Between the incessant, infernal whistles piercing the second-rate microphones in Juventus Stadium to the apprehensive — from Juventus’ point of view — opening minutes, followed by a rather tepid second half given the game was more or less in hand this was not the most thrilling to watch. In fact, I’m not sure what kept me watching. Maybe the whistles held me under some sort of spell. Maybe it was too good to be true to see Claudio Marchisio running around. Maybe it was hoping the camera would pan to Daniele Rugani in a fully body cast, or in a different part of the world caring for a relative afflicted with a disease that only Rugani can cure, because outside of those two exact possibilities there is no reason Medhi Benatia should be starting ahead of him.
Also: Juve are paying money for Benatia? Is that right? You’re sure we’re not getting paid for him?
Woof. It wasn’t a bad performance by the Bianconeri on Tuesday night, but it wasn’t a good one.
Anyway, the good news is that Juve play Sampdoria on Sunday, and then we get a break, and then we play Napoli twelve times in a row in Naples and hopefully it’s less sticky than this situation was in Brazil.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- Just two seconds ago, working on this, I witnessed my dog — smallish yellow labrador named Catherine — given my parent’s dog — a smug little Puggle who we are watching for a few days — a kiss on the face. My dog is awesome.
- Good to see Principino back in the fold.
- That is all.
Onto the awards:
Sidewalk of Turin Award
For a weak(ish) performance masked by other factors.
This is the part of the piece where I harangue Max Allegri for not even bringing Rugani in uniform. There is absolutely no part of me that understands this decision, barring the reasons listed above. Benatia is fine. He’s fine, and that’s it. But there’s a case to be made that Rugani, who we often think about as the future cornerstone of this defense and, really, of all center backs in all of Narnia — there’s a case to be made that he’s already there. He’s not the brawler that Giorgio Chiellini is, but his distribution and positioning are both better than Benatia, and he doesn’t seem to panic, like, ever. That’s kind of insane. And I fail to understand why he’s not getting minutes.
So here’s to you, Benatia, for blundering on what should’ve been a (relatively meaningless) Porto goal shortly after the break.
(To try to be a little more fair to the guy, there were a couple other boneheaded defensive mistakes.)
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
Leonardo Bonucci wasn’t perfect, but he was very good. (And he looked perfect next to Benatia, anyway.) His 116 touches were second only to Alves, and his passing percentage of 94.4 was better than anybody’s with significant handling of the ball besides Benatia’s (!), who managed a 97 percent passing completion rate on 77 touches.
Bonucci’s presence was all the more welcome given his absence in the first leg of this dance with Porto. Chiellini is 74 years old and so still healing from something, and Benatia is Benatia—I know he’s not that bad, but still—so it was pretty much left to Bonucci and Sandro to hold down the fort, given Benatia’s iffy decisions and positioning and Alves’ penchant for moving forward.
Bonucci anchored the defense well. Granted, it was against a Porto side that hasn’t proven much as far as attack goes.
For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.
Dani Alves and his weird tattoos were all over the pitch. While he managed, of course, to do some annoying Dani Alves things, he also managed to be a box-to-box right back, creating two scoring chances, serving up a number of crosses that, if they had been attempted by Lichtsteiner, would’ve wound up in Ivrea, and he took a corner kick and it was cool. He’s got a case to be man of the match today, I think. No single Bianconero was stellar for 90, or even 60, minutes, but Alves positively influenced both sides of the pitch with his distribution and creation.
I think as well we ought to start tracking Dybala’s performances alongside Alves, because the two have something sexy going on, and when La Joya is cooking, everybody’s cooking.
Parco Valentino Award
For an urbane demeanor distributed amongst the squad.
It’s not easy — I imagine; I’m not actually speaking from experience — to step up to the penalty mark over and over and over again and deposit the ball into the back of the net with the same confidence with which one deposits a piece of chewing gum into one’s mouth. That’s Dybala. He just doesn’t miss, and it’s not only that he doesn’t miss, he somehow, with some illegal (probably) Argentinian mind trick, throws the goalkeeper into the other side of the net, and then for the mirth of it just freaking laser beams the thing into the other corner. It’s silly. Anyone who scores a penalty on Gigi Donnarumma is worthy of at least a minor statue being forged in their honor.
But besides the penalty, he did a lot. Did you see him track all the way back the pitch a few minutes later to snub out a counterattack? That was actually my favorite moment of the game, I think. He threw some good crosses into the box. He made magic with his feet. He nearly created a couple chances out of nothing, because that’s the kind of player he is.
He’s also 23 years old still. (And doesn’t turn 24 until November!)
As good as Dybala was, he also — stop if you’ve heard this before — wasn’t perfect, or even great. He was overly ambitious in attack a couple times: an absurd volley attempt, an overly cute touch. And he missed at least one chance, from a beautiful Higuain cross, that he should’ve put into the back of the net. But, even so, I thought he was Juve’s best player in this second leg against Porto. What is most encouraging, perhaps, is the fact that he’s turned in two pretty damn good performances back to back. Here’s to more of those.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
I just...there’s nobody who deserves this.