Usually I start these monthly wrap-ups with a short introduction about the month that passed before moving on to discuss each topic. However, this time I cannot do that. Why? Because I must frankly admit that due to a relocation for my new job and the absolute disgrace that is my new Internet provider (I’ll be the better man and not call them out, as tempted as I am to do so), I didn’t watch a single Juventus game in the month of November because I barely had Internet during this time.
Somewhat poetically, the technician finally installed my Internet on Dec. 1, so there ya go.
Although I didn’t want to use that as an excuse to not write anything at all for this month, I did want to caution you all beforehand; there’s a good chance that what I say below may seem a bit out of touch.
Nevertheless, let’s just get to business with the (shorter than usual) recap of the month of November!
Douglas Costa: Lightning in a bottle
The pacey Brazilian has been a bright spot in the Juventus offense over the last few weeks and, after taking a while to acclimatize to his new environment, seems to have solidified a spot in the team. Given Paulo Dybala's loss of form and the surprisingly long time that Federico Bernardeschi has needed to get used to life as a Bianconero, it's very encouraging to see our speedy Brazilian winger kick into gear and offer a new dimension to our attack. His feet are quicker than lightning, his crosses cause havoc in the box, and his directness gives defenders something to think about.
“Football is working-class ballet.”
If Costa keeps up this steady, upwards trajectory in form and, most importantly, proves to Max Allegri that he can offer the type of defensive discipline that the coach so strongly values (which is probably why Juan Cuadrado gets the nod in the biggest games), I think he has a wonderful chance of solidifying a spot in the starting XI in the very big games. That last point, however, is fundamental; hence, Costa still has his (defensive) work cut out for him. Let the games ... continue!
Here we go again
What's that you say, defense?
Ooh that once blessed word that now haunts us so much. An uncomfortable 2-1 comeback victory against Benevento was followed by a chastening 3-2 loss against Sampdoria. Once again, too many goals were conceded against sub-par opposition — even though Samp have, admittedly, been very impressive this season — and Juventini were left very uneasy about the manner of the team's victories (and losses). The clean sheet against Barcelona was encouraging, but, if we're being honest, Barca were (rightly) never going to go for broke for a victory there when a point suited them just fine with regards to securing top spot. The following shutout against Crotone was also pleasant and hopefully that will be the norm from now onwards.
However, this is what I wrote before the colossal 1-0 away victory against Napoli (which I also missed, this time due to personal obligations). It’s pretty darn difficult to figure out what to think/say about this current Juventus defense: On one hand, you have the issues that we’ve discussed ad nauseam by now, but on the flip side you have a marvelous clean sheet and victory in an extraordinarily difficult away game.
Not only that, but we did this with a certain Brazilian left back on the bench...
Although it is almost the season to be joyful, it hasn’t been very joyful watching our first choice left back so far. Alex Sandro has blown hot and cold in his performances thus far, much to the bewilderment of Juventini all around the world. Although he hasn't quite shown the alarming decline in form that Stephan Lichtsteiner has displayed, it still makes me uneasy to see one of our standout performers from last season be so on-and-off lately. Imagine my shock then when he was left on the bench for the top-of-the-table cracker against Napoli. (Yeah, I know, it was in December.)
I doubt that the issue is fatigue. Unlike someone like Alexis Sánchez — who has played football for club and country nonstop year-round since 2014 — Sandro has had relatively free summers
in Ibiza. He hasn’t had any major injuries during his time at Juventus, so we can cross that one out as well. Has the destabilizing effect of Leonardo Bonucci’s departure maybe also had an impact on the Brazilian?
Heck, maybe there is no reason for his up-and-down form; maybe there is simply no discernible pattern to be found. To paraphrase Danny Kahneman, sometimes we human beings are just “machines for jumping to conclusions” that are obsessed with finding patterns in places where there are none. Perhaps this is one of those cases and there is actually nothing going on.
Eh, what the heck do I know...
Into the shadows
In September, I wrote about the Teen Titan that is Rodrigo Bentancur. His performances were some of the most encouraging that a Juventus youngster had shown this season and Juventini were, therefore, understandably excited. However, even though I too was full of praise for him, I was also happy that he wasn’t a truly irreplaceable part of the squad because this meant that if his form were to decline, the lanky 20-year-old Uruguayan could quietly slip into the shadows without too much of a (media) fuss.
And slip into the shadows he has.
Since mid-October, he has played less than 90 minutes for the team as Sami Khedira and the particularly impressive Blaise Matuidi have muscled the youngster out of the team. Is this a bad thing though? Should we be alarmed and/or worried about this?
As I alluded to already, he’s a fresh and clean 20-year-old playing his first ever season in Italian top flight football and all of that, no less, with Italy’s top club. Talk about trial by fire. (Yeah, no pressure Rodrigo, no pressure.) Hence, the fact that he can quietly slip into the shadows without much of a peep is truly a fantastic situation for him to be in. He can develop and learn as much as he needs to without the debilitating media attention that has damaged the career of so many youngsters over the years. Let’s also not forget that December will be a particularly busy (and intense) month so I expect to see Bentancur back in action during this period to cover for some of our more veteran midfielders.
And hey, as the Assassins from Assassin’s Creed like to say: “We work in the shadows to serve the light.” In this case, that light has a nice tint of black and white about it*.
*I purposely avoided the word “shade” because I know that black and white creates grey and so help me God if I ever make a pun about that movie/book during my time as a writer.
Articles of The Month
Since you were probably not very entertained by my writing this time around, I want to refer you all to the writing of my more esteemed colleagues at BWRAO: Hunter and CH Ho. Hunter wrote a wonderful piece about the potential ramifications of a Dybala departure while CH Ho wrote a typically astounding piece of tactical analysis about the evolution of Juventus’ offensive play from last season(s) to this one. If you haven’t read them yet, make sure to put some time aside to read these fantastic pieces of footballing journalism.