Well, would ya look at that. The year 2019 is over.
On behalf of everyone at BWRAO, I want to wish you all a healthy and happy 2020! Thank you for being a part of this community because without you, dear readers, none of this would exist. You guys stick with us through the good, the bad, and the (Maurizio) Sarri as we ride this rollercoaster ride of being a Juventus fan together.
But don’t let the holiday festivities fool you into thinking that nothing Juventus-related happened in December. Join me as I review the last month of the 2019 calendar year!
Based on how Juventus started December, you would be forgiven for thinking that the holiday season was at the beginning of the month rather than at the end of it.
The team welcomed Sassuolo to the Allianz Stadium on the first of the month for matchday 14 of the Serie A season. Leonardo Bonucci opened the scoring after making a surprise late run into the final third of the pitch and lashing a (lightly deflected?) strike past the young Sassuolo goalkeeper Stefano Turati. Sassuolo hit back thanks to Jeremie Boga after he placed an exquisite chip over the onrushing Gigi Buffon after a tidy passing exchange with Francesco Caputo put him through on goal. It quickly went from bad to worse for Juventus after a comedy of errors led to Sassuolo’s second goal.
First, Juan Cuadrado played a horrendous back pass to Matthijs de Ligt (and/or Buffon), who then played a terrible clearance into the feet of Caputo, who struck a relatively tame volley at Buffon, who dove over the ball as it finally trickled into the back of the net. A remarkable sequence of panic and mistakes at the back for Juventus ...
the misplaced headband of Cristiano Ronaldo came to the rescue from the penalty spot after Dybala won the spot kick in the 67th minute. The final score was 2-2, but it certainly would have ended in a Juventus victory if it weren’t for a remarkable performance by Sassuolo goalkeeper Turati.
Sarri’s woes continued as Juventus suffered its first defeat of the season at the hands of Lazio on matchday 15. Despite going ahead thanks to the aura of Ronaldo’s hairband in the 25th minute (ok fine, I’ll stop), Lazio equalized on the stroke of halftime through Luiz Felipe. The second half was a tense affair until Cuadrado was sent off for a professional foul on Lazzari after he was through on goal.
The red card resulted in Juventus’ capitulation as things went downhill very quickly: a penalty conceded (but a stunning double-save from Szczesny!), a goal conceded, and then a goal that was the nail in the coffin in deep in stoppage time. Final score: 3-1.
Things finally took a turn for the better in the away game against Bayer Leverkusen in Matchday 6 of the Champions League. Although Juventus had less possession, fewer shots, fewer passes, and lower pass accuracy, Sarri’s men still secured a 2-0 victory after goals from Ronaldo in the 75th minute — rounding off a truly gorgeous team move and passing sequence — and Gonzalo Higuaín in stoppage time. In total, five wins and one draw in an almost impeccable Group D campaign!
A few days later, Juventus displayed what was arguably its best 45 minutes of play since Sarri took charge of the team. The Bianconeri put Udinese to the sword in a stunning first half performance through two goals from Ronaldo’s hairband (“Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!”) and one from Bonucci. The second half was played at a predictably slower pace, though Juve still managed to show infuriating complacency when Ignacio Pussetto scored a goal in the 94th minute (what is it with these stoppage time goals?) to prevent Buffon’s clean sheet.
Juventus traveled to the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris for the final Serie A game of 2019 and an evening of stunning goals. First in line was Paulo Dybala, who showed perfect technique when he smashed in a volley from an Alex Sandro cross. After an equalizer by Gianluca Caprari, it was Ronaldo’s turn to score a goal that defied the laws of physics. Jumping to a surreal height of 2.56m (!), Ronaldo headed in the winner from another Sandro cross (who has the honor of assisting two extraordinary goals).
Last but not least was the game that has become an exercise in how to leave the most unnecessarily large carbon footprint for a football game: the Supercoppa Italiana match against Lazio in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Lazio went ahead early through a Luis Alberto goal before Paulo Dybala equalized in the 45th minute. It was a case of déjà vu all over again though in Riyadh: again two Lazio goals in the second half (almost at the exact same time as in the first game, eerily enough), again a Juventus red card, and again a 3-1 loss. A gloomy way to end to 2019 and much to think about for Mr. Sarri ...
Paulo Dybala had a stellar December and an even more brilliant 2019-20 season so far. He has scored Fabio Quagliarella-esque goals, assisted several others, and played with the type of swagger and exuberance befitting of such a highly-rated player. At the same time, the Higuaín-Dybala-Ronaldo (HDR) relationship is starting to click into gear and is improving with every game.
The last few years Juventus has (probably rightly) been accused of being a dull team offensively, even when it managed to sign attacking superstars like Dybala. But in recent times, La Joya has succeeded in not only bringing back some sparkle to Juve’s attack, but also in returning genuine pleasure and joy to the team. Whether it be due to Sarri’s tactics, the HDR partnership, or more hustle (note: I’m not a Gary V fan), Dybala is absolutely irresistible right now.
And long may it continue.
Fool me once, Fool me twice
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should know about the two controversial incidents in Italy regarding racism that happened in December. First, there was the infamous “Black Friday” headline by the Corriere dello Sport, a headline that was widely condemned both in Italy and abroad. The saga became even more impassioned after Ivan Zazzaroni, the newspaper’s director, produced a furious defense of the headline and accompanying article, stating with palpable passion and anger that:
“Black Friday’, for those who want and can understand it, was and is only the praise of difference, the pride of difference, the magnificent wealth of difference. If you don’t understand it, it’s because you can’t do it or because you’re pretending you can’t do it.
An innocent title, actually perfectly argued by Roberto Perrone (the article’s writer), is transformed into poison by those who have poison inside themselves.” (Link)
“Social media? … Full of noble grudges and cut-price indignation. A kind thought a day keeps the doctor away. These days armies of right-minded people flock to the web to whitewash their beautiful souls. You locate the racist of the hour and off you go, in two strokes of the keyboard the stain has gone, you feel a better person in a better world. White, black, yellow.” (Link)
[Editor’s note: This reminds me of Obama’s speech about activism a few weeks ago.]
Then just a few weeks later, the league launched its stunningly innovative “No To Racism” campaign featuring three posters of ... monkeys with painted faces. I wasn’t going to talk about these events in my monthly recap, but the anti-racism campaign just left me so dumbfounded that I felt morally obliged to say something.
First, let’s talk about the article. The main point I want to note is the nature of the criticism. That is, nobody spoke about the article itself; they only spoke about the headline. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate the original article so that I could read it, but from what I understand the article itself was actually very anti-racist. Now this is very interesting: on one hand, we have a headline that infuriated the masses for being racist, but then we see that the article behind the headline was actually/supposedly in praise of diversity.
Then we have an anti-racism campaign that was just so extraordinarily tone-deaf that I struggle to find words to explain my astonishment. However, I believe that these two incidents share one common failure, one which is best described by taking a trip down memory lane.
Remember the infamous Kylie Jenner-Pepsi commercial? The commercial was so strongly condemned and criticized for completely mischaracterizing the reality of activism that Pepsi was forced to remove the ad and apologize for it. Saturday Night Live then released a brilliant segment that, while typically satirical, was spot on with the point it made: Did Pepsi even bother asking any black/Asian/Latino/Middle Eastern people if they thought this ad was a good idea?
I think that Corriere Dello Sport and the “No To Racism” campaign committed the same errors. That is, had either party even bothered consulting black people (or other minorities) before publishing the article and launching the campaign respectively? Because in both cases, I’m absolutely certain that if a person of color had been at the table when the decision was being made, (s)he would have said “Uhm guys... This is going to piss off a lot of people. This is a bad idea.” This was particularly important in the case of the article, given that the controversy was only about the headline and not the content of the article. What a waste to have an article ruined by a headline...
In the case of the campaign, AC Milan complained that they “were not consulted about the use of monkeys in artwork”, thus convincing me even more that there is/was a lack of diversity at the decision-making table. Former Premier League defender Sylvain Distin sums it up perfectly:
“It just doesn’t make any sense to me, to the point that I went and tried to read as many interviews with the artist as I could.” [Editor’s note: I did the same thing!]
”It’s true that he did a lot of portraits and painting and art around monkeys for five or six years and, from what the artist was saying, it was just his way to say that we are all monkeys - but it just doesn’t look right.
”I just really don’t get it. Are they trying to make things so big that all the little incidents that happen every weekend in Italy just look normal? I don’t understand what they expect, what kind of reaction do you expect with this kind of act? I just don’t get it, I don’t see the point.” (Link)
Only three games were on the calendar in December for Rita Guarino’s team and, thankfully, these games were a breeze.
First, there was the surreal performance against Orobica away from home which ended in a remarkable 7-1 victory. The goals were divided quite evenly across the team with Valentina Cernoia, Martina Rosucci (2x), Sofie Junge Pedersen, Barbara Bonansea, and Cristiana Girelli all on the scoresheet (in addition to an own goal). Six of the seven goals were scored in the first half.
But Juventus weren’t going to stop there. A mere four days later, the Bianconere put a staggering eight goals past Chievo Fortitudo without response in another away game thrashing, this time in the Coppa Italia. There was a clear standout player on the scoresheet as 18-year-old striker Asia Bragonzi bagged a hat trick for the team. Ariana Caruso, Melissa Bellucci, Cecilia Salvai, Maria Alves, and Michela Giordano rounded off the scoring to propel Juventus into the quarter final of the competition.
The final game of the month was a little less gung-ho as Guarino’s team hosted Bari in a Serie A league game. Goals from Valentina Cernoia and Aurora Galli were enough to secure a comfortable 2-0 victory and maintain an unbeaten record in all competitions as we enter 2020!
Special shout out to Mario Mandzukic, who joined Qatari side Al Duhail at the end of December after 4 1⁄2 years of service for Juventus and 43 goals in 159 games. [EDIT: 44 goals in 162 games. Thanks Fefu.] He was an immensely likable character who won over fans’ hearts with his relentless work ethic. no-nonsense style of play, and absurdly creepy smile.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and, likewise, his journey with the Bianconeri has come to an underwhelming end after not playing a single minute of football in this season.
Grazie per tutto, Mario. Grazie.
(And of course, we’ll never forget that goal.)