For 89 minutes, Medhi Benatia was everywhere. And if you don’t believe it, watch the tape. He timed his incursions literally perfectly. When Giorgio Chiellini limped off the pitch with an injury, Benatia organized his defense with a virtually untested Benedikt Howedes and spontaneously-played Stephan Lichtsteiner into an effective, really dominant, back line.
For 89 minutes, Juventus ceded possession to Napoli, but it was, for the most part, pointless possession, with chances few and far between, with scant shots on goal, and even the ones that were on goal looking rather tepid.
For 89 minutes, pragmatism wasn’t beautiful — but it worked.
Until it didn’t.
This is a game difficult to distill. If Juventus had in fact drawn the game, probably a lot of people — probably me! — would’ve been extolling Max Allegri for his rugged insistence that Juventus needed a draw and by golly they were going to earn a draw. But playing for a draw, I think, fails in one key regard: Humans can’t concentrate for 93 straight minutes. If Allegri faults his players for a “lack of concentration,” I don’t find the sentiment genuine whatsoever.
In other words, playing for a draw completely ignores human fallibility, that playing 99 percent wonderfully — the best-case scenario of which, let’s face it, was Juventus luckily springing a goal out of a broken Napoli play, because the bianconeri weren’t even throwing enough players forward to counter-attack — didn’t, can’t, and doesn’t account for one single mistake. You can’t possibly design a game plan which asks your players to play perfectly; I just can’t understand it. Behind the sold out crowd in Allianz, Juventus cowered.
The men from Naples capitalized on that mistake. Gigi Buffon had to parry away a poor cross, which led to a corner, and Napoli had really looked piss-poor on corners most of the night, and then in the waning moments of the game they executed perfectly. So it goes.
For 89 minutes, Juventus were weak. Then, for one moment, they were human. And it cost them the game.
As we’re all saying, Juventus did not deserve to win this game. For all his accolades and success, Allegri creates his detractors here: It seems as though, in the biggest games, he doesn’t play to win. Criticize Pep Guardiola all you want, because Manchester City, although they’ve won the title, are out of the Champions League — like Juventus! — but he sends his dogs for the throat, and more often than not they find it.
There’s not hot take from this game. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that Juventus played at home for a draw, and that such tactics destroyed them.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- Miralem Pjanic was brilliant — defensively. And everywhere else, he was just sort of OK. I guess that Allegri (as someone noted) is just refusing to play anyone else at regista — and it’s a fair decision to question, although it may be equally fair to say who would play the role if not Pjanic? Of course there will be the many people who say Claudio Marchisio ought to be starting every game, but the last two games I’ve seen Il Principino — to be perfectly frank — he looks extremely ready for MLS.
- There are some (a lot of?) people saying Blaise Matuidi sucks, and I just don’t understand how that’s what you take away from this game. I literally LOLed. Matuidi knows what he’s good at — running a lot, gaining possession, and handing the ball off — and he tries not to do much besides that. He (along with Gonzalo Higuain) was one of the few Juve players I saw harassing Napoli all night long. Great as Sami Khedira has been for the last few weeks, where was he? Pjanic was anchored to the back line — probably at Allegri’s insistence — but I thought Matuidi along with Pipita was one of the few Juve players who showed any grinta in this game at all.
- One of the reasons this game is difficult to distill for me is because any judgment on the players has to be considered within the frame of Allegri’s tactics, which were evidently and explicitly not to lose the game. So, sure, I can’t fault Pjanic for not being grate moving forward — but did Allegri want him to at all? I can fault Douglas Costa for not being even more audacious than he was, but it looked like he’d been collared to a lead with a stake in the ground. I can’t fault Benatia for completely blowing his set-piece coverage in the final moments, but I can’t ignore he was essentially commanded to endure incessant pressure for the entire night.
Onto the awards:
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.
Again, I don’t know how to judge Paulo Dybala’s performance, so maybe it’s just bullshit that I’m giving him this award. Sure, he wasn’t very involved at all. But with a game plan predicated on giving away possession and not throwing any attackers forward, what was the Argentine supposed to do? When I saw the starting lineup, I was genuinely happy that Juve’s No. 10 was in the starting lineup, because I thought maybe, just maybe, it meant that our side wouldn’t be playing for a draw.
I was wrong!
The Shroud of Turin Award
For the player who was never really there.
In the worst of moments, Kedira returns to split the award. Once again I just have no idea how to even judge this. Maybe within the strictures of the absurd tactics he played fine — though he only logged 27 touches, and he almost didn’t do anything defensively, and he basically literally did nothing offensively.
Just so he doesn’t feel so lonely here, I want to let him split the dishonor of the award with Juan Cuadrado, who lacked any sort of punch off the bench and even had a couple of wasted opportunities to his name.
House of Savoy Award
For the [worst] man of the match.
I may not be sure how to judge Juve’s players, but I sure know how to judge Juve’s manager: this was bad, and Allegri wins the terrible dishonor of winning an award named after the very historically useless and despicable Savoy family. (Which reminds me: I believe someone on BWRAO mentioned at one point or another a recommended Giuseppe Garibaldi biography — who did so and what was the book? I’m writing something that may need such a work.)
I don’t know whether or not I’d call this game “shameful,” as some — or many — are. I’m writing this in the moments after the last whistle, after several glasses of wine (calm down, I recorded the game and watched it in the evening). And I even drank a wine from Piedmont (a wonderful barbera I’ve had a few times before) in solidarity with our Turin-based side, but a lot of good that did.
I’m also not going to say this has turned me against Allegri or anything like that, because I don’t want to react too soon — or under the influence — but maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel that way.
Regardless, this is a fair question to ask: Why have the pure, unequivocal faith that Juventus can go to Madrid and beat Cristiano Ronaldo when down 3-0 on aggregate, and then successfully do so (basically), only to then host Napoli in Turin and essentially have a chance to make a Scudetto-winning stamp of dominance and class on your season but, rather, languidly, apathetically stand around?
That’s the question, and I’m left with no answers.