Once again, October was a month where the goals absolutely came flying in. A whopping 18 goals in seven games in all competitions brought all the entertainment in the dizzying month of October. That said, the underlying problems in the defense still plagued the side as an array of sloppy goals were conceded against (mostly) sub-par opposition. Nevertheless, per usual I’m here to try to bring some method to all the madness of the last month.
Dance on Vaseline
In August, I expressed my concerns about the noticeable shift in the structure of the team. What once was one of the most impenetrable defenses on the continent seemed to have become a unit that often seems uncomfortable when negotiating offensive challenges. Now you might point out that we’ve only conceded 11 goals so far in the league; only three more than league leaders Napoli. However, it’s important to realize that Maurizio Sarri’s men have already faced Roma, Inter, and Lazio while we still have our fair share of difficult opponents to face.
Which brings me to the Milan victory...
I believe it was
the always-optimistic* Fefu (and perhaps a few others) that pointed out after that tremendous 2-0 victory at the San Siro, this was probably the first victory of the season against legitimately strong opponents WITH a clean sheet! Yes, Milan are experiencing growing pains as they adjust to their influx of new players and a new era for the club, but a Milan-Juve fixture is always massive, regardless of form. Besides, we lost at the San Siro last year to both Milanese teams.
* Just kidding Fefu. You the man.
Nevertheless, this victory was a huge statement that told Juventini that perhaps all is not doom and gloom just yet. The team kept a clean sheet in a massive game away from home and secured a victory. After the debacle that was the Lazio loss, this was the type of signal that I needed to put me at (relative) ease concerning the challenges that we will face this season.
It’s still going to be an extraordinarly rough season, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so fast to dismiss our beloved Vecchia Signora.
Champions League Struggles
Or, you know what, maybe I’m being far too optimistic. Juventus have huffed and puffed, toiled and labored through four games in a tricky-ish Champions League group. A difficult 2-0 victory against Olympiacos was followed by an even more challenging 2-1 victory and a painful 1-1 draw against the impressive Sporting. While these opponents are by no means pushovers, Juve showed all kinds of (particularly defensive) insecurities against these teams that were certainly not on display to this extent in the group stages of last year’s Champions League campaign.
So what can we say, what can we do?
I genuinely don’t know. For all the offensive firepower we have on the team (with Marko Pjaca still on course to return from injury sometime soon), there sure isn’t that same air of tranquility or feeling of “we-got-this” of last season. It would be lazy to attribute this solely to the absence of Leonardo Bonucci, but I sure do feel that particularly his playing style was extremely conducive to the type of football necessary in European football: calm, intelligent, precise, and efficient.
On the other hand, we’ve all heard the old saying that in tournament competitions, all that matters is when a team peaks. Which begs the question: when (if it does) will this team peak? Or perhaps the better question to ask is whether this Juventus side has a good enough peak to be able to compete in the latter stages of the Champions League?
Even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary. – Don Draper
Finally — and this is just my personal hunch — I think that a curious side-effect of the change in the seeding rules for Pot 1 in the Champions League group stage draw (i.e. the Champions Pot) has been that the difference between the first and second placed/seeded teams has become smaller. That is, there seems to be a greater concentration of very good teams in individual groups instead of seeing them spread out more evenly across groups (Real-Spurs, Bayern-PSG, Barca-Juventus, Chelsea-Roma-Atleti etc.) such that the benefit to topping the group is not as great as it used to be.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that given that we seem destined for a second-place finish instead of first-place finish in Group D — barring a minor miracle on November 22nd in Turin — in case we do progress to the next round, perhaps this shortcoming is not as big a crisis as we imagine it to be even though we obviously still rather top the group.
Then again, this is merely my (probably wildly uneducated) guess from a phenomenon that certainly has not been scientifically tested (yet*), so what say you?
* SEMPERTY GET TO WORK ALREADY DAMMIT!
Stephan Lichtsteiner: How the mighty are falling
All the talk over the last few weeks has been about how our once-mighty warrior, Stephan Lichtsteiner, has experienced a noticeable decline in performance at right back. The man who was the physical embodiment of Antonio Conte’s “new Juventus” post-2011 looks a shadow of the marauding right back he once was.
Given that Mattia De Sciglio is still acclimatizing to the new environment after an injury-interrupted start to the season, Benedikt Höwedes remains M.I.A., and Stefano Sturaro, despite performing admirably in his unorthodox new role, doesn’t exactly set the world alight, the team suddenly finds itself in a surprisingly problematic situation at right-back.
It is yet another damaging shot at a Juventus defense that we all have noticed doesn’t quite look nor feel the same as it did in yesteryears. It also again places the spotlight on the defensive transition that the club very much has to address sooner rather than later as the old guard we so relied on has either departed (Bonucci), slowly but surely declined (Andrea Barzagli, Lichtsteiner), or announced retirement (Gigi Buffon). Thankfully, one indestructible force still valiantly protects his people
from the fires of Mordor:
Although this isn’t quite the end of the Swiss stalwart just yet, I do hope that if this does indeed spell the end, he is allowed an honorable conclusion to a stellar Juventus career. Just as the mightiest of warriors deserve honorable deaths at the end of battle, so does a player who has given us so much for so long and epitomized the stratospheric renewal of this club after years of mediocrity.
Now you see me, now you don’t
Since the start of the season — and ever since he hit that red-hot form for a while — there has been the occasional chatter about whether Paulo Dybala truly is an “elite” player or whether he still disappears too much in the big games to deserve that label.
The last month certainly hasn’t helped his case as he missed crucial penalties against Atalanta and Lazio and was largely ineffective in games against Olympiacos and Sporting (twice). Even though he did have a very impressive performance against Milan in the team’s 2-0 victory at the San Siro, he does seem guilty of the accusations thrown at him as he just doesn’t quite perform in the highest pressure games.
That said, I’m not worried at all.
La Joya is still just a youthful 23 years old and has developed in leaps and bounds since joining the Bianconeri in 2015. Even though the criticism seems relatively justified, often times I have the feeling that the manner in which this type of criticism is leveled at players in general (“He’s simply not world class until he shows up in big games, that’s just it!”) is done as if condemning these players to permanent non-world-classness. They’re doomed forever!
On a sidenote, I think Harry Kane gets this type of criticism as well because he “still plays for Tottenham and not Real Madrid so, therefore, he can’t be world-class.”
All in all, even though Dybala has shone a remarkably bright light on Juventus since his arrival, he still has a long way to go in his path to true greatness. Thankfully, not only is time on his side, but he also has all the mentors and guidance he needs to reach maximum... luminosity.
Shine bright, kiddo.