Just like that, the year 2018 is over.
I want to sincerely thank all of you for being with us here at Black & White & Read All Over in what was an eventful 2018. Maybe you were a reader that lurked in the shadows without leaving comments, or maybe you were an enthusiastic contributor in the comments section. Whatever the case may be, I thank you for being with us.
Most importantly, though, a big thank you goes out to
our benevolent overlord Danny. We don’t say this enough, but BWRAO would be nothing without you running the show behind the scenes. Grazie, Mister Penza! You the real Big Poppa!
Without further ado then, I present to you the last month-in-review article of 2018!
Quite remarkably, Juve’s still unbeaten in the league! After achieving the best ever start to a Serie A season, Juventus can boast of a relatively comfortable nine-point lead over Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli at the top of the table.
Juventus faced a seemingly tricky away game against Fiorentina on the first day of the month. The Stadio Artemio Franchi is never a fun place to visit so you would certainly be forgiven for feeling a little nervous going into the game. Thankfully, though, those fears turned out to be completely misplaced. Allegri’s men coasted to an easy 3-0 victory against La Viola to continue its march towards an eighth consecutive title. A week later, Mario Mandzukic headed Juventus to a hard-fought 1-0 victory in the always emotionally-charged Derby D’Italia against Inter.
Just when we thought everything was going to be smooth-sailing, some (Young) Boys came along and ruined things. In what should have been a straightforward fixture on the final matchday of the Champions League group phase, Juventus were absolute shambles and (deservedly) lost 2-1 against the Swiss champions. Fortune favors the, ehm, fortunate, and since Manchester United were equally poor in their loss against Valencia, the Bianconeri held on to first place in Group H. Our reward for this?
An enticing showdown against Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid in the Round of 16. Perhaps fortune doesn’t always favor the fortunate...
Since it’s the season of giving, December treated us with not just one, but two derbies. After the embarrassment in Switzerland, the “real” derby against Torino was on the agenda. As is typical for the Derby Della Mole, it was a very gritty and tense affair with few clear chances for either side. As a result, a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty in the 70th minute was the only thing that separated the two sides, though Torino probably deserved to come away with more. After the derby, Juventus were up against Roma at home, and again a towering header by “Mr. No Good” Mandzukic settled the encounter (in spite of that odd VAR call that cancelled Douglas Costa’s late goal).
In a month that featured games against Inter, Roma, and Torino, it’s somewhat surprising that the most controversial and difficult games were against Atalanta (away) and Sampdoria (home). Against the former, a 78th-minute header from Ronaldo rescued the Bianconeri after Duvan Zapata’s two goals and Rodrigo Bentancur’s sending off seriously threatened to end their unbeaten run. Then, a VAR-rrific afternoon against Sampdoria filled with penalties and controversy almost ended in disappointment late in the game, but Riccardo Saponara’s late equalizer was chalked off for offside and Juventus went home with all three points.
Since we’re on the topic of VAR, though...
A few thoughts on VAR
Yep, the thing we all love to hate despite the fact that so many of us wanted to move heaven and earth to make it a reality. I generally don’t like talking about issues related to officiating in my writing, but I think that the implementation of VAR has had such a fundamental impact on the game of football — and there were plenty of VAR-related incidents in December — that I should probably say something about it. The following points aren’t particularly original or groundbreaking, but are still worth highlighting.
Please note that I’m not necessarily against VAR, but I’m not necessarily in favor of it either.
- VAR deals with issues of subjectivity and interpretation, not objectivity. It’s no surprise to me that there have been no issues whatsoever with the other big technology change in football: goal-line technology. Why? Because goal-line technology deals with a completely binary decision — the ball either crossed the line or it didn’t. To the contrary, there are many incidents in football that I can look at a hundred times from a thousand different angles and come up with a million different verdicts. The problem is that with VAR this often becomes a painstaking and time-consuming fiasco. On that note...
- I think that when people were championing VAR, they only imagined how it would fix the most extreme and egregious mistakes missed by referees. But, as economists’ would say, they forgot about the cases on the margin. It seems to me that VAR has been most problematic with these types of incidents; cases where if you see it once it looks like the decision should go one way, but if you look at it again you think it should go the other way. These are matters of the most nuanced interpretation and what angers me is that people magically forgot and/or disregarded the massive degree of nuance that exists in the game of football (and life).
“No game embraces both the chaos and uncertainty and the spontaneity and reactivity of play like football.” — David Goldblatt, from page 906 of his book “The Ball Is Round: The Global History of Football”
I was reluctant to include this section in my monthly review because I know how much of a can of worms this debate can be, so this will be the only time I do so.
That is, unless Saponara scores more stoppage-time equalizers that are disallowed after VAR-review.
There’s something boring yet beautiful about patterns. You know what will come after a certain action, yet still you’re pleasantly surprised when it does indeed happen again. This is how I feel about what is becoming a trademark Mandzukic goal. A cross that hangs in the air for a while is heading for the far post, where a lurking Mandzukic times his jump just right to bulldoze over the opposing fullback and bury his header into the back of the net (and then show off the most beautifully boring goal celebration in the world).
The thing I truly admire about this pattern is how Mandzukic manages to completely physically overpower the opposing fullback during the jump for the cross without fouling the defender.
Make no mistake; that is a truly amazing skill. When you’re in mid-air, you have little to no control over the movement of your body, so to be able to “legally” overpower your opponent in such a jump and also have the accuracy to plant the ball in the back of the net is absolutely phenomenal. Mandzukic has been in stellar form this season, so I think he deserves recognition for such a subtle yet effective gift.
On the other side of the pitch, Giorgio Chiellini continues to be in the form of his life in defense, still marshaling the Juventus defense with ever-increasing levels of grit and intensity. His comrade, however, continues to show up-and-down-and-down-and-what-the-heck performances for Juventus. Yep, I’m talking about that man Leonardo Bonucci again. After looking suspect in the shocking loss against Young Boys, he was turned upside-down, inside-out (seemingly in slow-motion) by Zapata for the Colombian’s first goal in the Atalanta-Juventus game.
Given that Juventus remains unbeaten in the league and secured top spot in the Champions League, I suppose these mistakes haven’t resulted in the most catastrophic of consequences (yet?). But I’m a man that does not enjoy to tempt fate, so I hope that the mystery of Leonardo Bonucci will be solved sooner rather than later.
“When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.” — Aang, from “The Legend of Korra”
It was a perfect month for the Bianconere as they picked up maximum points from their December games. On the first day of the month, the team thrashed Sassuolo 4-0 at home, with all the goals coming in a 30-minute second-half blitz. The Bianconere then booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia by beating Castelvecchio by the same scoreline away from home.
Back to the Serie A, then, and Rita Guarino’s team notched a 2-0 away victory at Tavagnacco thanks to a Cristiana Girelli brace. A 5-1 home victory against Chievo then wrapped up a dazzling month of December and wonderful year of 2018 for the Bianconere.
The best Christmas present, however, was reserved for Benedetta Glionna, who won the Golden Girl award for the best European Under-21 player. Bravo Benedetta!