Football! Soccer! Calcio!
My excitement for whatever you call this game so far outweighs the disappointment — or whatever — that I feel about this game that I can’t even explain it. After months and months of truly atrocious transfer gossip, the first 15 minutes by which, I admit, I was entertained, I’m just happy the game is back. The friendlies sure as hell don’t count as soccer. And as disappointed as I am by the result, and as even more disappointed as I am by much of the play, I’m going to save my anger for the things that truly demand anger (see: Charlottesville, Virginia).
This is sport. It’s amazing — it takes you in, whirls you about, and then throws you back into the world. Let’s enjoy the taste of the game after a two-month hiatus.
If you’re into not freaking out, here’s the most optimistic view of the match that I can give you: I think this was literally the best outcome possible. I’m not kidding.
The players just watched Lazio celebrate like it was their first time to ever win a trophy — oops! I forgot that Lazio won the Scudetto in 2000, and 1974, and . . . wait, no, that’s it — so I think with this guy and this guy in the locker room that the Bianconeri will come out with a fiery vengeance against Cagliari. Max Allegri’s got his confirmation that Douglas Costa (and maybe Federico Bernardeschi, too) should be starting sooner rather than later. And management has the personnel evidence right in front of them: something has to be done in the midfield, and it’s not Blaise Matuidi.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- In three years under Allegri, Juventus have won three domestic titles, three domestic cups, and have finished second in the Champions League twice. And a sizable throng of fans is calling for him to be sacked. That’s . . . so, so amazing to me.
- Douglas Costa! Oh my goodness, when Allegri brought Mattia De Sciglio and Costa on I think we all knew things were going to change — they did — but, man, did he look good. When he has the ball on the flank he does this thing where he curves a long pass into the center of the box trying to connect with an attacker making a run. Someone just told me it’s called a “cross,” but I haven’t seen one from the right side of the field since some time ago.
- Medhi Benatia . . . marks like James Harden.
- Juan Cuadrado . . . more turnovers than a Dublin bakery.
- Sami Khedira . . . more woof than a dog park.
- When I saw the starting lineup about 30 minutes before kickoff, my immediate thought was that Allegri wanted to do the following: Trot our weird, everybody-out-of-position lineup from Cardiff — minus Dani Alves — maybe go up 1-0 or keep it tied 0-0, all to show that even playing funky-like Juve still can kick opponents around. Then he’d substitute the new guys and Juventus would score a couple more and walk away with a 4-0 victory and everyone in Serie A would be shaking in their boots.
- That ... didn’t happen. But I hold by my theory that Allegri is fully aware that the lineup he chose to start the game is not Juve’s best starting eleven. I think he was testing the waters to see how soon or not-soon he needs to integrate the new acquisitions — I firmly believe that — and the answer is very, very evident: soon. I expect Costa to start next weekend, and I expect an actual fullback to be playing rather than Andrea Barzagli — who still doesn’t qualify for the position — and I hope against hope that Daniele Rugani starts at center back.
- The opposition has gotten better. It’s going to be extremely difficult to secure the Scudetto this year. Maybe the most disconcerting thing about the game — if you’re really into freaking out about things — was that Lazio’s lineup was a bit of a hodgepodge. Players making their debut, players testing out slightly new positions, and two of their top attackers in Keita Balde and Felipe Anderson weren’t even playing.
Two things before the awards:
- I’ve created a few new additions this year. The aim will be to have a bank from which I choose, so that — win, lose or draw — we can spin a nice mixture of variation and predictability. Also, I get an excuse to nerd out more about Turin.
- I’m working on a feature piece about Gigi Buffon. Goodness gracious it’s been nice to not write (or think) about transfers and just remember the man minding the net. Look for that to drop mid-week.
Onto the awards (“awards”):
*NEW* Nietzsche's Horse Award
For the player whose play demonstrated an insanity indicative of serious decline in form.
If you’re up to date on your philosophy and/or German history, you know that Nietzsche’s famous horse incident occurred in Turin. Yay, history! Basically he was just strolling along the streets of Turin like anybody sensible would do, and then he saw a horse getting whipped, and he felt very bad for the horse and then he went insane and wrote letters to Europe saying to go to war for Germany and told his mom he couldn’t talk any more and started referring to himself as “the crucified one.” Just crazy stuff, you know?
The person who wins this award in the Lazio game shares the philosopher’s nationality ... congratulations, Sami Khedira!
Did Khedira want to be out there? He looked like he didn’t care too much. He registered zero shots on target, zero key passes, and, amazingly, had nearly 40 fewer (!) touches than Miralem Pjanic ... 40! The moments he chose to move forward or back were ill-timed to say the least.
Khedira should not be starting above Marchisio. Perhaps Allegri is concerned about not having a defensive-minded midfielder, but if Claudio is healthy, I really don’t understand what sort of governing logic guides one to starting Khedira.
Italian Teenager Gaggle Award
For the unit embodying the following descriptors: incoherent, waste of space, frustrating.
Sami wins the dubious honor of two negative awards. Great job, Sami!
The midfield was bad. Let’s throw Cuadrado into the mix here, even though he was a winger, but since we’ve already dealt with Sami let’s talk about Pjanic and the Colombian.
Is Pjanic a regista? I don’t know. Sometimes he looks so damn natural and silky to me, slipping into the back, passing back and forth with
Leonardo Bonucci, um, whoever is playing center back, scanning the field for runs, launching crosses or through balls.
But other times, he looks lost. He’s predictable. His passes are too hot, or else too weak. I’ve got a ton of faith in Miralem, and I think that perhaps the Lazio game was an adjustment for him in playing without Bonucci and with a zombie-like Khedira and with still an out-of-position winger in Mr. No Good and another winger who turns the ball over in droves.
About that guy ... Cuadrado is not bad. He had a decent amount of assists last year. He did this to Inter. He’s also fast; that’s a thing!
But also, he is not a great winer. His crosses are meh. His go-to dribbling move is to wait for the defender to do something, and to hope that the thing the defender does is just miss the ball, and then dribble past them — because he is fast! Against good defenders, against even mediocre defenders, that doesn’t work. It didn’t work against Lazio, because they’ve got some good defenders.
*NEW* The Via Madama Christina Walk of Shame Award
For the player who played so poorly that Mr. Max made him walk shamefully to the sideline.
When I studied in Turin, there were a number of bars popular on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II that were popular with the other Americans abroad, and sometimes, believe it or not, I got swept up in the cool crowd. And if I didn’t go to one of these bars near Porta Nuova, I was probably somewhere in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, a little bit northeast of there.
Either way, if I stayed out late and imbibed too much of the great nectar of the gods, and if I needed to go home at three in the morning but didn’t want to pay for a cab, I’d have to walk all the way from that area of the city to my apartment, which was located just a little bit northeast of Lingotto. You could take Via Nizza if you wanted to, but Via Madama Christina was the much more interesting walk — the street was more pedestrian-friendly, and had a great collections of cafes, bars, and restaurants.
Anyway, I made that drunken walk many a time, and somehow never got mugged. It’s a shameful thing and a lonely thing.
Sometimes Allegri makes a substitution mid-game because a player played very, very badly, and they are forced to do a walk that inspires similar emotions.
Shame and loneliness.
In the inaugural 2016-2017 “Landmarks of Turin Awards,” Benatia earns the honor of this award!
Congrats, Medhi! Your marking on Ciro Immobile was ... it actually didn’t even exist, because you just stood there and watched him jump and head the ball into the back of the net. Great work.
Let’s, um, hope this is lighter next week.