Juventus are the best team on the planet.
As if providing further proof of the fact, perennial powerhouses Bayern Munich and Real Madrid both dropped games Saturday, the German giants with an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach and the defending Champions League victors to a last-minute loss to Deportivo Alaves. And as good as Barcelona and Liverpool have looked, both sides have stumbled where Juventus have not. The Catalans have already drawn twice and lost once in La Liga, and Jurgen Klopp’s side is fresh off a 1-0 heartbreaker to Napoli thanks to a 90th-minute goal from Lorenzo Insigne.
After Juventus’ 2-0 against Udinese, skipper Max Allegri rightly pointed out that his team played their best game of the season.
“I think we played perhaps our best of the season, allowing Udinese practically nothing,” the manager said. “It could’ve been at risky fixture, but we showed great maturity and determination. The lads know what we are working on, at times we have been a little complacent after taking the lead, but we didn’t do that today.”
For many of us, that last statement was maybe the salient point during Saturday’s game: After going up 2-0, Juve didn’t take their foot off the gas pedal. They were going for the throat. They looked like a jaguar stalking a wounded deer. Were it not for an otherworldly game from Simone Scuffet — who dazzled with two or three world-class saves — Juventus would’ve marched on to a 7-0 clobbering of Udinese.
Context makes Juve’s start even more impressive
Juve’s form is great. Juve’s win against Udinese was great. And Juve’s overall mark is spotless. But when you take a step back and observe the tactical context of their 10 wins, the record becomes infinitely more impressive.
As great of a player as Cristiano Ronaldo is, integrating anyone of that magnitude — on the pitch and in the locker room — is a gargantuan task. Juventus haven’t quite done it seamlessly, but they’ve gone about it about as well as you would’ve hoped. There is a marked difference in fluidity from the first couple games of the season to the Udinese game. Greater fluidity between the back line and the forwards, better spacing (Allegri noted this as well), and, for what seems like the first time in quite a long time, some really beautiful football.
But there’s much, much more: Integrating Ronaldo means reintegrating Paulo Dybala, a process in itself which has started to come to fruition the last two games. Rodrigo Bentancur has started to show more and more promise as a starter next to — rather than a backup for — Miralem Pjanic.
The club is dealing with injuries, too: Sami Kedira, Daniele Rugani, Matta De Sciglio, and Leonardo Spinazzola most notably. The last too injuries mean, of course, that through 10 games Juventus have essentially worked with just two true fullbacks, occasionally deploying Juan Cuadrado — a player who is finding it more and more difficult to get on the pitch — as a right back, and they’ve also used three at the back paired with wingers.
Juventus have also missed the explosiveness and directness of Douglas Costa, who has alternatively been suspended and injured.
In other words, opponents should be very, very afraid of Allegri’s side. Like a fine Barolo over the years, they’re starting to integrate, starting to boast a structure from top to bottom that is rare to find anywhere. They’re starting to get healthy. They’ve got one of the world’s best forwards, one of the world’s best defensive backs, one of the world’s best managers, and — somehow — one of the world’s most auspicious young cores.
Don’t avoid thinking about the Ronaldo rape allegations
For work-related reasons — my full-time employer, FloSports, is moving into the soccer realm and this now presents a conflict of interest — this is my last piece for Black & White & Read All Over. All of the positive things one could possibly say about an editor are true of Danny, and my respect for all the contributors of the site is immense. The freedom Danny has handed me has always made my work for this site a joy, and he’s given me freedom once more.
As I’ve thought about how to end my somewhat brief tenure appropriately but meaningfully I can’t help but think — at this precise moment in our club’s history — about the one thing many readers don’t want to think about, the one thing many readers to want to read about, don’t want to hear about, and don’t want this article to be about: Kathryn Mayorga’s rape allegations against Cristiano Ronaldo.
There is therefore no more appropriate way, no more important a topic, on which to conclude.
In his now-famous commencement address to Kenyon College in 2005, David Foster Wallace understood and preached the absolute, essential, and irrevocable need for and difficulty of freedom of thought.
“The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it,” DFW said that day. “You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.”
In other words, you get to decide what to think about. And I think that it is very easy in this world — and very, very easy in the modernized Western world of the United States and Europe — to anesthetize ourselves with an endless amount of seemingly innocuous distractions. There’s Netflix and sports and smartphones and alcohol and the career rat race and food and things and a thousand other little distractions, the sum of which can be disastrous to the freedom to choose what to think about, which is the very freedom that makes us distinct among creatures.
This is how DFW’s Kenyon talk relates to Juventus: Since the allegations have resurfaced, since the investigation was relaunched, I’ve wanted to think about anything but the worst possible outcomes, because it’s uncomfortable to think about. The sentiment is one I’ve seen on Twitter and on Facebook, on message boards and in the media coverage: Many fans want to ignore it. Many fans would prefer to essentially totally separate what is happening on the field and what is happening with Ronaldo off the field.
“Please,” they say, “let us focus on the football.”
Thinking freely at all is difficult. Thinking freely requires persistent conscious effort. But thinking about the things that make us comfortable is nigh impossible, and many would rather ignore uncomfortable possibilities than entertain the thought.
This moment for Juventus is all three of those modifiers I used above: absolute, essential, and irrevocable. The club has invested hundreds of millions of euros into Cristiano Ronaldo, and the relaunched investigation threatens that investment. The club has thrown its full, enthusiastic support behind Ronaldo, the consequences of which remain to be seen.
The moment is the same for fans, many of whom wish to separate the two things. But if there is one last thing I could say, one last thing I would encourage all readers of this blog to do, it would be not to separate the two things. Do not avoid thinking about Kathryn Mayorga’s accusations against Cristiano Ronaldo just because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Read everything you can about it. Read the facts that exist, sparse and vague though they are.
Note as well that I am not asking you to levy judgment on Ronaldo — nor on Mayorga. In fact the most difficult element of all of this is that there is essentially no way for us to know what happened that night. There is only the currently available evidence and what may or may not yield after the investigation. The matter may be settled outside of court. Mayorga may lose the suit trying to dismantle the original NDA, and that may be the end of it.
But I encourage you — and I encourage me, who for many days read nothing and didn’t want to think about this at all — to investigate and to ask questions. Look under the hood. Be OK with not knowing. Consider the possibility that Ronaldo is a rapist, and for everything that means for Juventus.
Look under the hood. Because looking under the hood brings us into sharper contact with reality, reality with all its difficulty and evil and systematic influence.