We’re back! Summer vacation is over, pre-season games (and the obligatory transcontinental travel) have been completed, and the transfer window has gently closed (why does it always have to slam shut?).
New season, new players, new coach. This time of the year always brings great expectations of the fans and lofty predictions from pundits and analysts. At the same time, it brings a huge degree of uncertainty. Is it a year of transition or evolution? Will the team live up to its expectations? Will the new recruits solve the team’s deficiencies and live up to their promises? Will I continue to use anime and Kingdom Hearts references in my monthly reviews?
So many questions, and so much football to play over the next 10 months.
Back to business
Before the action began in the Serie A, Juventus traveled to Stockholm to face Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid in a preseason friendly. Sarri’s men played quite well but suffered a 2-1 loss after 19-year-old superstar João Félix scored both goals for the Spanish side, canceling out Sami Khedira’s first-half equalizer. In the final pre-season game of the summer, Juventus beat Triestina 1-0 thanks to a wondergoal by Paulo Dybala.
“Looks like my summer vacation is...
Juventus opened the season with an away game against Parma on 24th August without Allegri, without Sarri, and without many of the new players that were recruited this summer. A wonderful first half by Juventus was rewarded with a scrappy goal by Giorgio Chiellini, although the second half was, as Danny said in the post-match reactions, “a little more Allegri-ish, if you ask me.”
The Bianconeri eventually secured the 1-0 victory (despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s disallowed “offside” goal in the second half because, you know, VAR was really designed to decide such minutia) on Matchday 1 of the new season.
Speaking of strong contrasts between first- and second-half displays by Juventus (because that’s really something we aren’t used to, right?), we were in for a ludicrously tipsy-turvy game in the first home fixture of the season against bitter rivals Napoli. As the great Gennaro Gattuso once said, this game was “sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe sh*t.”
Brazilian fullback Danilo opened the scoring after finishing a supersonic counterattack, followed by ex-Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuaín doubling the Bianconeri’s lead with an absolutely breathtaking turn and half-volley a mere three minutes after the opening goal. Ronaldo added a third after some good buildup play and a sharp cutback from the in-form Douglas Costa. 3-0, fantastic play, and the team was cruising to a convincing victory against Carlo Ancelotti’s team.
But then everything fell apart.
Goals by Kostas Manolas, Hirving Lozano, and Giovanni Di Lorenzo completely shattered the rosy narrative of the first hour of the game and pulled the score back to 3-3. Just when I was about to launch my laptop through my window out of raw anger and frustration though, Kalidou Koulibaly volleyed the ball into his own net to give Juventus a dramatic, last-gasp 4-3 victory. I still don’t know what the hell happened on Saturday. I really don’t.
Two games played and two observations to note. First, as Fefu stated in the Game Time Thread for the Napoli game, this makes two high-level Juventus coaches — Allegri and Sarri — that rate Matuidi and Khedira as starting XI material. “So either they are wrong or you [we] are missing something.” Although I rebutted by saying that the sample size (two games) was too small to make such a judgement, I’ll admit that there is definitely some truth to this argument.
Second, and again recognizing the point that it has been only two games, we have already seen two standout performers for Juventus: the speedster Douglas Costa and the brilliant, classy Higuaín. The latter’s form is particularly encouraging given how utterly miserable the last 12 months of his career have been. Based on the start of this season though, it looks like he’s still got some of that magic that made so many of us fall in love with him.
The Final Countdown
There were a few noteworthy Juventus transfers to report in the final month of the transfer window. Let’s take a look at what happened.
- Juventus dodged a few bullets by choosing not to sign Romelu Lukaku (despite supposedly almost doing so) and Italy’s most-beloved wild child, Mauro Icardi. Phew.
- It wasn’t going to happen, then it was, then it wasn’t, and then the (English) transfer window shut. Paulo Dybala has had a rollercoaster month of negotiations and a rough two seasons. Many expected him to give up and for Juventus to admit that things just haven’t gone as well as expected for the Argentine playmaker and cut their losses, but he has fought tirelessly to stay at Juve and prove his worth. He seems to have won over upper management as well, who claim to be “happy [that] he is with us.” Well, Paulo, the ball is in your court now. Buena suerte.
- Versatile Brazilian fullback Danilo joined Juventus from Manchester City for €37 million while Portuguese fullback João Cancelo went the other way for €65 million. Here’s what a Manchester City fan and podcaster had to say about Danilo and what Manu C had to say about Cancelo.
- Juventus Women confirmed not one, not two, but a staggering 12 (!) contract extensions in August (includes Cecilia Salvai).
- Federico Chiesa remains at Fiorentina. Maybe he has figured out what’s going on?
- Luca Pellegrini (and his dashing looks) has been sent on loan to Cagliari.
- Mario Mandzukic reportedly turned down a move to join Paris Saint-Germain — stopping what would have been the third transfer between the two teams this summer — and Juventus rejected Roma’s bid for Daniele Rugani (Roma took the rejection in good spirit though, because they quickly turned around and signed a different defender: Chris Smalling from Manchester United).
Thursday, Aug. 29. That was the day that most of Europe stopped what it was doing and cast its eyes to Monaco for the Champions League Group Stage draw.
Juventus found itself in a challenging Group D along with familiar foes Atlético Madrid, German team Bayer Leverkusen, and the team of our old friend Benedikt Höwedes’, Lokomotiv Moscow. When I first looked at the group, I thought “well, that should be easy enough.” But when I looked at it again, I realized that it was a far trickier group than I had first believed.
I never enjoy Champions League fixtures that involve trips all the way to Russia, while Bayer Leverkusen are no pushovers either. Moreover, last year’s dramatic Round of 16 matchup against Atlético was, well, a little emotionally exhausting, adding to the fun that this year’s Champions League group stages promises to be. Nevertheless, at the end of the day this is a group that a team like Juve simply should be able to overcome without too much fuss.
Then again, I had a similar level of confidence after 65 minutes of the Juventus v Napoli game, and look at how that turned out...
Two days before the blockbuster match against Napoli, the Juventus faithful received devastating news about its legendary captain. Giorgio Chiellini suffered “a lesion of the anterior cruciate ligament” and was ordered to undergo surgery as soon as possible.
While these types of injuries generally leave a player out of action for roughly 6 months, the fact that Chiellini is 35 years old and has been suffering from a flurry of muscle-related injuries in the last two seasons means that many Juventini are fearing the worst for the remainder of Chiellini’s career.
A few years ago, Claudio Marchisio suffered the same injury at the age of 30 and I wrote about my concerns about the midfielder’s ability to recover from such a devastating injury at that age. While Il Principino did recover, he struggled for fitness (and, consequently, playing time) and suffered from a few muscle-related injuries over the years.
While he did manage to show flashes of brilliance from time to time, some argue that he was never truly the same after his injury and that this led to his eventual departure from Juventus. As a result, we are left with one question to ponder as Chiellini begins his road to recovery:
What will become of our captain?
“People who are successful are the people who realize that when they feel like their lives are coming apart, they’re coming apart for a reason. Because the puzzle pieces need to be reconstituted so you can strengthen your life and develop a higher level of life again. Those who give up when they come apart don’t realize that the opportunity is to put themselves together again.”
— Kazimierz Dąbrowski
To end it on a sad note, I want to take a moment to honor the memory of Luis Enrique’s 9-year old daughter Xana, who passed away after losing a five-month fight with osteosarcoma (bone cancer). Losing a child is an absolutely horrific thing to happen, and it’s made worse when your child was so preciously young.
May her soul rest in peace.