On one hand, it would’ve been supremely enjoyable to win this game 2-0, 2-1, or hell even to draw it, and to walk out of Naples for the year with that being our last experience in the city. But there’s also something dramatically perfect about winning (“winning”) the Coppa semis the way we did: It was Gonzalo Higuain’s second goal, and only his second goal, that moved Juventus past Napoli.
All those defensive and goal shenanigans that let Napoli back into the game did nothing more than toy with them, like in Lion King when Scar is chillin’ in that cave and he’s got those mice for a little snack at his disposal and they’re just thinking they’re getting away but he’s got their tail under his paw. Given the second away goal, Napoli still had a lot of work to do, but after the PSG-Barca UCL fixture, it’s wise not to believe you’ve got the cat in the back until you hear the mew.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- More like Tomas Rinc-off, am I right? (I’ll show myself out.) But really, that was one of the more dreadful attempts at goal I’ve ever seen. The only bit of grace I’d be willing to extend is that it happened fast, and there were players closing in fast. But dude!
- Stefano Sturaro was fine, but let’s not kid ourselves. If I’m honest, Chuks’ grade of a 7 (the same as Alex Sandro) seems a bit generous. Sturaro’s passing accuracy was woeful on just 22 touches throughout the night, and although he tallied an assist the first goal was due more to Higuain’s brilliance than especially wonderful distribution from Sturaro.
- Goodness me that second Higuain goal was set up beautifully. Sandro presses forward from the left flank, sends a streaking pass through the middle of the field to La Joya, who spots Juan Cuadrado on the right flank and moves the ball forward for the Colombian, and then Cuadrado makes the right decision (!) not to try some ridiculously angled shot, and he finds Higuain in the middle who drills the shot home.
- Then, .64 seconds later, Neto decides he’d rather the game be 2-2. Gigi Buffon’s expression/reaction to this goal will go down as one of humanity’s single greatest expressions/reactions to anything of all time, I think. I used to teach history so I should know, I think.
- Neto is a fine backup keeper, but goodness I hope we’re planning on finding Gigi a worthy replacement. (Ahem, there’s a keeper at Milan who I hear is decent.)
- Both Bonucci and Benatia beaten badly — yay, alliteration! — on Napoli’s third goal. It was worse for Benatia, as Bonucci simply made the decision to go for the dribbler rather than cover the back pass. It was a 50-50 one for him, but Benatia was just beaten on the dribble.
- If Daniele Rugani doesn’t start against Chievo, c’mon.
- There are still eight league games left, one against Roma. That’s far from comfortable for me. I know we’re (sort of) happy with the draw against Napoli earlier, but we need to take care of business against teams like Chievo and hope Roma gives us some help. A 7- or 9-point lead sounds a heck of a lot better.
Onto the awards, but not too many awards for this match because, well, I can’t say there were too many players who played award-worthy well:
Parco Valentino Award
For an urbane demeanor distributed amongst the squad.
Alex Sandro is very good at playing football. We should keep him at left back until he croaks, or until a team offers us 100 million big ones and we buy that midfielder from PSG (and sell twelve of our own midfielders since we collect them like Hannibal collects victims). But anyway, Sandro is good. He’s the best. He’s the reason we scored the second goal: a deadly feint to beat a defender, a perfectly precise pass to Paulo Dybala. He’s just so good, there’s not much else to say. I can’t think of a single thing that, as a defender, he doesn’t do extremely well. He crosses well, he tackles well or brilliantly, he even finishes well, dribbles well, tracks back well, moves forward well, and makes decisions well. Yay, Sandro!
Sidewalk of Turin Award
For a weak(ish) performance masked by other factors.
Dani Alves does a lot of things well, and I’m firmly on Team Alves as far as first choice at right back, but some of the time he finds himself in the most absurd places on the pitch. His yellow card yesterday was a yellow card, despite all his Italian-themed hand gestures at the referee, and Alves had no reason to be there in the first place. It was the exact center of the field, about two thirds the way up from Napoli’s goal to Neto’s, and Alves decides it’s a good idea to chase a pass into/through the defender.
Similar to what you get when you get Cuadrado, I think you’ve got to take both the good and the bad from Alves. It wasn’t his mistakes that cost us against Napoli, but also: What the hell, dude? You’re actually our right back.
House of Savoy Award
For the [worst] man of the match.
I think you know who this might be: Neto. More like, um, Net-no? Or Net-yes? Like, put the ball in the Net-yes?
I don’t know.
As I said above, in his current role Neto seems to be a very solid choice. Because Gigi is an old man — still so damn handsome, though, his age almost makes him more handsome, you know, like the silver fox thing — and because Juve play so many games, Neto plops himself between the posts with relative frequency. But is it time, maybe, to move on from this scenario? To find a clear replacement for Gigi, allow the new guy to be mentored, and also to get experience? Maybe.
Alex Meret, as we know, is on the management’s radar. Gigi Donnarumma is Gigi Donnarumma and I love him and he’s so good and I would probably (honestly) have one of my fingers chopped off for Juventus to acquire him (this is not a joke), but it seems like a long shot. If Juventus aren’t able to sign him one day, I hope one of the stupid English teams signs him so we can enjoy him from afar and root for him when the Italians play together.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
Gonzalo Higuain hasn’t been Gonzalo Higuain lately. We — meaning BWRAO — have conjectured on why this is the case. Is it exhaustion? Maybe. Juventus have played like three billion games per week since January, and this happens to coincide with a switch in formation that includes having four designated attackers, and Juventus don’t actually have many true attackers (due to a strange midfielder fetish; I’m sort of a Rincon fan, as much as that can be true, and of course hindsight is 20-20 but it would’ve been nice to spend that cash on a utility attacker rather than another central midfielder), all of which means Higuain has been logging a lot of minutes.
In the league draw against Napoli, Higuain did absolutely nothing, and it wasn’t his fault. Juventus seemed to clearly be playing for a draw — Allegri more or less admitted it — and was also playing sans Dybala, which, for that match, apparently also meant sans midfield-attacking third connection.
For the Coppa semifinal, Higuain morphed back into himself. The first finish was sheer awareness. It’s amazing that he’s able to hold that kind of attention in a game where he wasn’t getting much service. A single pass from Sturaro to Higuain, who was flanked by three (!) defenders, and he managed to know exactly where he was on the pitch, exactly where the defenders were, and exactly where the keeper was. Had Dybala gotten the ball here — and y’all know I love Dybala — he would’ve tried some sort of black dribbler magic to get out of the conundrum, and he may have well succeeded, but Higuain does what you need your no. 9 to do, which is not think, not try black magic, do whatever cold motherf—— deed you need to do to get the orb in the back of the net against the team for whom you used to play and then you send a death stare with greater death power than the Death Star to your team’s old president who looks like he is having digestion problems, and then you score again because you’re Gonzalo freaking Higuain and nobody is going to stop you.