The Bianconeri left no doubt as to who reigns supreme in Italian football.
The loss to Roma two Sundays ago fueled a number of reactions from supporters, but from the team’s perspective there was a palpable tension, as Max Allegri himself noted. It was why, I think, the early goal from Mario Mandžukić was so important: It released the pressure. A few minutes later, Paulo Dybala was taken down in the box — it should’ve been a penalty — for what could’ve been the icing on the cake. No matter, of course, because the little Argentine had this in store. For the millionth time, it’s simply amazing to have the right foot of Miralem Pjanic and the left foot of Dybala available for free kicks near the box. It seems like the former is due for a goal, so hopefully the Bosnian can put one home against Cardiff.
Although the tension was there from Juve’s perspective, it was almost immediately apparent, from a neutral point of view, how out of reach the game was for Crotone. It wasn’t that they only logged 31 percent of possession. It wasn’t that they tallied just two shots on target. Or that they completed just 71 percent of passes. It was, instead, the tone with which they carried the ball; they were tepid in possession, and even that’s a generous description. Each time Crotone took possession, they coughed it up within minutes.
Juventus pressed and pressed, pushed and pushed, and the fact that most of the players had played Lazio a few days prior — the new additions to the lineup were Buffon, Cuadrado, Benatia, and Pjanic — didn’t matter; all the conjecture that players had lost their focus, had read too many headlines, vanished against Crotone. There were very, very few mistakes. I don’t think it mattered that it was Crotone, really. Had Roma been on the pitch, the result would’ve been the same.
Now, with the Coppa Nazionale behind them, with the Scudetto secured, the lads have a couple days’ rest, a warm-up match versus Bologna, and then six days before Cardiff. I, like many people, am happy Juventus have a game between now and the Champions League final. For me, the benefit of maintaining form and a game-like atmosphere outweighs the potential of an injury. Also, maybe it’s time to give Moise Kean a shot with the first team. How awesome would that be?
Two-thirds of the way there.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- It was nice to see a return-to-form from Juan Cuadrado. He still made some rather head-scratching decisions, but he assisted on a wonderful cross, and he constantly pressured the back line of Crotone. The lineup in Cardiff will be interesting to wonder about, but I imagine that Alves will get the nod at winger, Barzagli will play at right back, and Cuadrado will ride the pine until a burst of energy is (or is not) needed in the second half. Who knows, though? I’m just a dude in Texas conjecturing.
- One note on that first goal from Mandžukić: Of course Juventus need a winger if this 4-2-3-1 remains the formation of choice moving forward, and I’m not going to get into transfer rumors here. But the first goal against Crotone showed exactly why it can be helpful to have a huge, lumbersome, target-forward winger on the opposite side. With Juve’s penchant for attacking through the right side of the pitch — despite whether Dani Alves or Cuadrado is on the field — Gonzalo Higuain is able to drift into the right side of the penalty area, and Mr. No Good on the left side of the penalty area, and suddenly you’ve got two, big, strong targets in the box. Cuadrado sent a nice cross into the danger zone — not a pretty cross like Alves, mind you — and it missed the first forward, but Mandžukić muscled his way past the fullback and finished confidently. That’s pretty darn good.
- And hey: after not scoring a lot this season, the big Croatian has managed two goals in two really important games. The first against Monaco in the closeout game of the Champions League semifinal, the second to win the Scudetto. I’m of the opinion that it will be Juve’s ability to finish (or not finish) that will seal the deal against Real Madrid, and if that’s anywhere near the truth then it’s somewhat comforting to have Mandžukić featured twice on the scoreboard in recent weeks.
- What do you think Buffon was thinking about the whole game? I like to imagine that while part of his mind was occupied by the actual football, there was something else entirely on his mind, like a new restaurant in Turin that he wanted to try. Something like that.
- How great is it to see Claudio Marchisio log pretty big minutes in back-to-back games? Having Marchisio or Sami Khedira on the bench in Cardiff will be helpful, assuming the German is back to full health. Having a first-team midfielders and either Cuadrado or Andrea Barzagli off the bench gives Juventus some depth that has occasionally been lacking. Were it not for Marko Pjaca’s injury, they’d have a quality attacker in the reserves as well.
Onto the awards:
Sidewalk of Turin Award
For a weak(ish) performance masked by other factors.
Not today, my friends.
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
Our prize center back Leonardo Bonucci didn’t score, didn’t assist, and didn’t do too much too flashy — besides that one near-assist to Dybala, who was a foot offsides — but he was an absolute rock at the back. What’s more, this was the far-and-away the best Bonucci-Medhi Benatia pairing that I’ve seen. And while you’ve got to acknowledge the competition was Crotone, they’ve been on a tear lately, and the pressure was. So props to Benatia for playing pretty well and, somehow, as Chuks pointed out, not getting carded.
But Bonucci was, per usual, the epicenter of the defense, and of sparking movement forward. His distribution skills show up so often it’s a shame not to point them out every time. He was a hawk in the air, a tank on the ground, and a surgeon in the passing game.
For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.
Alex Sandro seemed, to be honest, a little out-of-whack with his touch, but he was stellar defensively and scored the third goal of the game, the “if literally everything goes wrong for the last ten minutes we still won’t lose” goal. Juventus favor the right side moving forward, but the Sandro and Mandžukić overlap holds enough of a threat to balance the field of play.
The header on the corner was thunderous rocketry, a fitting cap to his breakout season. There are people already willing to sell him, which makes no sense to me.
It’s official: I’m on Team Keep Alex Sandro.
Parco Valentino Award
For an urbane demeanor distributed amongst the squad.
The Parco Valentino award goes to a unit: the midfield. Everybody deserves a bit of praise in the Scudetto-sealing victory, and both Marchisio and Pjanic were exceptional. Il Principino continues to adjust to being one of only two holding midfielders, and Pjanic continues to show how strong his covering abilities are coupled with his slick dribbling and passing. Assuming Juventus bring in another first-team quality midfielder this summer (Tolisso, or someone like him), and assuming the 4-2-3-1 is here to stay, we should be feeling pretty darn good here.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
If Paulo Dybala had played Crotone 1 vs. 11, I think he somehow would’ve had about 55 percent of the possession. For every adjective that describes Crotone in possession — timid and clumsy and messy — one on the opposite spectrum describes La Joya — bold and beautiful and neat. Allegri has been gifted with a number of players who now seem indispensable in the formation, and Dybala is one of them.
Once again, thanks to Chuks for pointing out Dybala’s movement during the Crotone game. Here it is again, for quick reference:
Crotone set out in a counterattack-ready 4-4-2 that left an awful lot of space between the lines for Dybala to exploit. It was a recurring theme throughout the match as Dybala roamed and roamed around the pitch. This “problem” for Crotone grew more pronounced as the game wore on and the visitors were forced to take more risks in a valiant attempt to salvage something from the game.
Dybala is whatever he wants to be, and that’s what we want him to be, too. He looked similar against Monaco. He definitely favors the right side of the pitch, to such a degree that playing him as a pure right winger is a delectably enticing thought, but he’s also so skilled in so many ways — physically and mentally — that you kind of want him wherever his instincts plus Allegri’s guidance lead him. And that’s what he’s now doing, and it’s working, even if he doesn’t score every single game.
Friends, I hope we beat Real Madrid and win the Champions League for Gigi Buffon. But if we don’t, I hope we’re all still able to recognize the accomplishments of this team. It’s been a wonderful year, and the future is as bright as ever.