When the news was announced that Maurizio Sarri would be Juventus manager, I never thought that I would be sitting here in early December writing about how Juventus remains unbeaten in all competitions, with only four draws (Fiorentina, 0-0; Lecce, 1-1; Atlético Madrid, 2-2; Sassuolo, 2-2) preventing Sarri’s squad from having a 100% record.
And yet, it remains the same old story with Juventus as it has been for the last few years: phenomenal results, infuriating performances.
Let’s see if November was any different.
Juventus traveled all the way to the Stadio Olimpico di Torino on Nov. 2 for the first Derby della Mole of the season. Per usual, it was a tense affair that seemed destined for a draw until summer signing Matthijs de Ligt very athletically scored his first goal of his Juventus career after Gonzalo Higuaín knocked down a corner for the Dutchman to finish. It turned out to be the only goal of the game even though Torino came desperately close to an equalizer as Bremer’s 94th minute goal was ruled out for offside. A 1-0 victory for Juventus!
From Turin to chilly Moscow then, as a UEFA Champions League match against the gritty Lokomotiv Moscow was on the calendar. Unlike the trials and tribulations of Matchday 3 — thank you, Paulo Dybala, for saving us — this match started out far more pleasantly. In the third minute, the dubious goals panel/committee had to be called upon to determine whether Juventus’ opening goal was to be attributed to Cristiano Ronaldo or Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman was eventually given the goal after Lokomotiv goalkeeper Guilherme fumbled a Ronaldo free kick, which allowed Ramsey to toe-poke it into the back of the net just before it trickled over the goal-line.
As always with Juventus, though, life is never that simple. Once again it was Aleksei Miranchuk who grabbed the goal for the Russians after a deft header hit the post and fortunately rebounded to him, leaving him with a simple tap-in for the equalizer. And once again, Lokomotiv took the game to Juventus with incredible intensity and extraordinary amounts of attacking pressure. Their only sin was failing to score a (deserved) goal.
The game looked like it was going to end in a fortunate draw for the Bianconeri until substitute Douglas Costa, just returning from injury, turned on the turbo boosters. After a wonderful 1-2 with Higuaín and twinkle-toed piece of footwork left Lokomotiv’s defense stunned, Costa finished his moment of magic by poking the ball under the goalkeeper and into the back of the net for the last-gasp winner: 2-1!
There was no rest for the wicked because Juventus had a home game against struggling AC Milan just a few days later. It was a difficult game in which Milan dominated the first half but slowly faded as the game continued. Then, for the second game running, a moment of magic saved the day, though this time it was a collective moment of magic that was the result of a lovely passing move. Dybala was at the end of the exchange and, after some exquisite close-ball control, finished with a right-footed (!) strike past Gianluigi Donnarumma: 1-0!
Juventus then secured a comeback victory away against Atalanta in a breathless match in Bergamo after the International break. After missing a penalty in the first half, the home side went in front through a Robin Gosens header shortly after the break. Despite being thoroughly outplayed for the majority of the match (surprise!), Sarri’s men stormed back into the game thanks to a Higuaín double and stoppage-time Dybala goal (assisted by Higuaín): 3-1.
Last but not least for the month of November was an important home game against Atlético Madrid on Matchday 5 of the UEFA Champions League group stage that essentially determined who was going to top Group D. The first half was an entertaining affair with little to separate the sides in both the attacking and defensive aspects of the game.
The one moment that set the two sides apart was a piece of wizardry
and questionable goalkeeping by Jan Oblak by our resurgent wunderkind Dybala, with the Argentine scoring a scorching free-kick from the most improbable of angles in stoppage time of the first half. Despite a remarkably poor second half by Juventus (another surprise!), the score remained the same as the Bianconeri officially secured their status as winners of Group D!
Quick shout-out to the ‘other’ football. I want to recognize two high-school football teams from the city I live in: Lucas and Mansfield (Ohio). In the history of OHSAA football playoffs, which began in 1972, no team from our county has ever reached the finals of their respective divisions. This year, there are two. The atmosphere in Lucas, in particular, honestly feels like Leicester when they won that historic Premier League title. I never cease to be amazed by how high-school sports in America is almost as big as league/continental football in Europe and the rest of the world. Extraordinary.
Don’t fight the (same old) feeling
Yes, Juve’s still unbeaten, but it’s still the same old story: results are almost impeccable but the performances are anxiety-inducing to say the least. On one hand, I’m supposed to feel grateful for the fact that we’re the only side in the Big Five European leagues who are still unbeaten in all competitions, but on the other hand I cannot ignore the fact that we’ve gotten away with murder in many of these games.
Sometimes these games have patterns. For example, a solid first half followed by a calamitous second half (e.g. the Atlético game) or vice-versa (e.g. the Milan game). Other times, these games are tremendous tests of character, grit, and resiliency, such as the notoriously-difficult away game against Atalanta in which we were thoroughly dominated for most of the evening. And sometimes the other team is (unexpectedly) just very, very good (e.g. the two Lokomotiv Moscow games).
“I’ve learned that football is a stupid sport for intelligent people, because the simplest things are truly also the most difficult to get right.”
— Massimiliano Allegri
Maybe this is simply how Juventus is supposed to be? Could it be that this is simply our footballing identity? Granted, I might not be the right person to make that judgment. Officially, I’ve been a Juventus fan for 14 years, though I would say only the last 9 or 10 of them have been serious fandom as the early years were quite casual. (Because, hey, as a nervy teenager you always wanna look casual, right ... bro?)
Moreover, I’ve only developed my football analytics skills to an acceptable standard in the last few years. I say all of this to explain that maybe the sample size I’m using (i.e. the last few seasons) is a bit too small to make such a judgment.
But what if this is Juve’s footballing identity? To play poorly, have less-than-desired levels of match control, but still have near impeccable results? I’m not sure how I feel about that, and I certainly don’t know how to answer that question, which is why I leave it to you, faithful readers, to ponder this issue with me.
“I maintain that a team is above all an idea, and more than an idea it is a commitment, and more than a commitment it is the clear convictions that a coach must transmit to his players to defend that idea.”
— César Luis Menotti
Two Juventus players have been in good form of late and deserve special recognition.
After nearly leaving the club in the summer, Dybala has reminded us why so many clubs were prepared to pay top dollar for his services. With seven goals and two assists so far in all competitions — including stellar goals against Lokomotiv Moscow, Inter, and Atlético Madrid — Dybala has reminded Sarri of his unquestionable value to the squad and his intention to prove his worth.
On the other side of the pitch, de Ligt continues to recover from a turbulent start to his Juventus career by completing strong, though not necessarily exceptional, performances. He remains the topic of heated debate — Is he worth all the money? Was it a waste of money? — and intense scrutiny that, given his price tag and salary, will likely never subside for as long as he’s with the club.
Nevertheless, from a human perspective, I’m glad to see him settle in more and more with every game he plays and that he’s completing some strong performances in the process. He’s got a long way to go, but I believe that (much of) the worst is behind him. (I’m excluding the Sassuolo mistake because it was in December)
Juventus Women started the month with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Hellas Verona thanks to goals from Cristiana Girelli (2x) and Maria Alves (1x). An away game against Milan awaited the team after the International break, a game that turned out to be the first time Juventus dropped points this season.
The Bianconere took the lead halfway the first half thanks to an own goal by Milan midfielder Laura Fusetti. Milan equalized in the second half through Dominika Čonč before Juventus attacker Andrea Stašková put the side back in front and on course for a victory. It was not to be, however, as a late, late equalizer by Milan defender Francesca Vitale rescued the home side from defeat: 2-2.
Rita Guarino’s side then put on of the best performance of the season in a 4-0 thrashing away at Roma. The goals were spread throughout the side as Maria Alves put the team ahead in the first half and Girelli, Martina Rosucci, and Arianna Caruso added goals in the second half. Finally, in what was Eni Aluko’s final match for the Bianconere, Girelli’s ninth-minute strike was enough to give Juventus the win against Fiorentina and Aluko the perfect send-off.