence on March 3, with the deciding second leg on April 21 in Turin.
Meanwhile, Juventus have busy schedule immediately ahead, which includes a visit to Atalanta on Sunday, followed by the Turin derby the following weekend, and the first leg of their Champions League knock-out round four days after that.