Against Roma in the penultimate stage of the Serie A season, Juventus once again did what Juventus do under skipper Massimiliano Allegri — embrace pragmatism to the nth degree.
In a year full of ugly games, this was perhaps the ugliest. In the beginning there were blatant, clunky giveaways that the hosts, in typical Roman fashion, squandered. In the middle I thought optimistically that Douglas Costa, whose second-half substitution was less surprising than thunder shortly following lightning, would breathe a bit of life into the game and, maybe, a goal or two. And in the end, when Radja Nainggolan had been sent off, both sides seemed content for the draw — Juventus winning a seventh straight Scudetto, and Roma settling comfortably into a Champions League place before their final match with Sassuolo.
People will complain, as they are wont to do. People will criticize the tactics, pointing to games like the Napoli loss or the first leg of the Real Madrid semifinal and say that pragmatism is too cautious, that over time the strategy incurs losses, that the style can’t win in Europe. But the fact is that Juventus have battled broken tooth and bloody nose to four consecutive league doubles, and in two of those years the side has achieved a berth in a Champions League final.
If Allegri were to be fired, the decision would be one of the greatest shams in the history of the sport.
No one is denying there aren’t issues — glaring issues, in fact — with this team. That starts with the midfield, of course, with Miralem Pjanic playing quite out of position as he is increasingly useless as a regista. Blaise Matuidi exerts admirable effort but has a first touch heavier than an anvil. Sami Khedira oscillates between veritable disappearance and stunning form.
There are other issues as well. But despite my occasional frustrations with Allegri, these issues, when I assess them with the clearest mind that I can, seem less like they’re caused by his choices and more by the personnel and budgetary restraints at his disposal — which at the end of the day makes what he has done as a manager more impressive.
I don’t think any other coach in the world could’ve accomplished as much as Allegri has with these players. He isn’t perfect, but he’s pretty damn close. And I think the acquisitions of players like DC and Federico Bernardeschi show that the club is on the right path to even greater things, slow as that progress may seem.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- Like most people thought, I too had trouble watching Pjanic. Man was he bad. He’s been such a weird case this year, and I’m definitely one of the chorus hoping that Juve can acquire an actual man in the middle and free Mira to move forward a bit. I still think he’s one of the better midfielders in the world, but he certainly is out of position and showed how woeful he can be against an aggressive side like Roma was up until the red card.
- Juve in the final third —woof. The lack of creativity was really painful to watch. There were a couple times when it seemed like No. 33 was in a good position, but then a poor touch betrayed him. Paulo Dybala was almost in once or twice. Gonzalo Higuain had one distinct opportunity that I remember ending in failure, less because of his own mistake and more because of nice defending from Roma; I find it hard to fault the No. 9 for the lack of goals in this one.
- Great as Roma were defensively, the lack of creativity and the absolute disconnect from the midfield wasn’t great.
- I’m generally a Mattia De Sciglio fan, but I think we’re seeing more and more than, with the midfield currently broken (or flawed, at least) as it currently is, Juve need marauding fullbacks to instigate the attack since it’s sure as hell not coming through the middle. Alex Sandro has done a pretty good job recently at that on the left flank, and the same goes with Juan Cuadrado (and even Stephan Lichtsteiner) on the right flank, but it’s just not really in the cards for MDS. If the midfield were a bit more solid, fluid, and creative, and De Sciglio were allowed to comfortably defend rather than shouldering the burden of starting an attack, then I think he’d be one hell of a fullback and a starting option versus anyone in the world.
- All that said, the MDS/Cuadrado right back pairing has me excited for next year, if that’s indeed what the double pivot is going to look like. A super solid offensive option and a super solid defensive option, and I expect them both to strengthen their weaknesses over the offseason. Left back? Who knows. Sandro certainly hasn’t appeared happy all the time this year.
- And Juve won another Scudetto!
Onto the awards:
Italian Cuisine Award
For the best collective unit, given different strengths.
Again, not the easiest game on the eyes, but I think the defense deserves credit for holding a damn good forward in pretty good form to absolutely nothing. There were a couple of cringe-worthy turnovers that occurred for the most part in the midfield, but the back line was pretty solid across the board.
From my view, this was another great showing from Daniele Rugani. The lad turns 24 this summer and there’s no reason in hell we should be giving up on him now. I think Allegri will trust him more and more next year, and that the arsenal of center backs should be quite strong with more upside than ever in the two young Italians.
For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.
While there’s no way to gaze into a crystal ball and know for sure who’s leaving this summer, Mario Mandzukic is certainly a very real option at leaving. If that happens, I think we should all spend many moments meditating on his contributions for the club, his absolute brilliance in the positional reinvention, and especially his dedication to and embodiment of true grinta. In a grinder against Roma, the Croatian showed grinta once again, falling all the way back at times to a center back position.
Like many out there, I’m of no doubt that he could play pretty much any position on the field and more or less excel at it. I’ll be rooting for Mr. No Good this summer, whether he’s in his own net with the gloves on or the opposite scoring goals.