Somewhere deep in the precarious waters of the earth, where jokes are formed in their purest essence out of wit and circumstance, there lurks a perfect one-liner about Easter weekend, Sami Khedira, and resurrection.
Alas, I am not the man to venture there.
Religious observation or non-observation aside, the German midfielder needed one simple thing to happen in order to blossom: Miralem Pjanic had to leave the field. And the cheeky conclusion that maybe all along the midfield’s problems find their primary residence with No. 5 rather than No. 6 isn’t looking so cheeky, because it wasn’t just the assist and then the goal — both of which were brilliant, and both of which came after absolutely brilliant runs — but it was the absolute box-to-box rampaging.
In the 83rd minute, Khedira tracked all the way back to the edge of Juve’s penalty box to perform this semi-insanely-athletic sliding tackle, perfectly timed, to win back possession and break up a Milan attack. He was nowhere for most of the game before the Pjanic substitution, and then he was everywhere.
I no longer know anything. And that’s fine with me!
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- An example of how WhoScored statistics — and soccer statistics in general, for that matter — can be extremely misleading: Douglas Costa had a freaking important role to play in goal No. 2, as his evasion of Davide Calabria (can we steal him, by the way?) led to an extremely key pass, for which he didn’t get statistical credit, to Khedira, who then assisted to the back-in-action Juan Cuadrado. I feel like soccer should keep track of hockey assists, just to keep track of them. Is there somewhere that does that? At the very least, in a situation like this the distribution should be counted as “key.”
- As if to spite the lack of hockey assist recording, Flash did it again on the last goal: Dragging one of Milan’s center backs — I can’t remember who; I didn’t recognize him — with him to the corner flag along with Suso, faking a billion times, then pulling the ball back with perfect pace and expert placement into the box to Paulo Dybala, who doubled down on pulling back and found Khedira for the strike and the sucker punch. How is this not a key pass from Costa? I am angry!
- That said, WhoScored did give the Brazilian dribbling credit: 8 in 45 minutes. Damn, son.
- The fans really, really lost their cheering abilities after Milan’s goal from one of their players who I think typically plays defense. It seemed like from that moment to Cuadrado’s goal, there was basically silence.
- LOL Napoli.
- Stephan Lichtsteiner ... oh man, that was extremely bad. It was so bad that it didn’t make me mad — it made me sad.
- Maybe Pjanic’s suspension for the Real Madrid game is ... a good thing? Who the hell knows. We’ll certainly find out Tuesday.
Onto the awards:
Italian Cuisine Award
For the best collective unit, given different strengths.
Milan’s goal from one of their center backs — can’t remember which one it came from — to me didn’t seem to warrant culpability on the part of the center backs, the Italian duo of which were marking the Milan center back whose identity is in question.
That was Milan’s single goal, and although the visitors had a few other chances or half-chances in the match the defense was pretty damn good the rest of the way from Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, and Medhi Benatia. But the award I feel ought to go to them not just for their conceding just one and creating a solid back line, but because of the obvious flexibility Juve boast with Barzagli. The old man is clearly beyond his best days as an emergency right back, but it’s some kind of luxury to have a player who can play several positions in defense — center back in a four-man line, center back in a three-man line, right back. Juve’s ability to slither quickly from a 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-4-3 or a 4-3-2-1 or whatever the hell else you want is pretty awesome and fluid.
***NEW AWARD*** The Revenge of Casper Award
For the German midfielder who out of nowhere terrorizes the enemy with deadly precision.
Whether you believe in the divine or not, the cosmos has a funny way of making people look silly, and it sure made me look silly with Khedira yesterday.
The thing is, for the first 74 minutes of the game he was living up to his newly-dubbed “Casper” moniker, but now I am questioning existence and the foundations of civilization because when Pjanic AKA “the real issue” left the field the German went ballistic.
But for those 74 minutes he was no good. And Pjanic was no good. And Matuidi for his 60 minutes wasn’t very good, although he did his run-around-and-disrupt thing fairly well.
Then Pjanic left the field and... it was all kind of good, no? So it’s done: Pjanic to PSG for a billion euros, Marchisio stays healthy and Allegri plays him, Khedira is the revenge of Casper and Juve win the treble. Boom!
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
Khedira was world class for 20 minutes. The defense was solid. But Juve’s No. 10 opened the scoring in the first nine minutes of the game and remained locked in the entire way, doing his best Messi impression and doing it pretty damn well. That, really, is what looks different in Dybala for me: the sustained focus. He was marauding at the very end of the game, directing, dropping back to that deep-right position in midfield and pulling the strings, as it were. This is Messi Dybala, and I want to see more of it.
The goal was fantastic, the assist was fantastic, but he was working the entire 90 minutes. Maybe what’s most impressive about this sustained focus, or perhaps evidence of it, was that Dybala never looked like he was trying to force something. A near-flawless performance that looked nearly effortless. That’s what you want, and need, and hope to expect from a No. 10. And damn, he delivered.
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
Max Allegri deserves an immense amount of credit for this game, because he didn’t double down when his plan didn’t work. Instead, he did the very un-Allegri thing of aggressively substituting attacking potency on at the halftime break. Allegri never does this. Or rarely, at least. But when Flash trotted or zipped out of the tunnel at halftime I thought to myself, “Damn, if Allegri isn’t going for this thing rather than being stubborn as a mule.”
Costa did some good things and did some strange things, and then Allegri wanted more juice. Enter your favorite dancing Colombian, and Cuadrado’s presence on the right wing shifted Douglas Costa to the left, and Juventus were playing with four forwards.
Fifteen minutes after that, the final substitution gave Bentancur more than five token minutes. It was a crucial moment in the game, in the season. And the young Uruguayan took full advantage, most notably covering almost the entire length of the pitch to win the ball back after he had turned it over; of course, the regained possession led to the go-ahead goal.
In other words, Allegri did things that even couch coach Joe would have done — get Lichtsteiner off the field! — but he also did weird black magic things that nobody, or at least me, would’ve thought to do — leave Khedira out there, sure! — and, what the hell, each switch worked to absolute, sheer, devastating perfection.
Let’s hope the black magic works against Real Madrid, because Juve are going to need all the help, luck, and divine intervention possible.