The only sign of nervousness I displayed ahead of the Monaco match was a dream I had about a week ago. In the dream, it’s the 70th minute, and Juventus is down 2-1. In the dream, I’m afraid of going back to Turin down a goal, with Kylian Mbappe unleashed on a counter-attacking Monaco side against a Juventus defense that, for all its world-class attributes, lacks top-quality pace.
Then Juventus equalizes, and the man who does it is named Gonzalo Higuain.
Lucky for us, reality turned out to be better than my dream. The man who cost seven billion dollars from Napoli, the man who supposedly never shows up to big games — an infuriating claim on a number of levels, perhaps the foremost of which is that his form against Barcelona, especially at Camp Nou, was actually pretty damn good — tallied a brace.
Max Allegri deployed a last-minute tactical change, Juventus played a different scheme than against the Spaniards, and the Bianconeri head back to Turin for two games at Juventus Stadium: One to potentially clinch Serie A — Roma play Milan at San Siro — and the other to potentially clinch a berth in the Champions League final.
Um, yeah, it’s a good day.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- After about 20 minutes, Juventus were dominating possession — at least it felt like it — and I wanted to say something like, “Gee whiz, it’s strange to be dominating the possession after the Barcelona fixtures, in which we just kind of sat around (as we had to) hoping our defense was good.” But then at the end of the match it was nearly 50-50.
- I don’t know if you’ve guys heard about this striker that Monaco has who is 18 named Mbappe, but...he is good. My only hope is that somebody like Inter aren’t lucky enough to buy him. You could tell Mbappe hated when Gianluigi Buffon put his giant keeper’s mit on his head like Buffon was his dad and he was a little kid playing with Hot Wheels. But Mbappe is for real.
- In the ninth minute when Higuain literally just fell down right in front of the penalty area, how many of you, of us, honestly, thought to ourselves, “Maybe he doesn’t perform in big games…”
- Paulo Dybala was everywhere positionally — attacking midfield, right wing, left mid. He absolutely deserves free reign on the pitch; it always yields results, and it did once again against Monaco.
- Leonardo Bonucci: not the greatest performance from Leo we’ve seen.
- Giorgio Chiellini: age shmage.
- Literally every time Tomas Rincon gets subbed on, Adam Digby tweets: “RincON.”
Onto the awards:
Sidewalk of Turin Award
For a weak(ish) performance masked by other factors.
Miralem Pjanic was not good but not great, I thought. Shoutout, of course, for a potentially goal-saving tackle — that was a weird play...like in slow motion — but otherwise he looked tentative, unsure. He made the defensive plays that he needed to make, but as good as he’s been in moments all year it still feels like we’re waiting for him to be top-class consistently. I certainly think he’s capable. Allegri certainly thinks he’s capable. He’s skilled as hell, in a myriad of ways; now he just needs to put those skills together.
In Allegri’s words: “I am very angry with Pjanic.” (Stop for a moment: Allegri is hilarious.) “He can become one of the best three midfielders in the world, but every now and then when he gets a pass wrong he acts like it’s the end of the world.”
I get that feeling, too, and I think it’s fine. Pjanic is under good tutelage with Allegri and our dear old friend Claudio Marchisio.
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
Blah, blah, blah disclaimer about how none of us is overlooking anything in these Champions League games, but Allegri deserves special credit for making the tactical decision to change the lineup.
Here’s his reasoning: “It’s very simple. With Sami Khedira suspended and Monaco’s danger on the counter, I needed a player who could do more preventative marking. I also needed someone strong in the air like Andrea Barzagli, who had an extraordinary game, as Claudio Marchisio is not good with headers.”
It makes logical sense, but I also feared before kickoff that the change would be over-thinking the situation. Technically, Juventus stayed in a 4-2-3-1, but it looked drastically different than normal: Half the time Dani Alves was actually in the right back position, with Dybala playing as the right winger. The shape was extremely amorphous, and that was part of the plan, but what worried me was that this would be a change.
I write a bit more about how the change affected the offensive side of things below, but suffice it to say that Allegri’s decision (I think) paid off, although Buffon certainly bailed his defense out a number of times, and the Barzagli-Alves tandem at right back had a couple hiccups.
For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.
Chiellini was very good. There is not much to say about it. He had, I think, 15 clearances, and he stepped up into the spotlight when Bonucci played just okay. I have no idea how he still plays the way he does, but he’s our rock in the center, and even when he elbows someone in the face it’s completely non-malicious. Also he has his master’s degree, so that’s pretty dope.
Parco Valentino Award
For an urbane demeanor distributed amongst the squad.
It’s a push between Pipita and Buffon, both of whom did exactly what they needed to do exactly when they needed to do it. As I say below, the performances of Buffon, Pipita, and Alves, for me, are inextricably tied together, and really can’t be teased apart, as each one’s merits in this game massively affected the others.
On a night when the defense was good but not great — let’s be real, Juve would’ve conceded at least one, maybe two with any other keeper — Buffon was there. He was there not just with the saves, which were miraculous for any human to make, but also barking out directions constantly, reprimanding his center backs, positioning his fullbacks. Buffon is a demigod, for real.
And then Pipita. They said Pipita was a waste of money. They said Pipita was fat. They said Pipita never shows up in big games.
They were wrong.
The first goal was a build-up from Buffon to the back of Monaco’s net. It included a midair backheel from Dybala to Alves, who distributed to Higuain and then used the momentum of a push from a defender to launch himself forward —there have to be a number of players who would’ve tried to draw the foul there — and then Gonzalo weighted a perfect ball forward to the Brazilian; he collected, waited, and backheeled to Pipita.
The second goal was just as beautiful, when Alves sent a soaring cross, the perfect pace, the perfect height, a ball that Juan Cuadrado, for all that he brings to this team, could probably never hit, and Higuain found the sliver of space he needed to deposit the ball.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
Let’s not get caught up in a stupid debate about whether the official man of the match should be Buffon, Pipita, or Alves, because they were all amazing and without any single one of them the game might have been a dramatically different story. Monaco scored zero times only because of Gigi; the defense was not the same as it was against Barcelona, but on the brink of 40 Gigi doesn’t care for your sometimes-shaky defenses. Without the Alves assists, both of which were flawless, Higuain wouldn’t have scored. And without Higuain’s ice-cold clinical finishing, Alves’s passes wouldn’t have mattered.
The reason I chose Alves is that he put in stellar work on both sides of the pitch, and part of whether or not the last-minute formation changed worked or didn’t work was up to him and Barzagli. Alves was out of his normal position, and he also had to be constantly aware of the formational malleability with which the Bianconeri played almost the entire night—and he did just that.
The backheel...oh my gosh.
The cross...perfect. (Only thing I wonder about the cross is I think, potentially, a keeper like Buffon would’ve snagged it out of the air. Perfect as it was, though.)
I was discussing the Alves-Cuadrado at right wing debate before the game, and it seems to me that really the only thing Cuadrado offers over Alves is pace and energy. Alves is better in possession. Alves is more creative. Alves crosses better. Alves and Dybala have a strangely intimate knowledge of each other's play. All of this was on display. And given the fact that Juventus were not playing counter-attacking football, as they did against Barcelona, it made a lot of sense to have Cuadrado on the bench for the late spark. As Allegri explained in his comments, the decision maybe had as much or more to do with Sami’s absence, but I think from an offensive tactical perspective this makes sense.
Only 90 minutes away from a date with Cristiano Ronaldo. (Ronaldo is good.)
Fino alla fine.