The goal was everything.
It was grace, grinta, and strength; it was finesse, focus, and revenge. It was nutmeg and time. It was redemption for Paulo Dybala — redemption for a missed penalty that could’ve salvaged a draw in the 2-1 loss to the Biancocelesti on Oct. 14, a loss that snapped Juventus’ long-standing home unbeaten streak. But it was also redemption for everything people said the Argentine was not.
No matter the end result of this season, and no matter the result of Dybala’s future at the club, I think this is a goal to savor, both because of the circumstances in the table — Juventus trailing Napoli ever-so-slightly — and in the squad — absolutely decimated with injuries — but also because of the everything-ness about it in terms of individual skill and determination.
As brilliant as Dybala’s beginning of the season was, I think this is what we wanted to see. In his first start in what feels like ages, in a ragtag lineup patchier than an Eagle Scout, in Rome, in, literally, the last 30 seconds, in second place, Juve’s No. 10 created something out of nothing.
And here we are: a point behind with a game in hand, headed to London for Champions League life or death, with a date with AC Milan in the Coppa Nazionale final in May. It doesn’t get much better than this, folks.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- I would like to publicly shame anyone who got their undies in a knot for Danny praising Daniele Rugani so much, because against the top-scoring team in Serie A with the top-scoring player in Serie A, Juventus kept a clean sheet, and the youngster Rugani was a key part of that. Lazio were held to four shots total, two on target. There was virtually no serious threat. Rugani was a key part of that. And did we mention the goal? Guess what: Rugani was a key part of that. After Alex Sandro launched the ball off a defender high up in the air, Rugani volley-passed — deftly taking all the heat off — straight to Juve’s No. 10, who did his thing.
- The lengths people will go to find fault in Max Allegri is truly astounding. Juventus didn’t have Gonzalo Higuain, or Federico Bernardeschi, or Juan Cuadrado, or Matteo De Sciglio, Dybala was starting for the first time in 10 years, and Juventus took three points in Rome against the highest-scoring team in the league. Who cares about aesthetics? Not me! For all the people who pretty much just care about the defense, why aren’t you happy? Juventus kept a clean sheet against the league’s most lethal attack, held them to four shots, and, really, was there any single moment when they threatened? I don’t remember one.
- Counterpoint: Juventus were dispossessed frequently. It did indeed feel like the midfield was, once again, completely overrun, but I think the back line was able to mitigate that fact. Medhi Benatia has that penchant for coming forward in stabs, and it worked well tonight. Alex Sandro was variously on the right and left at points on the wing, so having a defender in a random spot on the field also helped, I think.
- Be happy, people! Enjoy life!
Onto the awards:
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
WhoScored somehow gives Blaise Matuidi a whopping zero tackles, but I remember the Frenchman dispossessing the Lazio attack and midfield a number of times.
Matuidi has, as we’re aware, his limitations — he’s heavily one-footed, he’s not that great at carrying the ball forward, and he isn’t a particularly finesse finisher. But he does other things, pretty much everything else, actually, really well. He makes incisive, well-timed runs into the box. He provides intelligent spacing. And, most of all, he hunts down the ball when Juventus lose it. I think what makes Matuidi most valuable is that he himself is aware of his limitations and gifts, and he puts them to use remarkably well.
His quiet grinta was on display again on Saturday night, and Juventus absolutely need him starting and at his best against Tottenham this week.
Italian Cuisine Award
For the best collective unit, given different strengths.
Juve’s centerbacks were at their absolute best, and I’d like to loop in Andrea Barzagli into this award with both Rugani and Benatia, although I’m aware that Juve moved to a 4-3-3 and the old man played most of the game at right back.
I’ve said it twice or thrice already, but goodness gracious me: This line held Lazio to four shots, two on target, and virtually zero real chances. These three center backs hardly stepped a foot in the wrong place at all in Rome; they basically played perfectly.
Looking forward for a moment, it seems that once again Rugani is emerging as an indispensable part of Juve’s future. The return of Mattia Caldara plus the reemergence of Rugani means, barring injury, a hell of a future for Juve’s back line, as we’ve long hoped and suspected. The depth behind the two is there even in an aging Giorgio Chiellini, Benedikt Howedes, Barzagli, and Benatia. There are some other questions on the squad, particularly in the midfield and to a lesser degree at fullback, but man it feels really good to be so set here.
The Shroud of Turin Award
For the player who was never really there.
First you see Sami Khedira, when the teams line up for the national anthem, then you don’t.
For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.
In one very obvious sense, Dybala was the man of the match. Very few players could produce what he produced on that goal. I don’t think Leo Messi even could’ve done that, frankly, not because Dybala’s a better player but because Messi doesn’t have the bulky lower strength that Paulo has — Messi probably would’ve drawn, and then converted, the penalty, but how satisfying was it that Paulo didn’t need VAR intervention?
I’ve got to get my signed Paulo Dybala jersey framed, because I think whenever I look at it, I’ll probably think of this goal.