Juventus win games they shouldn’t — that’s what makes a champion, and historically, at least for these past six years, it’s what has earned the Scudetto at the end of the season. As Max Allegri said after the Cagliari game, the will to win is “ingrained in the club’s DNA.”
Matchday 20 of 38 saw Inter and Roma drop points, once again widening the gap between Serie A’s vanguard and the now third-place seekers. Napoli are certainly for real, and perhaps don’t have the outside “distractions” — if you want to think of them that way — that Juve does in terms of the Champions League and the Coppa Italia. Napoli do have the Europa League, and actually a pretty tasty draw against RB Leipzig, but you have to think the vast majority of their attention remains domestic. A fun title race, indeed.
Juventus won 1-0 — a controversial win, to be sure, but you know what else that game was? It was extremely, extremely fun. On other occasions when Juventus plays bottom-dwellers, the opponent puts 19 men in the box and just tries to punch on the counter attack. But not Cagliari, apparently, at least not when they’re at home in Sardinia. The home side pressed like they were welcoming a foe of equal strength, and it damn near paid off.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- I bought a yellow kit over the summer and think it works really well as a non-soccer shirt, i.e. just something to wear about the normal world with blue jeans or any number of things. But, damn, they’re starting to look so bad on the pitch for me, and I suspect many others. This year’s home kit is particularly beautiful, the alternate kind of screams WTF, and the away is, um, extremely yellow.
- Big fan of the Cagliari quadrant kits, though.
- Juventus finished with a clean sheet, but it doesn’t seem like it was warranted, really. Even Max Allegri admitted that Cagliari didn’t deserve to lose that game, and between brilliant goalkeeping and a perhaps-maybe-okay-yeah handball in the box that could have resulted in a penalty for Cagliari, the margins for a clean sheet were thin.
- Did the Christmas tree work out? Max chose three central midfielders once again, but it didn’t seem to me to provide the solidity for which he’s striving.
- I’m going to pull a contrarian move and say I thought Juve’s center back play was pretty poor against Cagliari, especially in the air. It’s difficult for me to imagine fielding Medhi Benatia and Giorgio Chiellini and accepting aerial dominance from an opponent who doesn’t have Romelu Lukaku or someone like that. Oh well!
- Quite a day for the new kids on the team. Both the clean sheet and the goal came solely from new acquisitions. They’re adapting!
Onto the awards:
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
Wojciech Szczęsny is, once again, the only reason Juventus kept a clean sheet, and the only reason Juve left with three points. He made two absolutely world-class saves.
I texted my Arsenal buddy on Saturday, and he remains pretty darn disappointed that old man, cardigan-wearing Arsene Wenger allowed the big man to go, leaving also-old man Petr Cech to mind the net. Well, it does indeed increasingly look like Juve robbed the London club.
The Shroud of Turin Award
For the player who was never really there.
Sami Khedira returns to his rightful spot.
I do remember one play where he sort of made an impact; the moment came after Federico Bernardeschi hit that beautiful banger off the post, and Khedira nearly headed the ball in the back of the net were it not for fairly astute positioning from a Cagliari defender.
But other than that ... it’s time for Khedira to go.
I don’t have much to say on the Emre Can situation, other than these things: He’s young (about to turn 24), and although he has some occasional mental lapses (I’d say I’ve watched a fair amount of Liverpool games, mostly to see Mohamed Salah game whoever the Reds are playing), the German international tries pretty hard, attacks with grinta, and really likes tracking down the ball. I think he’ll fit well next to Miralem Pjanic, and he sort of reminds me of a hybrid of his compatriot Khedira and Blaise Matuidi.
For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.
Speaking of the Frenchman: Any tiny, tiny particle of sympathy or empathy I possessed for Cagliari when decisions didn’t go their way went completely out the door when, after an intense offensive foray, Matuidi lurched toward the crowd and started losing his marbles. If there is one thing I know about Blaise, it’s that he’s a cool customer. All the reports from Juve’s training come back saying that the dude just works really, really hard, although he doesn’t say much. He’s one of those rare players who doesn’t vociferously complain at the refs, who doesn’t dramatically pout every time his run isn’t identified (look at you, Pipita), who doesn’t spin around 729 times on the ground after he is touched by the fringe of an opponent’s sock (looking at you, Swiss Menace).
So you know, in other words, that whatever was said to him from the Cagliari ultras on Saturday night was really, really bad. The man said it best himself on Facebook: “Weak people try to intimidate with hate.”
If I were to condemn racism with the terms I wish I could, Danny would have to give me a lengthy leave of absence from the blog. It makes me seethe inside, and I can only try to be like Blaise himself, in his elegance and empathy for those weak enough, insecure enough, morally contemptible enough so succumb to racism.