Unfortunately, I missed what proved to be April’s most exciting game due to holiday, the dramatic 2-1 victory against Fiorentina. After watching the extended highlights and reading the match review, it seems like it was an absolutely absorbing game of football, especially after halftime. What a great way to win the Scudetto and march on towards what will hopefully be an 11th Coppa Italia title!
History is now
I have to say, I actually expected the title to go down to the final one or two games of the season. However, once Bruno Fernandes and Cyril Théréau banged in the goals for Udinese, and the livid Gonzalo Higuaín left the pitch seething in anger after receiving a second yellow card, I knew for sure that it was merely a matter of when and not if. In a way, it was quite sad the way Napoli fizzled out of the title race after pushing us so hard this year, but on the other hand I’m immensely proud of our achievement. We simply are the best in Italy. We are the strongest. We are the most talented.
We. Are. Juventus.
Juve hit some extremely low points this season that forced the players to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves some tough questions: "How much do we want the Scudetto this year? Who and what are we doing this for?"
"I’m starting to question all of it, Francis. What are we doing this for?"
— Claire Underwood, House of Cards
It was a pressing question that needed to be asked in such situations. After winning so much for so long, and you reach such an impasse, you begin to question it all.
Is this really worth it?
Maybe we’ve won enough titles for long enough?
I sure know that I questioned things intensely during these times, but as I wrote in March, I eventually realized how much I do want Juventus to keep winning titles regardless of the name of the title, the size of the trophy, or its international perception. Winning is utterly addictive and this rollercoaster season reminded me of how intensely fundamental it is to me and the entire ethos of this club.
Andiamo ragazzi. Let’s keep winning next year, the year after that, and all the years after that. Fino alla fine!
The Wayward Son
As Danny reported a few weeks ago, the Berardi saga seems to be nearing its end. The discussion in that thread regarding the impact of his arrival was very insightful which is why I wanted to reiterate the most engaging point: What does this mean tactically for Juventus moving forward?
The forwards (including JUan Cuadrado) that are currently in the squad are clearly geared for the future: 22, 23, 24, 27, and 29 years old while Berardi himself is 21 years of age. Allegri seems to favor the two-striker system combined with either a three- or four-man defense, but if/when Berardi does arrive, how does this change his long-term strategy for the attack? Is he going to stick with the two-striker system or opt more regularly for a lone-striker?
The most important caveat to this issue, in my opinion, is Paulo Dybala. Clearly, he’s the rock upon which Allegri wants to build the Juventus foundation for the future, but the problem is that he really only fits in a two-striker formation. He cannot play as a lone striker nor is he particularly suited for a wide role. So who do you then leave on the bench, Dybala or Berardi? Dybala will have to evolve his game — which I’m sure he can/will do given his young age — in order to provide more clarity and flexibility for Allegri in his long-term strategy for Juve’s attack force.
The importance of the collective
Honestly, I really didn’t have much sympathy for Mario Mandzukic at the start of the season. I was hesitant when he first signed and wasn’t very charmed as he labored through some lethargic performances in his first few games. But then I realized something ... I wasn’t looking.
The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige."
— Cutter, "The Prestige"
I simply wasn’t looking. Just like in a magic trick, I was looking at all the wrong things in all the wrong places. I was looking for a striker that could make fancy flicks to his teammates, split-second reverse passes, score breathtaking goals, and have 100 touches per game. I was looking for a striker that would excite and captivate me.
Choose the best player for every position, and you’ll end up not with a strong XI, but with 11 strong 1’s.
— Johan Cruyff
Finally, it dawned on me: Juventus got something far, far better. Mandzukic is a player that raises the collective of the team to a whole new level. His disruptive harrying of defenders is more than just incessant running and harassing, it is an absolutely fundamental, tactical part of our game plan. I almost want to say that I don’t really care about how many goals he scores anymore, because of the invaluable contribution of his play for the team. His hold-up play is fantastic, his (pre-)assists this month were phenomenal, and his no-nonsense attitude towards anything and anyone is pure grinta.
This is no team of 11 individuals. This is a team where every single player contributes to the core success of the collective. And that creepy-smiling Croatian just reminded me of that.
After swearing profusely at Leonardo Bonucci’s screw-up in the lead-up to Nikola Kalinic’s excellently-curled equalizer, I immediately thought of this discussion piece by Michael Cox on the brilliant Zonalmarking blog. It’s no wonder that one of the best football-journalists in Europe wrote the following:
But what’s better in the long-term – to concede possession in a dangerous position less than once a game, or concede possession on the halfway line 25 times a game and invite 25 separate attacks from the opposition? Doing the former will invite more criticism, doing the latter will probably concede more goals.
This is again a case where sometimes we just...aren’t...looking. Or, in this case, it was once again yours truly who was blind. Instead of looking at an isolated incidence, we must broaden our view to the long-term. It is no wonder that Antonio Conte, and subsequently Allegri, placed such an emphasis on playing the ball on the ground through the back three to start attacks.
I’ve always found it utterly fascinating that when Juve's defenders make mistakes, they always make mistakes that are entirely consistent with their characteristics/styles of play. Bonucci is an elegant, ball-playing defender, and when he gets himself into trouble, it’s often because he tries to be too cute on the ball. Giorgio Chiellini is a no-nonsense hardman. When he messes up, it’s mostly because he mistimes a tackle that (then) borders aggravated assault. Andrea Barzagli is the calm and composed refuge at the back:
he doesn’t make mistakes a rare lapse of concentration or an unlucky slip during a run are the only times I can vaguely remember any mishaps from him. Daniele Rugani’s mistakes are basically due to a lack of experience that causes him to misjudge situations or over-commit too early.
So no matter how many times we get minor heart attacks every time Chiellini has the ball inside his own penalty area while three opposition strikers hungrily wait just a few meters away to pounce on any subsequent error of his, in the long-term it is unquestionably the more rational and sustainable approach. It takes diligence and practice, but Juventus' defenders, and most certainly Bonucci, are capable of maintaining and perfecting this approach.
The Great Fall of the Little Prince
In what was undoubtedly the worst news this month, Claudio Marchisio suffered a season-ending knee injury in the victory against Palermo when he very awkwardly — and, might I argue, very unwisely/poorly — went in for a challenge. Leaving aside how much of a problem this will be for Italy’s chances of success in France this summer, my main concern is his recovery process. From what I can remember, this is Marchisio’s first major injury of his career and it comes at the very precarious age of 30.
Even though his form keeps on improving every season, I doubt that he has the room left in his career for the type of steep improvement such as, say, Paul Pogba and Dybala have for the remainder of their respective careers. Now add this injury to the scenario and I begin to worry about the final stage of his career. Sure, Alessandro Del Piero recovered from his disastrous injury when he was 24 years old, but many argue that he was never quite the same after his recovery.
Will this be the beginning of an accelerated decline for Marchisio’s career? I sure hope not...
April has come and gone so quickly: what did you think of it?