Tullio M. Puglia
A halftime hailstorm left the Palermo pitch looking like a mud pit. But the play wasn't that exciting to begin with.
Antonio Conte returned to the bench in time for Juventus to face Palermo, but it didn't really make much of a difference -- unless you count the fact that Alessandro Matri started up front alongside Mirko Vucinic. Juve still won, as expected, but they didn't look spectacular while doing it. Gian Piero Gasperini did his homework, however, and Palermo did well to keep the visitors under control for the majority of the match.
The first half was almost sleep-inducing, with Juventus unable to get through the organized rosanero for the first 35 minutes. Credit to Gasperini, who used Eros Pisano and Michael Morganella as extra defensive reinforcement in his 3-5-1-1. The most exciting thing in the first half was when Juve were nearly awarded an indirect free kick six yards out, after the referee though Samir Ujkani handled a backpass from Massimo Donati. Fortunately, before the cries of conspiracy really kicked in, the fourth official explained the situation and the match proceeded calmly.
Palermo had a few great chances in the first 20 minutes. Jasmin Kurtic sent in a sharp shot from 20 yards out, but Gianluigi did well to stand his ground and push the ball away. Josip Ilicic got through on goal, but Andrea Barzagli put in a perfect tackle to stop the Slovenian. Fabrizio Miccoli actually had the ball in the back of the net, courtesy of a lovely pass from Edgar Barreto, but the goal was ruled offside.
For the last ten minutes of the first half, Ujkani was the rosanero hero. The goalkeeper blocked a shot from Claudio Marchisio, the ball fell to Vucinic, and the Montenegrin sent his shot into the post. Ujkani then denied a shot from Matri just before the break, using a combination of his hand and face to keep the match scoreless at halftime.
Vucinic started off the second half in typical style, hitting the post once more. Fortunately, the striker made up for it in the 50th minute, demonstrating wonderful control in chesting the ball down, then giving it a cheeky little backheel into the path of Stephan Lichtsteiner. The Swiss managed to defeat Ujkani by sending the ball into the far corner.
Miccoli had a great opportunity to equalize five minutes later, but the pitch at the Stadio Renzo Barbera got the best of him. The forward went on a one-man counterattack only to have the ball get stuck in a particularly deep patch of mud.
From there, the match seemed mired in the mud, with both sides simply slogging through until the clock ran out. With 15 minutes left to play, Morganella left Palermo with ten men, earning a second yellow card for a silly foul on Kwadwo Asamoah.
The most entertaining aspect of the match, by far, was Leonardo Bonucci's dive in the 87th minute -- it looked like a demonstration on how to earn a yellow card for simulation. The defender was free inside the area and should've had a shot, and very likely a goal. Instead he dithered, allowing Ujkani to get in his way. Out of options, Bonucci took to the ground, earning a comical yellow in the process.
The worst part about this Juventus win on Conte's return is that the boss might start to think the cap he wore is some sort of good luck charm. Conte, you're no Serse Cosmi. Lose the headgear.