Dramatic Champions League comebacks, red cards, youngsters making their national team debuts, and historic unbeaten streaks coming to an end. Even though the term “March Madness” applies to other sports, you can’t say it was a boring month for Juventus.
No time to waste then, let’s review the month’s action.
Juventus opened the month with a top-of-the-table clash against Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo. It was a strangely anti-climactic night given that the Bianconeri was already a staggering 13-point ahead of the hosts at the time of kickoff. The game itself, however, was anything but an anti-climax. It was a ludicrous, almost mocking display of just how unfair football can be as Napoli dominated almost every nanosecond of the contest. Although Kevin Malcuit’s disastrous back pass led to Alex Meret’s red card and Miralem Pjanic’s goal from the ensuing free kick, it was almost as if this series of events had happened to Juventus rather than Napoli.
Emre Can headed in Juve’s second goal just before halftime to temporarily ease the visitors’ nerves, but it was back to non-stop one-way traffic after the break as Napoli launched wave after wave of intricate attacks at Juve’s goal. The ever-so-loveable José Callejón finally scored a much-deserved goal for Napoli in the 61st minute, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Ancelotti’s side from losing a game that they so relentlessly dominated.
The home game against Udinese five days later was nowhere near as dramatic as the Napoli game. Due to the upcoming crunch game against Atlético Madrid, Allegri heavily rotated the squad and rested several starters. Moise Kean was arguably the greatest beneficiary of these changes as he capped his first Serie A start with two well-taken goals. Can and Blaise Matuidi were the other goal scorers as Juve cruised to a straightforward 4-1 victory. (And what exquisite technique by Kevin Lasagna for his goal in that game!)
Then came the game we were all waiting for: The second leg of the Champions League Round of 16 against Atlético Madrid. Expectations were low, the mood was gloomy, and many of us were braced for the worst... And then the very best happened. A Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick — two headers and a penalty — completed an unbelievable comeback to propel Juventus into the quarter finals of the Champions League in a game where, somehow, everything was perfect.
It was an emotional game that restored a glimmer of my faith in this ridiculously crazy and emotionally unstable game we call football. More on this game in the next segment though.
Alas, Juventus ended March with some uninspiring and frankly terrible football, first in a 2-0 away loss to Genoa — I see you, Stefano Sturaro — and then in a scrappy 1-0 home win against Empoli in which Kean scored his third goal in as many Serie A games. Given the 15-point lead over Napoli, though, I would probably sound like a stuck-up brat if I lost my cool over these games.
Because all that mattered was that magical night against Atlético ...
In the February review, I wrote what was a little bit of an emotional melodrama/meltdown after the 2-0 loss against Diego Simeone’s team in the first leg. As was likely the case with most of you, my brain was desperately trying to rationalize the events of the night in order to ease my cognitive dissonance. No, I didn’t believe in the comeback and yes, I had already prepared myself for a heartbreaking premature exit from the Champions League.
Somehow, though, everything went right.
Leonardo Spinazzola completely dominated the left flank and continues to build his case for why he should be first-choice left back ahead of the (currently) mediocre Alex Sandro. Federico Bernardeschi twisted and turned past Atlético’s defenders and midfielders to lay on assists, win penalties, and constantly threaten their team. Can was a star in his unusual position at the right of a three-man backline, justifying Allegri’s surprising but phenomenal tactics on the night. And, of course, there was that boy Ronaldo, the man we all love to hate to love to hate.
The entire experience with this year’s Round of 16 tie against Atlético perfectly sums up my love-hate relationship with football. It’s a game that is capable of giving so much joy yet so much heartache — a game that I act like I don’t need but, for some emotionally-twisted reason, actually can’t get enough of; a game that I expect to give me so much emotional comfort and satisfaction but often gives me anything but that.* And yet some nights, it’s all so damn worth it. Every second of it.
*Sidenote: Why does football always feel like some fatalistic metaphor for my love life?
So I continue to watch and hope, not for football’s next Jekyll and Hyde moment that might create another existential crisis in my life, but for that day when once again I get to say:
It’s worth it after all.
As you all know, I am an extremely passionate Juventus supporter and have been one for many, many years. But I need to be completely honest here: Even I’m finding it hard to be interested in Serie A now that we have a 15-point lead over Napoli. I still watch any Juve game that my schedule will allow, but it’s hard to feign excitement for something that is now very much a formality. Imagine how hard it must be for the players to stay genuinely motivated?
Hence, my only demands for Serie A at the moment are just to get the Scudetto job done, be it with samba football or some shockingly boring style of play. At this point of the season, I don’t see what difference it would make to suddenly play champagne football anyway. If we do lose however, let it not be too calamitous and certainly not in consecutive games.
I know, it’s not exactly the ‘Fino alla Fine’ stuff you might have expected from me, but hey, at least I’m being honest.
Oh, and let’s win the Champions League. Andiamo ragazzi!
Young and Old
If there’s one man that has had an absolutely stellar month, it’s that Teen Titan called Moise Kean. He bagged two goals against Udinese in a comfortable 4-1 home victory early in the month (still confused as to why Can took the penalty in that game, but oh well), was ever-so-close to scoring Juve’s crucial third goal in the Champions League game against Atlético Madrid, and scored the game’s only goal in the
painfully, mind-numbingly dull 1-0 home victory over Empoli a day before my birthday. Sandwiched between those two games, however, was the real highlight of Kean’s month: the international break.
Astonishingly, Kean became the second-youngest goalscorer for the Azzurri after putting Ciro Immobile’s through ball into the back of the net in Italy’s 2-0 victory over Finland in the Euro 2020 qualifying game. Somewhat ironically, Fabio Quagliarella — ex-Juventino and possibly one of Italy’s most beloved footballing veterans at the moment — became Italy’s oldest goalscorer just three days later after scoring two penalties in Italy’s 6-0 victory over Liechtenstein. Of course, Kean was on hand to score his second goal (from Quagliarella’s assist!) in as many games for Italy.
Though they certainly still have many years of football left in them, Mandzukic and Ronaldo are creeping into their early/mid-thirties now. Hence, we’ll need to start thinking about a long-term strategy to replace our aging strikers (and defenders, for that matter) so that we’re ready for when their form declines and retirement looms.
If Kean continues his steady development without being rushed into stardom or overhyped by both fans and media, I think this Teen Titan could have a truly stellar career, both for his club and his country! Forza Moise!
Speaking of historic achievements, Juventus Women had a wonderful feat of their own to boast of after their 1-0 home victory against Fiorentina: they played at the Allianz Stadium for the first time and attracted a crowd of 39,000 people, a record for a women’s football match in Italy!
They also took a huge step forward in their quest to win the Coppa Italia as they came back from behind to beat Milan 2-1 (away) thanks to goals from Barbara Bonansea and Arianna Caruso. Returning to the Serie A, they then beat Bari 3-1 in another away fixture before winning that historic match against Fiorentina at the Allianz Stadium.
The next match, however, was a brutal awakening for Rita Guarino’s team. Despite dominating the game, they suffered a 2-1 loss in the away game to Sassuolo which means that with only two games left to play — home to Tavagnacco (April 13) and away to Verona (April 20) — Juventus has a mere two-point lead at the top of the table over rivals Milan. It’s certainly an exponentially more intriguing season finale in their league than in the men’s equivalent.
Two. More. Games.
One thing’s for sure: If you’re a Juventino, you can’t afford to miss this.