You get your club’s schedule. You see that your first official match of the season just so happens to be a European fixture. And not just a European fixture, but a Champions League matchup against one of the two finalists from a year ago. Quite the way to start out, right?
That’s exactly what Juventus Women faced Wednesday night.
And, despite the 2-0 loss to Barcelona at the Stadio Moccagatta in Alessandria, one thing was made clear: After a very encouraging summer at the Women’s World Cup for the core group of Juve’s roster, Juventus made things rather difficult for one of the best clubs in the game today.
Of course, it’s not exactly like the odds were in Juve’s favor to begin with entering the Wednesday night’s first leg. Barcelona have already began their season, with a 9-1 dismantling of CD Tacon — which will turn into Real Madrid’s women’s team next year — over the weekend. (It was pretty funny to look at the form guide on the Champions League website and see that Juve won the last official game they played ... in April.) And, of course, Juve were without two of their best players, defender Cecilia Salvai and forward Barbara Bonansea, due to their respective long-term injuries.
For much of Wednesday’s night encounter, Juve were on the defensive. It was pretty clear that was going to be the case all of about 5-10 minutes in, to be honest. And that was probably always going to be the case knowing that Barcelona are the kind of team that can rack up goals with the best of them. (Seriously, Barca scored 96 goals in 30 league games last season, you guys.)
So, facing such a dangerous opponent like Barcelona that has clear intentions of winning the whole damn thing, playing without arguably your most potent player on the counterattack in Bonansea and this fixture coming both right out of an international break and the first game of the season, it was always going to be a test to see where Juventus Women stood.
Juve didn’t play poorly by any means. They were outshot by quite a bit, 20-6, and Barcelona had the vast majority of the possession, with Juve having most of its success during a 10-15-minute span before Barcelona grabbed the opening goal late in the first half.
And yet, this is the only reason why Juventus Women were trailing at the half:
That’s not exactly what you would call a glamorous goal, would you?
The final score won’t show it, nor will the vast majority of the stats, but this is a performance that should be encouraging. A lot like Italy at the Women’s World Cup this summer, it was a bend-but-don’t-break kind of showing defensively, with the only major defensive breakdown coming on Barcelona’s second goal in the 70th minute as Marta Torrejon was left unmarked at the back post for a wide-open header.
We got the opportunity to see what Juventus Women could do against a club that they want to be challenging for European glory in the future. (When that might be is still something to be seen.) We got the opportunity to see a young player like 19-year-old midfielder Arianna Caruso — who is coming off her first call-up with the Italian women’s national team — show her talent against such a high-quality opponent.
And, maybe most important of all, we got the opportunity to see Juventus Women be competitive with one of the best clubs there currently is.
Remember: This is Juventus women’s team is in its third season. They’ve made it perfectly clear, as Head of Women of Juventus Stefano Braghin said after the round of 32 draw said, that thinking about making a serious Champions League run is not in the cards right now — and they’re right. They knew that they would be entering the two-legged tie as underdogs. Even though they have players who have European and international experience on the roster, they’re still such a young club and still building toward something that hopefully results in more than just domestic trophies down the road.
But, if Wednesday night’s first leg is any kind of indication, there’s both progress being made and plenty of room to grow for a team that is about to defend its Scudetto for the second straight year starting this weekend.