For the first 30 minutes Sunday night, Juventus looked like they had reached mid-season form. The black and white pressed relentlessly, the offensive movement was fluid, and after pressuring the Bergamo side mercilessly, Max Allegri’s side broke finally broke through — twice, in quick succession.
I whooped and I hollered, and I thought it’d be a confidence-booster heading into the international break and that we’d all feel pretty good about ourselves, including Federico Bernardeschi about his first start, and that Juventus may steamroll to a three- or four-goal victory.
Um, I was wrong. The tide turned irrevocably on an incorrect foul outside of the Juventus box, which led to Mattia Caldara’s goal. Thanks, bud!
This is the order in which I play the blame-game:
- Gianluigi Buffon
- Paulo Dybala
I’ll talk about Gigi more, but the reason I have him first on the list is that, as I said, I thought the entire mood, tone, momentum, whatever — whatever semi-annoying word you want to use that advanced stats people say represents something that doesn’t exist; I don’t agree! — something happened after that goal, and Atalanta were on the front foot for the rest of the night.
I suppose I don’t quite understand how the first Atalanta goal was non-reviewable. Moments after the play happened, when Bernardeschi was howling at the referee — and getting lucky not to draw a yellow card — I was pretty certain there must have been something amiss about the situation. The boyish/inked Federico doesn’t seem like someone who’d bark for no reason. And, indeed, when the replay flashed, it was clear that No. 33 did not touch Gomez at all.
Holy hell, the last 20 minutes of the game were painful; my dog was literally cowering under the coffee table because the only words in my vocabulary were four letters long and screamed with the impassioned tone with which Cicero (I imagine) scolded the Roman senate.
It was difficult for me to understand the non-effect of Juan Cuadrado and Douglas Costa, not so much in their offensive inefficiency — though that was apparent — but more of the lack of urgency from players who are the two fastest guys on the pitch and playing in a virtual 3-5-2, but there was little to no sense of haste. I’m not sure I can understand how or why they didn’t track back, demand the ball, and push forward aggressively. Maybe I’m missing something from those last 20 minutes — correct me if I am! — but the word I’d use to describe the last half hour would be “tepid.”
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- Dybala missed a penalty, and Buffon really flubbed a free kick, but other than those two players I’m having trouble identifying anyone who played poorly. Both fullbacks were (mostly) stout, although the Swiss Menace got extremely lucky on at least one occasion. It was a thoroughly decent performance at worst by everyone.
- Daniele Rugani should start; this is obvious ... but I thought Medhi Benatia had a great game. I haven’t scavenged the comments yet, but I won’t be buying any culpability slung the Moroccan’s way for the second goal. To me, that was a brilliant run met by a brilliant cross, and if anything should’ve been covered by a midfielder tracking back or Giorgio Chiellini, the closest Juve player.
- Blaise Matuidi and Rodrgio Bentancur are really, really fun to watch. And I’d have to say that the young Uruguay international was the most encouraging element for me, because he clearly took to heart Allegri’s advice — and mine, for what it’s worth — about looking vertically. He floated several passes over top of the defense, and was definitively more incisive in the middle of the pitch. It wasn’t like he suddenly turned into Miralem Pjanic (goodness gracious we need him back), but the initiative was there. And that’s really, really good to see — because he wasn’t forcing it. He absorbed the feedback, assimilated it into his own style, and executed pretty darn well.
- I’m obsessed with Matuidi; that is all.
- On Matuidi: Someone (cough, cough, Gonzalo) has got to find him on his forward runs. I remember at least two moments where he seemed pretty free for a run at goal, and Higuain just missed him or ignored him.
- Speaking of Gonzalo: he’s fine. And for all you “his first touch sucks” people out there — so many! — his first touch was pretty damn good against Atalanta.
Onto the awards.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
Discounting the first 10 minutes, in which he was clearly over-eager and (understandably) trying to justify his existence on the team, Bernardeschi was fantastic — if not perfect. The first goal of the game was a rather beautiful build-up, involving Mario Mandzukic, Kwadwo Asamoah, then Matuidi’s screamer which was flubbed into the path of Bernardeschi. For me, it’s an underrated finish; it looks simple, but the instincts to be in that position, coupled with the skill to put the ball in the back of the net, was first-rate stuff.
But the more impressive feat was the assist to Higuain, a lovely ball through a stout Atalanta defense who gave the Juventus attackers fits all night long with their cohesive discipline. There were frankly very few opportunities to crack through the wall, but Bernardeschi was involved with two of them.
It’s an auspicious first start for the young Italian. It’s pretty obvious that, pace aside, he offers palpably more dynamic array of skills than Cuadrado.
House of Savoy Award
For the [worst] man of the match.
It’s time to talk about Buffon, and it’s not a good kind of talk.
The mistake on Sunday was borderline egregious — the (incorrectly called) free kick wasn’t hit particularly hard, and it didn’t seem to possess a wicked curve. If you felt like being really, really lenient to Gigi, I guess you could say the ball was in a somewhat strange spot in that, since it had started its descent, it was almost neither in the air nor on the ground, and thus difficult to trap. But, still. It doesn’t take a world-class goalie to trap that ball. And, like I said, the ball had already begun its descent; there wasn’t much pace to it.
The skipper is 39 years old, and indeed he reminds us now and then that he’s a great goalie, but the consistency, we probably need to admit, isn’t there.
I’d say the Savoy award is a push for Dybala, too, who missed a golden opportunity to steal two additional points; it’s rare to see La Joya miss from the spot, and it’s pretty inexcusable.
So there you have it.
The excuses about the difficulties of Bergamo are both fruitless and probably not worth talking about. This should have been a victory, and Allegri’s squad has nobody to blame but themselves.
Napoli sit alone at the top of the table, and boast the best goal differential — plus-20 to Juve’s 15 — in the league. It’s worth noting that the southerners have an absolutely brutal slate when they return from international play. In the second half of October, the league leaders (sad emoji) play at Roma on the 14th, at Manchester City on the 17th in the Champions League, then host Inter on the 21st before traveling to Genova on the 25th. The following week they get what will be, I’m sure, a break against Sassuolo before playing another fixture with Man City.
As we know, it’s not like Juventus have a walk in the park during that stretch — Lazio, Sporting (twice) and Milan with two other games against SPAL and Udinese — but if Napoli march on unbeaten during October then there’s something otherworldly brewing.
For now, the loss stings. It was very bad, as Hemingway would probably write (or Trump would tweet). Very bad!