Juventus capitulated rather early against Barcelona, and for that reason this was, for me, perhaps the most disappointing game of the season.
The hosts, the same team who drubbed Barcelona just several months back in this very same stadium, projected apathy through and through — from the manager’s selection and in-game adjustments to the €90-million striker at the front.
After a bright first ten minutes of play, the Bianconeri — save the defense, spearheaded by Medhi Benatia — looked borderline abysmal. Max Allegri’s side ceded 64 percent of possession to the Catalans, who for the first half played without the best player in the world. When Lionel Messi did enter play, he did little to alter the game other than his customary role as a gravitational force, regardless of his individual form.
Let’s not kid ourselves: Barcelona had the better chances, including one golden opportunity inexplicably passed up (literally!). The few times Juve did position themselves well, they produced a 12-gauge shotgun as quickly as possible and blew their own foot to smithereens.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier. After a date with Crotone, the black and white go to Naples to play Napoli, Athens to play Olympiakos, and then return home to play Inter in Turin. Without over-endowing the next four games with meaning, you’d like to think it’s a critical stretch of the season, not only for the Serie A race and Champions League progression, but for Allegri and management to assess the squad headed into the next transfer window.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- The manager capitulates: The final 11 players on the pitch for Juve — playing at home, in need of a win to secure progression in the Champions League — included four midfielders, one of whom (Sami Khedira) was, per usual, a classic Milford man. Rodrigo Bentancur, Blaise Matuidi, and Claudio Marchisio joined the German. I don’t have a problem with trying to shore up the defense, but Allegri played not to lose, and that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
- And, of course, Allegri was damn near exuberant with the effort. It’s hard to fathom for me, being satisfied with that performance. But what do I know!?
- The No. 9 capitulates: This was Gonzalo Higuain’s worst game since the very beginning of the season. I can always forgive the occasional poor touch — the degree of technical prowess to effectively turn those balls is ridiculous — but it was his sloppiness in the one or two chances as well and, most of all, his body language. He looked like he didn’t care, simply put. When he did care, he looked like a rampaging toddler whose plastic airplane had been pilfered by another child.
- The fans capitulate: They booed and whistled and hissed, and I can’t say I really blame them.
- Sidenote: Paris Saint-Germain have a plus-23 goal differential so far in Champions League play.
- Sidenote, Part 2: Juventus are exactly even in goal differential, with five goals scored and five goals allowed. PSG have scored 24 and conceded a single goal.
- As things stand, there’s a 2/7 chance that Juventus play PSG or Manchester City, and I’ve got to be honest, dear friends: I’d give our team a slim, slim chance against either of those two squads. There are several others of the group leaders (or projected group winners) that I’d call even in terms of matchup, and perhaps one or two where I’d name Juve the favorite.
- That said, there is a very real (although less than likely) scenario in which Juventus does not actually advance. All it’d take is Sporting to defeat a Barcelona side who’ll have no reason to play for the win — granted, the game is at Camp Nou — and Juve to draw or lose in Greece. I’d say there’s a solid 15 percent chance of one of those two things happening.
- Douglas Costa played well, in spurts.
- Paulo Dybala played well, in spurts — including coming mildly close to robbing the game from Barcelona in the closing moments.
Onto the awards (“awards”):
Nietzsche's Horse Award
For the player whose play demonstrated an insanity indicative of serious decline in form.
I wanted to give this to someone besides Sami Khedira.
The Via Madama Christina Walk of Shame Award
For the player who played so poorly that Mr. Max made him walk shamefully to the sideline.
I somehow doubt I’ll receive backlash for saying that Juan Cuadrado was, ahem, very bad against Barcelona. In the first few minutes of the game, he looked like a difference-maker. Then he became a difference-maker later, but in the bad way.
I’ll just be straight up with how I think he’d best be used: a super sub in games in which Juventus need a dose of speed. In fact, he would’ve been a fantastic late-game substitution here, to inject some life and energy. Which he always does. He’s fast as well, he works hard, he’s decent (if inconsistent) at providing crosses, and he makes some fabulous runs. I very much believe all of those things, and that’s why he’s a regular starter for this team.
For all his merits, though, the Colombian always, always brings two major flaws: technically speaking, he’s predictable as the Bundesliga; and his decision-making rivals that of a squirrel crossing the road.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
Morocco in the house!
I’ve written many times that Medhi Benatia is not the best center back, that Juve over-spent, and that the recent Bayern man isn’t deserving of minutes. Many times, he’s proven me right. But against Barcelona he was practically flawless. He did his usual Benatia thing of pressing hard on the backline, anticipating passes and bludgeoning the backs of defenders, but he also marked the hell out of Luis Suarez and owned the Juventus penalty area.
It was his best performance in a Juve shirt by a long-shot, and it’s why his team earned a point.
It’s too bad the attack couldn’t give him three.