One time, I spent 24 hours of pre-transit time in the oceanside city of Cagliari. It was the peak of my glorification of Hemingway, and so I remember sitting with a negroni and the papers outside at some cafe or other, the ocean in sight, the promenade lined with columns, Italians and others waltzing along the shore. I drank many negronis in Italy, and I don’t regret any of them. (Amaretto on the other hand…)
(Side note: Feel free to skip down to the awards if this is interesting or repulsive.)
(Side side note: If, in reading of these vaguely depressing Italian escapades of mine, you find yourself believing I am alcoholic, the answer is a no—sort of. At that time, I 100% had a drinking issue. So. We’ll talk about it later.)
I had spent the previous eight days in the smallish town of Oristano. I had gone alone, and it not being the most visited place in Sardinia I did not see any other American in my time. There was an Irish couple at the bed and breakfast at which I stayed; I heard their lovemaking through the thin walls. At the end of my stay I took the train to Cagliari, where I spent one night, and then flew back to Turin. But in that one night in Cagliari I met these girls who went to Michigan—I was a junior at the University of Iowa—and we had dinner (I think).
All this to say, yay, Cagliari! I love Sardinia. They make this strange liquor out of cactus.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- Juventus haven’t lost since I started writing for BWRAO. Logic!
- This is the kind of game that tests the mental fortitude of a team. Cagliari are newly-promoted, and they won’t be returning to Series B. The Sardos have scored 32 goals this year, which is only one fewer than Milan. *slow clap for Milan* Of course, Cagliari’s defense is another story, but still.
- Literally 16 seconds into the game you could tell Cagliari weren’t going to pull a Crotone. They threw men forward on the attack, but also threw men back on defense. I actually thought Cagliari played quite well. But thank the deities that they didn’t give us another all eleven in the box scenario.
- I watched on fuboTV, which has been mostly great, and it was going great until, for a brief moment, it failed. And that, because this is how the universe works, is when Principino threaded a flawless pass to Pipita, who did a normal Pipita thing and scored. And I didn’t see it live.
- I get it! beIN sports. Like, be in sports. Be inside of them. Wait, that can’t be right.
- Paulo Dybala wants a goal sooooooo bad. I wonder what was happening in the conversations — two of them! — between Miralem Pjanic and him when La Joya lined up the free kicks. (Coach advice: Let Pjanic take them.)
- Other coach advice: Cagliari is clearly better with 10 men. If I were their manager, I would have one player assassinate — not literally — the other team’s best player, which would be a win-win; my team would be down to the Cagliari-optimal number of ten players, and the opposition would be down their best player. Imagine if Gonzalo Higuain had been sidelined!
- (If Crotone had done this, it would have been fine since the stadium is literally next to a hospital. Heh.)
Onto the awards:
Sidewalk of Turin Award
For a weak(ish) performance masked by other factors.
Alex Sandro, save one or two lazy turnovers, was fine on defense. I (sort of) mean that as a compliment. With Sandro and Mario Mandžukić on the left side of the pitch, I rarely worry about an opponent attacking from that side. It just seems an impossibility, or at least a high improbability. (The Stephan Lichtsteiner/Juan Cuadrado side, however, is periodically disconcerting to me.)
I did think, though, that Sandro was overly tentative pushing forward Sunday night. Most everything Juventus created against Cagliari originated on the right side. I realize that part of that is pure tactics, since moving forward on the right wing means Mandžukić drifts into the center, giving us both the Croat and Pipita to target, but over the last couple games Juve have seen great success attacking from the left as well, and that wasn’t the case tonight. Sandro looked a bit listless. Sorry, buddy, you’re the sidewalk tonight.
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
There are a number of players who might win this. I considered Dybala — I thought Chuks was a little tough on La Joya, considering he tallied one assist, nearly had a second with his cross to Mandžukić, and came oh-so-close to scoring — but eventually passed, because for all the merits of the 4-2-3-1, one of the only faults so far is that it seems to have stranded poor Dybala. One game he plays too far into the midfield, and the next he plays too far forward; Sunday night was the latter, with Dybala actually playing higher than Higuain. He looks confused and unsure, but his raw talent is such that even so he remains dangerous. Allegri needs to figure this out. Higuain is rolling, and if Allegri can harness Dybala’s talent as well then the Champions League might need to really watch out.
Instead, though, I think Marchisio deserves it. Of course his assist was beautiful. Pipita was onside by an inch, and Il Principino was quite aware of this. Of course his distribution was steady. But the merit in this performance was, after weeks of tiny injuries, the ability to step into what, for Marchisio, was a different role as one of two midfielders since the fully committed switch to the 4-2-3-1, and play as if he were born into a hospital full of babies perfectly formed into a 4-2-3-1 (who are we kidding, this is a possibility).
For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.
Youthful Daniele Rugani hopped onto the team plane in Turin believing he was to enjoy a restful weekend in Sardinia with the other lads. He probably brought his comfiest pajamas and a good crime novel, maybe some bubble bath for the hotel room, and then Giorgio Chiellini got hurt. My recollection of the moment is probably skewed, but it seemed like to me that Rugani somehow foresaw, as if he were capable of peering into the future, Chiellini’s injury, because as soon as Chiellini threw his hand up Rugani was standing by the third official looking buoyant and ready, like a kid who gets thrown into a game with the older kids (which is sort of what happens every time Rugani plays).
Rugani did nothing absolutely spectacular, but he did nothing poor. His clearances were on point, his distribution was solid, but most importantly he performed well on a day when the resting assumption was, er, that he would be resting.
Parco Valentino Award
For an urbane demeanor distributed amongst the squad.
As Danny mentioned yesterday, Buffon’s save demonstrated two qualities, the more subtle of which being the reason that really sets Gigi in a class of his own. The most obvious was the sheer athleticism — 39-year-olds shouldn’t be able to do that — the physical grace, the strength of arm and hand, the vision. In other words, the physical requirements to make a save like that are something that very, very few keepers possess.
The more impressive feat, however, was the sustained mental fortitude.
For the vast majority of the match, thanks to the defense Juventus wield, Buffon, more or less, had nothing to do. I’ve always wondered what — in these types of games, as Gigi meanders from post to post, occasionally venturing out to tap a ball to one of his center back s— the big Tuscan thinks about. Tonight I received my answer: absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing besides the tactics of what’s in front of him. And that’s what separates Buffon: not the animal explosiveness to reach out and make a save like he did, but that, in a game with nothing to do, in a moment facing a laser beam of a shot, his mind instantaneously triggered the movement. Welcome to your second Parco Valentino, you handsome man, you.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
There is a man from Argentina whose nickname is ‘Pipita.’ He puts the ball in the net with absolutely no regrets. (I’ll stop. I always sucked at poetry.)
Higuain is the master finisher. He is the clinic where clinicians go to get their PhD in clinicalness. He is the surgeon surgeons call for surgery, so specific and decisive are his sallies on goal. He actually prefers that you only give him a tiny sliver of space to score, because he never stops practicing his incisions.
Holy hedgehogs, how impeccable was Higuain’s performance? I’ve made comments similar to this before, and similar to Danny’s above about Gigi, but I think against teams like Cagliari and Crotone, in the very busy spans of the season — Juve play Friday against Palermo! — teams that are really gun-shy and not wanting to press forward, it can be tempting for players to mentally check out. In tiny spurts, those mental lapses can be innocuous. But in decisive moments, those mental lapses, for weaker players, can cause tangible mistakes. This was not the case for Higuain.
This edition’s theme is mental resolve, and what a display it was: Buffon’s composure after a placid hour, Rugani’s ability to play well with rest as the expectation, Marchisio’s stepping flawlessly into a new formation, and Higuain’s precision on a night of few chances.