Mother Nature has brought sweltering heat waves to Europe this summer, as it shows —(and warns) us just how warm global warming can get. The summer heat also brought a lot of activity to our beloved Juventus, as the monumental transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo sent
heat shockwaves through the world of football.
The buildup to the 2018-2019 season was full of excitement and expectation. Now let’s see if the action on the pitch was able to match that.
With the relentless firepower in attack for Juventus, fans seem to be expecting — nay, demanding — the type of expansive football that matches the resources that the Bianconeri now has at its disposal. As with all things in life, however, things rarely go quite as you expect/want them to. That sentence in itself is proof of the contradictory nature of Juventus’ start to the season.
After three games, the Bianconeri has registered a perfect nine points out of nine, scored a respectable seven goals, conceded three, and has five different goalscorers (excluding the own goal in Matchday 1 against Chievo). On paper, this is a solid, if unspectacular start to the new season that shows few signs of ruffling anybody’s feathers. The reality, however, tells us a very different story.
The opening game against Chievo was a labored victory that, because of two near-fatal lapses of concentration, could very well have ended up in a defeat. Thankfully, Federico Bernardeschi’s stoppage-time winner spared the team from some very uncomfortable media coverage after Matchday 1.
The 2-0 scoreline in the home victory against Lazio was perhaps a tad flattering as well. Juventus’ sloppy second-half performance left much to be desired and, if it weren’t for Lazio’s surprisingly poor finishing, the result could also have been very different.
The 2-1 victory against Parma (I know, it was in September, whatever) again featured lots of huffing and puffing and labored play that just about got us over the finish line for the three points (shout out to my man Blaise Matuidi!)
The more things change, the more they stay the same. — Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
But you know what? I honestly didn’t expect much different from the team, definitely not in the first month or so of the new season. I’ve followed this club long enough to know that little, if anything, will bring a radical departure from its traditional style of play. I never expected the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo to turn Juve into a samba-football team and I’m absolutely sure that it never will.
My criteria (or is it criterion, in the singular?) for criticism of the team remains the same as it has been over the years. Those of you that know me well will know that the biggest thing that, in the words of Iain Thomson, really “grips my muffin” is a lack of match control (especially defensively).
Based on that, I will say that I’m moderately, though cautiously, satisfied with proceedings so far. That said, I’m certain that it’s going to be a long and labored season...
Bringing Sexy (Right) Back
With Mattia De Sciglio’s niggling injury, right back has been a bit of a merry-go-round so far. Against Chievo, the offensively-enthusiastic but defensively-sloppy Joao Cancelo showed that he still had some way to go in convincing us that he should be the starting right-back. In the subsequent game against Lazio, he kept up his offensive prowess while vastly improving his defensive abilities.
Allegri, however, replaced the Portuguese youngster with the experienced Juan Cuadrado in Saturday’s game against Parma. The Colombian’s performance was met with mixed reviews, which brings us back to square one — waiting for Mattia De Sciglio to return to full fitness.
So far, I like Cancelo’s attacking enthusiasm and he seems to be a pretty good passer as well. Although he still needs to improve defensively, I see enough good from him to be hopeful of his progress. I’m still not really sure about Cuadrado, though; I just can’t pass judgment on him yet without seeing him regularly play against top-level opposition like Napoli or Roma.
It’s going to be a trial-and-error-and-more-error to sort out the right back position for times when De Sciglio is unavailable, so let’s hope Max Allegri can figure this out sooner rather than later.
Italy vs. England
What a tough Champions League draw we’ve been handed.
Juventus are joined by Manchester United, Valencia, and Young Boys in Group H of this year’s Champions League campaign. My knee-jerk reaction was “Blimey, talk about trial by fire...” because this is going to be an extremely difficult group to negotiate.
Interestingly, three of the four Italian teams in the Champions League will face English opposition in their groups — Inter (vs. Tottenham), Juventus (vs. Manchester United), and Napoli (vs. Liverpool). It will be an exciting continental clash between some real footballing heavyweights in three very, very difficult groups.
I also find this year’s Champions League groups more interesting than those of last year, mostly due to the three groups in which we see the Italy vs. England matchups. Last year’s continental campaign made me very grumpy and emotional, to the point where I was almost fed up with European football. Though those feelings might very well resurface this season, I dare whisper that this year’s group stage draw has brought back some of that childlike excitement I had for the Cup with the big ears.
Bring it on.
No prizes for guessing what the two most frequently-spoken words have been in the first few weeks of the new season: Cristiano Ronaldo.
It’s been Ronaldo this, Ronaldo that, Ronaldo everything.
“Ronaldo touched the ball... OH SWEET JESUS HE TOUCHED THE BALL, DOES THAT MEAN THAT JUVENTUS WILL WIN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE?
Ronaldo passed the ball... WHAT DOES THIS TELL ME ABOUT THE MEANING OF LIFE?”
Sarcasm aside, though, after a mere three games there has been borderline hysteria about the Portuguese superstar in Juventus fan circles. Look, I’m just as excited and intrigued as you are about this new storyline at the club since his arrival, but I’m starting to get a bit worried about — if not frankly annoyed with — the degree of manic-obsession with the player.
And I’m not necessarily talking about all the fuss surrounding his inability to score a goal in his first few games for the club. I’m talking about the microscopic level of attention we’re giving even the tiniest minutia of his actions. To paraphrase the great Tim Vickery, it always baffles me how much emphasis is placed on the individual in what is, and always will be, a team sport. Perhaps it’s because society places increasing emphasis on glorifying the individual at the expense of the collective. Who knows.
Nevertheless, I urge people to focus on the collective, not the individual, no matter how handsome this particular individual is, how impeccably chiseled his abs are, how many records he has broken as a player, and how many goals he has scored in his illustrious career:
No no no, you’re too kind, Mario. And that Cristiano bloke is alright, too, of course.