I really, really encouraged people not to freak out the other day when Juventus were pounded against Roma. There were all sorts of dramatic reactions that I’m not going to pretend I, as a fan, have never had. But they were pretty dramatic; we’ve got to admit it. There was all this stuff about the players reading the newspapers and getting big-headed and not concentrating, and how offensive it all was, and then this.
Juventus just kicked Lazio’s ass. And Lazio is good. They scored seven goals against Sampdoria. Six against Palermo. They stomped Roma 3-1 — a game for which we ought to be very thankful, although of course had they drawn or lost we would’ve approached our date with Roma differently — and they’re the top team in Italian football who’s not Roma, Napoli, or your very own Juventus. And it was extremely evident that Lazio is nowhere near the Bianconeri in terms of quality. Max Allegri didn’t even have Miralem Pjanic!
So, let’s breathe.
Let’s celebrate this one, because the fellas are one-third of the way there, and they did it in strapping fashion. They’ve now got three days to rest before playing Crotone at Juventus Stadium, with a chance to wrap up part two of the three-step path to dominance.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- Sort of a weird game, but not in a bad way. There were only two goals scored; you are probably aware of this. But there could have been lots more. Some of that is thanks to Neto, in a good way. Neto! What a game by the Brazilian backup goalkeeper. He’s had his non-moments, but Wednesday night he proved that he’s a worthy second-string option behind Gianluigi Buffon.
- The other reason there were not more goals: Bad finishing on the part of Juventus. I’ll address this below.
- That was a fun game. That was fast and up and down and everything that football or soccer or calcio or whatever should be.
- Is anybody else irrationally into Lazio’s kits? I really like the colors, the simplicity, and that white collar looks clean as hell.
Onto the awards:
Sidewalk of Turin Award
For a weak(ish) performance masked by other factors.
Gonzalo Higuain is a really good forward, one of the best forwards in the world, but I’m just going to be straight with you: For Juventus to unseat Real Madrid, Pipita has got to finish more effectively. We know he can do it, because, um, he’s scored lots of goals, and he scores goals all the time, but tonight was bad.
Higuain is a magician with so many things. His positioning is almost always perfect. The pressure he constantly exerts on a defense is lethally effective, and it’s not difficult to advance the argument that his presence is felt as much when he’s not scoring as when it is. He’s not scored as many this year as last year with Napoli, but he’s clearly made Juventus much, much better.
But against Lazio: two glaring chances. A couple more half-chances. And he didn’t finish. While Leonardo Bonucci did. I think the line of reasoning we’re taking here is that he’s saving up all his finishes for June 3rd, right?
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
With the usual caveat that it’s hard to overlook anything these days, I thought the player who didn’t really show up on the stat sheet but played absolutely brilliantly was Andrea Barzagli, the 36-year-old, do-it-all, how-is-he-running-that-fast defender.
I was trying to explain to a friend Wednesday morning what Juventus’ shape does with Barzagli at right back. It was especially evident in the Monaco games, but it’s extremely fluid. It’s not really a 4-2-3-1. It’s more of a 3-4-2-1, or something weird like that. Or a 3-4 and everybody else just doing whatever. It’s amazing to watch the formation move forward and expand, then retract when it needs to. The BBC is back in action, and it’s largely thanks to Barzagli’s ability to still, at his creaky old age, chase down wingers.
For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.
We’ve known for some time that Alex Sandro is one of the best left backs in the world. (Side note: we’re facing one of the other best left backs in the world in Cardiff.) But I’ve got to say, he’s not been in great — by his standards — form lately.
But against Lazio, a game where Juventus was without their midfield engine Pjanic, Sandro not only tallied two assists, but logged the most touches and the highest passing accuracy with over 95 percent. His cross to Alves was sheer brilliance, the perfect slot between a retreating defender and the keeper. He moved forward with precision. The 4-2-3-1 with Mr. No Good on the left wing really needs Sandro to move forward well, and that happened Wednesday night.
Parco Valentino Award
For an urbane demeanor distributed amongst the squad.
Neto wins an award! Neto wins an award!
He doesn’t quite have the clout to bark out angry orders like Buffon, but he earned hugs from Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini on Wednesday. Anytime you earn hugs from Bonucci and Chiellini, you probably played well. He’s not as good as Buffon — hot take! — and he’s been relatively inconsistent this year, but man was he good when he needed to be against Lazio.
The whole situation where you — “you” being a team regularly playing in European football, with the need to have a really good second option — give your backup keeper an entire tournament, even in the final, is still a little weird to me. I get the rationale, but also it’s like: Don’t you want your best goalkeeper on the pitch? Well, it’s not my decision, and Neto didn’t disappoint.
Honorable mention must go as well to Bonucci, who put the game out of reach for Lazio.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
Holy crap, it’s not real. Dani Alves, according to WhoScored, had like 7,303 key passes. Also, he scored the all-important first goal. And he should’ve assisted 12 times to Higuain. He had a world-class tackle. He made a defender look sillier than the Three Stooges. Alves at right wing is a revelation. And it’s thanks to so many players moving around and succeeding, and it’s thanks to Allegri’s ability to see that potential.
Juventus are playing a target forward at left wing. They’re playing a 36-year-old at right back, and a 34-year-old right back at right wing.
And they’re about to take Europe by storm.