In last month’s review, I talked about Juventus’ disappointing and uninspiring end to the 2019-20 season. Here I am just one month later, talking about the start of the 2020-21 season!
Now that leagues around Europe have reopened, footballing authorities all over the world are scrambling to sandwich as many games into as little time as possible in order to make up for the time lost during the pandemic-enforced lockdown. As a result, the (calendar) year of football will move at lightning speed for the next few months, meaning that there’s no time for a lengthy introduction. Avanti!
The first glimpse of Andrea Pirlo’s new Juve came halfway the month in a friendly match against the illustrious Novara. Given that we’ve essentially had no preseason this year, Pirlo fielded a full-strength side, which meant that the game was, unsurprisingly, a walk in the park. A first-half goal by Cristiano Ronaldo was followed by a flurry of second-half goals from Aaron Ramsey, Marko Pjaca — who has now joined Genoa on loan — and a stoppage-time brace by youngster Manolo Portanova. Final score: 5-0.
The real action got underway a week later, though, with a home game against Sampdoria scheduled as the season opener. It was a thoroughly entertaining and energetic start to Pirlo’s reign as Juventus manager as his team comprehensively beat an admittedly poor Sampdoria side. A tidy debut goal by Swedish newcomer Dejan Kulusevski early in the first half got the team started, although we had to wait all the way till the 78th minute to see the 2-0 by virtue of a rebound goal from Leonardo Bonucci.
The deal was sealed 10 minutes later thanks to an accurate strike by Ronaldo after a wonderfully incisive pass by Aaron Ramsey, who had a fantastic game against Claudio Ranieri’s side. While it was far from champagne football and it looks like Sampdoria will have a bitterly tough campaign this year, it was still a very dominant and positive start to a new era of football for the Bianconeri: 3-0.
Then came the blockbuster game of the month: the away clash against AS Roma. It was clear that the high from the honeymoon period against Sampdoria had worn off, because the Roma game was a dramatically different experience than the clash on Matchday 1. Led by lightning-fast counterattacks and brilliant hold-up play by
Juventus secret agent Edin Dzeko, Roma put Juventus under sustained pressure throughout the first half. The hosts (deservedly) took the lead through a 31st-minute penalty, scored by Jordan Veretout, after an Adrien Rabiot handball in the box. Against the odds, however, Juve hit back with a penalty of their own, with Ronaldo scoring it in the 44th minute after a Lorenzo Pellegrini handball resulted in the penalty. Handballs seem to be quite popular this season...
The scores were level for a grand total of two minutes though, as Roma hit Juve with yet another lightning counter attack. Veretout finished it off to grab his and Roma’s second goal of the game and put the hosts 2-1 ahead after 45 minutes. Things went from bad to worse for Juve in the 62nd minute as Rabiot, who was walking a tightrope since receiving a yellow card in the first half due to the penalty, was sent off after receiving his second booking.
Encouragingly, the Bianconeri didn’t back down despite being a man and a goal down (and Dzeko coming inches away from killing the game off in the 64th minute). After a good run to the byline, the impressive Danilo crossed the ball into the box where a grateful Ronaldo, seemingly suspended in the air for an eternity as he probably jumped too early for that cross, headed the ball past Antonio Mirante for his second goal and equalizer of the game. Both teams seemed satisfied with this state of affairs and, despite Dzeko best attempts to play brilliantly but miss chance after chance seemingly on purpose, settled with the final scoreline of 2-2.
As the transfer window slowly came to a gentle close, here’s a recap of the most important Juventus-related transfer news from the month of September:
- The steady supply of Juve players helping Genoa continues, with the trio of Marko Pjaca, fallen angel Mattia Perin, and Luca Pellegrini all joining the club on loan.
Sergio’s brotherCristian Romero joined Atalanta on a two-year loan deal.
- The seemingly never-ending drama of a transfer saga regarding Luis Suárez finally came to an end (despite a little bit of controversy along the way).
- Olivier Giroud was on the brink of joining Juve.
- Nah, just kidding.
- I talked to Danny about my book! Wait, that’s not transfer related. Oh well...
- Edin Dzeko almost joined Juventus, but then he didn’t... (although he was nice enough to act as a secret agent during the Roma-Juve game).
- The perennially underappreciated Gonzalo Higuain left Juventus by mutual consent, resulting in yet another player that has left the club without an incoming transfer fee.
- The prodigal son has returned: Álvaro Morata has returned to Juventus on loan.
- Juventus finally signed a proper fullback.
- Ha! Of course we didn’t.
The New Emperor
We’ve had a grand total of three games as sample size to judge Pirlo’s reign as Juventus manager. So far so decent, I suppose, with a convincing 3-0 victory against Sampdoria followed by an erratic, but hard-fought 2-2 draw with Roma. While it would obviously be extremely premature to pass definitive judgment on the success of his tenure, here are a few initial thoughts:
- Romanticism v. pragmatism. While I applaud his intention to play positive, in-your-face aggressive football, once the honeymoon period is over there will undoubtedly be days in which “ugly” football will be necessary to make it across the finish line. Thankfully, so far Pirlo has shown that he’s not necessarily married to any particular formation, which shows that he’s willing to be flexible instead of dogmatic. Does he have the heart, though, to occasionally surrender the more romantic style of play in favor of a more pragmatic type?
- The defense still isn’t fixed. And this will continue to be exposed against higher caliber opposition. My general question, which I touched on in Episode 20 of the podcast, is if Pirlo will be able to distribute the defensive burden equally across the three lines of the team (defense, midfield, and attack) so that not just one line (usually defense) is taking on the entire burden of defending because the other two are shirking on their duties.
- On eagle’s wings. Pirlo has to make up his mind regarding the fullback positions, particularly the left side. He can either go with the ambitious option and trust Gianluca Frabotta or the reliable Alex Sandro. That said, I sympathize with Pirlo because not only is this his first ever managerial job, but he also didn’t have a pre-season to test these kinds of ideas in. Trial by fire, Andrea...
The Bianconere only had one competitive match in September, namely a home game against Serie A newcomers San Marino Academy. Spearheaded by second half goals from Cristiana Girelli and Arianna Caruso, Juve won the game 2-0 to continue their 100 percent start to the campaign.
There’s more action on the calendar for October, though. Juventus captured a tight 1-0 win over Milan at the San Siro on Monday night. Next up will be a home game against Fiorentina (Oct. 11), and an away game against Bari (Oct. 18) next month. Let’s hope Rita Guarino’s side keep up the perfect start!