Serie A’s still-relatively new schedule for the Christmas/New Year period sure takes some getting used to. It’s an interesting attempt to have a Premier-League-but-not-really-Premier-League schedule, where games are played throughout the Christmas period but compromise is reached by shifting the winter break to early January. The result was a rollercoaster fixture congestion of seven games in December, a two-week break, and then a sudden burst of five games in 18 days between the Coppa Italia, Supercoppa and return to Serie A play upon returning from all the sunshine and relaxation.
It was a strange sequence of events that seemed to have little impact on the overall state of affairs for Juventus until ... it suddenly did.
Go out with a bang
Juventus couldn’t have wished for a more low-key way to return to action from the winter break: a Coppa Italia Round of 16 away fixture against Bologna. It was a very straightforward game settled by two unspectacular goals; Federico Bernardeschi seemed almost embarrassed when he capitalized on a woeful error by the Bologna goalkeeper to score the first goal, after which Moise Kean (!) guided a tidy finish to the far corner of the net after a Douglas Costa shot ricocheted into youngster’s path.
Even though many protested the choice of venue for humanitarian and ethical reasons, Juventus traveled all the way to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to face Milan in the 2019 edition of the Supercoppa Italiana. It was a cagey game settled by, of course, the big man himself, Cristiano Ronaldo.
A surreal moment of vision by Miralem Pjanic along with an equally brilliant execution of the pass led to Ronaldo planting a firm header past Gianluigi Donnarumma to score the game’s only goal. Thankfully, the customary moments of VAR-inspired controversy and nonsensical accusations of cheating from the opponents weren’t enough to prevent the Bianconeri from securing yet another piece of silverware in Jeddah.
If you thought the Bologna game in the middle of the month was a straightforward game, then the match against Chievo was as casual as it could get. Costa, Emre Can, and even Daniele Rugani were all on the scoresheet as Juventus easily dispatched the league’s basement side. Alas, it seems like the men in yellow are doomed for life in the Serie B next season.
After the Chievo game, though, life became a little more ... interesting for Juventus. The Bianconeri traveled to Rome to face Lazio and, after being utterly torn apart for 60 relentless minutes of Lazio pressure and attacking, fell behind due to an unfortunate Can own goal. The onslaught continued as Lazio sought to put the visitors to the sword, but somehow, yes somehow, the hosts failed to score at least 3 goals that would have been well deserved based on their performance that night. Their profligacy would soon be punished by the Bianconeri’s Portuguese contingent as goals by Joao Cancelo and then Ronaldo secured
a ludicrously undeserved 2-1 victory for Juventus.
Trouble was clearly on the horizon for Max Allegri’s men, though, and it felt like something was going to go wrong sooner rather than later. And when it went wrong, oh man did it go disastrously wrong. Juventus were completely outclassed and outfought by Atalanta in the 3-0 away loss in the Coppa Italia quarterfinals. It was such an embarrassing and error-strewn performance that, quite frankly, the less said about it the better.
Staring In Her Window
It’s easy to forget that there was a winter transfer window in January given that Juventus is notoriously disinterested in this period of the season. Nevertheless, there were a few noteworthy events that happened off the pitch that you may or may not have missed.
In a remarkable tribute to Aaliyah’s classic song “Back and Forth”*, veteran defender Martín Cáceres returned to Juventus for the third time. Yes really, the third time. I’m still a little confused about this ordeal and not particularly thrilled by it, but I guess it’ll have to do. Furthermore, Aaron Ramsey’s long-expected move to Juventus remains, well, expected as the soon-to-be-free-agent is yet to officially sign a contract with the Bianconeri.
*Note: Ever since the R-Kelly scandal became big news, I feel like it’s slightly faux pas to reference any song produced by or featuring the disgraced artist.
In other news:
- Juventus sold goalkeeper Emil Audero to Sampdoria and earned a very tidy sum of €20 million for the youngster;
- Midfielder Stefano Sturaro rejoined Genoa on loan (talk about back and forth, eh?);
- Defender Medhi Benatia joined Qatari side Al Duhail for €8 million (sidenote: just read that Qatar stunned Japan 3-1 in the final of the Asian Cup to win the competition. Have to say, I’m very impressed. I’ll keep a close eye on them during this summer’s Copa América competition);
- A man who remains dear to my heart and who I will always support no matter what team he plays for — Gonzalo Higuaín — joined Maurizio Sarri’s (struggling?) Chelsea team on loan.
KINGDOM HEARTS 3 IS FINALLY OUT AM I THE ONLY ONE LOSING MY MIND OVER THIS YESSSSSSSSSS THANK YOU GOD!!!!!1111ONEONE
Sorry, I just couldn’t resist with that last point.
It’s that time of the year again.
In a quite ridiculous turn of events, Allegri has lost Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, and, at the time of writing, seemingly also Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi to injury (with Mario Mandzukic only recently returning to action). In the meantime, Andrea Barzagli and Juan Cuadrado remain sidelined with long-term injuries.
Combine that with the extremely unconvincing performances of the last few games — including the disaster of a Parma game — and all of a sudden people are becoming quite nervous about the upcoming crunch tie against Atlético Madrid in the Champions League (though some say Chiellini and possibly Bonucci should be fit by then).
Fine, full disclosure. By “people,” I mean yours truly.
“There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”
From “The Dark Knight Rises”
It was yet another impeccable month for the Bianconere as they started the year in absolutely exhilarating fashion. Rita Guarino’s side scored an unbelievable 14 goals in four games and, in true Juventus fashion, kept clean sheets in every game as well.
A tidy 2-0 away victory against Chievo was followed by a 3-0 home victory against Florentia and a 5-0 away thrashing of Orobica. The Bianconere concluded the month with a 4-0 victory at Tavagnacco in the first leg of the Coppa Italia quarter-final (interesting that their Coppa Italia quarter-final is a two-legged event compared to the Juventus Men where it’s one-off).
With a place in the semi-final of the Coppa Italia effectively secured and a one-point lead (with a game in hand) over AC Milan at the top of the table, things are looking very good so far for the Bianconere. The season is long, though, so much work still remains to be done.
You should be stronger than me
Arguably the greatest source of concern for Juventus is the current state of the midfield. Sami Khedira has been in obvious decline for the last season or so (though I think that fans’ complaints about his demise are vastly overblown), Emre Can seems to still need more time to fully acclimatize to Allegri’s system, and, though he is a very solid performer, Rodrigo Bentancur doesn’t (and isn’t supposed to) provide much creativity.
“You should be stronger than me,
But instead you’re longer than frozen turkey.”
I would somewhat controversially argue that Blaise Matuidi has, along with Miralem Pjanic, been the standout performer in the Juventus midfield for the last month or two. For all his strengths, though, Matuidi is also never going to be the one to provide flair from the center of the pitch, meaning that the Bianconeri midfield frequently looks painfully one-dimensional and lethargic.
Age is another important factor as well; important members of our midfield (Matuidi, Khedira, Pjanic) and defense (Chiellini, Bonucci) are either in their late-20s or early-30s.
Even though I’m certainly not telling you anything new here, it isn’t exactly comforting news given what’s on the horizon...
“We cannot seek to eradicate chaos; we must learn to live with it. Football knows this in its heart.”
David Goldblatt — “The Ball Is Round: The Global History of Football”