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October’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: Growing Pains

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After the brief honeymoon period at the start of Pirlo’s reign, things aren’t looking so wonderful for Juventus.

Federico Chiesa (L) of Juventus FC competes for the ball... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Life used to be a lot simpler, didn’t it?

Back when players didn’t have to play seven or eight games per month. Back when there wasn’t a devastating global pandemic to deal with. Back when teams wouldn’t forfeit games. Back when there wasn’t so much change happening, both on the pitch and off it, at our beloved club Juventus.

But such are the times today. And with all this uncertainty these days, we can either adapt to survive or complain and regress.

Anyway, now that we have that melodramatic introduction out of the way, let’s review last month’s action.

Identity?

We started the month with the game that never was. In what was a hugely controversial decision, Napoli refused to travel to Turin for the top-of-the-table clash against Juventus after playing against Genoa a week earlier and seeing that team suffer a COVID outbreak. Due to fears of an additional COVID-19 outbreak at their own club, Napoli remained at home, no game was played, the Bianconeri were awarded a 3-0 forfeit win, and Gattuso’s side were docked 1 point by the league.

We discussed this controversy at length in the accompanying podcast episode, so I won’t repeat my stance on the matter. However, I will just say that Shakhtar Donetsk, a team that had 19 positive cases throughout the club, still traveled to Real Madrid and, remarkably, beat them 3-2 on Matchday 1 of the Champions League group stage.

Nevertheless, Juve was back in action after the international break with an away game against Crotone. The game was, unfortunately, a disaster. Crotone went ahead through a 12th minute penalty scored by Nigerian striker Simy, although Juve quickly hit back through an Álvaro Morata goal less than 10 minutes later. The Bianconeri thought they had gone ahead in the 76th minute, only to see Morata’s goal ruled out for a marginal offside (because that has never happened to Morata before, right?). It ended up being a miserable evening, though, as Crotone secured its first (and, at the time of writing, solitary) point of the season and, to compound the disappointment, Juventus new-boy Federico Chiesa was sent off for a foul on Luca Cigarini: 1-1.

FC Crotone v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maricchiolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Juventus then traveled to Kyiv for Matchday 1 of the Champions League group stage. As our very own Sergio Romero aptly characterized it in Episode 23 of the podcast, it was a very Allegri-esque victory as two goals by the red-hot Morata — who, offside jokes aside, has been absolutely fantastic since rejoining Juve — secured a tidy, if slightly uncomfortable at times, victory over the Ukrainian side. But Pirlo’s side came crashing down down to earth in the subsequent home game against Hellas Verona.

In what should have been a comfortable game, the Bianconeri huffed and puffed and fell behind in the 60th minute thanks to a goal by former Juventus youth player Andrea Favilli. Thankfully, substitute Dejan Kulusevski rescued the team with a 76th-minute equalizer, but it was only enough to secure a third consecutive draw for Juventus (not counting the Napoli forfeit win).

Juve closed the month with the most discouraging game of them all: a thoroughly deserved 2-0 loss against Barcelona on Matchday 2 of the Champions League. Ousmane Dembélé opened the scoring early in the game with a deflected strike and while the Catalans only added their second goal in stoppage time of the second half through a Lionel Messi penalty after Federico Bernardeschi’s (yes, remember him?) inexplicable foul, they could easily have scored three or four goals on the night. To add insult to injury, Merih Demiral was sent off in the 85th minute for a second bookable offense.

It was a game that demonstrated just how far Juve still need to go and how much it still lacks a clear identity and style of play as the club transitions to a new era. That said, the bright spots so far, without a doubt, been the extraordinary renaissance of Danilo and the fantastic performances by Morata. Let’s hope that their positive glow rubs off on their teammates.

Juventus Women

Juventus Women maintained their 100% record for the 2020-21 season after another three victories in the month of October. First up was the top-of-the-table clash away against AC Milan. It was, as expected, a nail-biter of a match, as a 12th-minute Cristiana Girelli penalty was the only thing to separate the two sides: a narrow 1-0 victory for Juventus.

Next up was a home game against Fiorentina. It was a far more comfortable affair this time around as first-half goals from Girelli and Maria Alves and second-half goals from Barbara Bonansea and Lina Hurtig secured an easy 4-0 victory for Rita Guarino’s team. Juventus closed out the month with a victory of the same scoreline, this time away against Pink Bari.

Juventus v ACF Fiorentina - Women Serie A Photo by Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

The game against Bari was essentially over by halftime thanks to goals from Arianna Caruso, Girelli, and Valentina Cernoia. Juve were understandably content with the comfortable lead, although Andrea Stašková added further gloss to the result in the 84th minute with the team’s fourth and final goal of the game: 4-0. A perfect month for a perfect team!

Paulo Dybala: A Dull Diamond?

It’s that time of the year again when we have to talk about Paulo Dybala’s (seemingly inevitable) decline in form. He has definitely had a rough eight months or so. From spending roughly two months battling and recovering from COVID-19, to dealing with injury and fitness problems and, of course, learning a completely new style of play under a new coach who has never had a coaching job in his life, he has experienced a lot of change in his career lately (haven’t we all?).

All these changes have clearly impacted his form on the pitch. While only played a paltry 270 minutes so far this season (equal to exactly 3 games) at the time of this writing, he has looked very poor in the little time he has played. These games weren’t against world-class opposition, either — besides the encounter with Barcelona, he played against Spezia, Dynamo Kyiv, and Hellas Verona.

Spezia Calcio v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Danilo Di Giovanni/Getty Images

But like I said, we’ve seen this before from Dybala. A rough patch of form, a barrage of criticism, and even the premature whispers (that quickly turn into shouts) of perhaps selling the Argentine playmaker. But we’ve also seen him recover from this; lest we forget, he was last season’s Serie A MVP (though I’m still unsure if that was entirely justified). And with so much going on at Juventus and an influx of new players into the club, it might take a while for him to return to his usual self.

Let’s just hope that Juventini have the patience to wait.

The Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Amidst all the madness activity that happened this month, you might have missed a very important piece of news about the future of European football. After they failed in their first attempt to become the most hated football clubs in the world, Liverpool and Manchester United were reportedly heavily involved in the proposed creation of the “European Premier League,” which is yet another attempt to completely overturn the European footballing (and financial) landscape. They’re clearly following the famous words of the late, great Aaliyah, because “if at first you don’t succeed [to piss off most of European football in the middle of a global pandemic], dust yourself off and try [to piss them off even more] again.”

“What would you do, to get to me? What would you say, to have your way?

Would you give up, or try again? If I hesitate to let you in?”

In all seriousness, though, this was a long-time coming. Upon resigning as President of FC Barcelona, the much-maligned and much-despised Josep Maria Bartomeu — gosh, so much anger and hatred in this month’s review — said that the club’s board of directors had “approved the requirements to participate in a future European Super League, a project promoted by the big clubs in Europe”, an announcement that current La Liga President Javier Tebas believed confirmed Bartomeu’s “ignorance” about the football industry (Tebas also described the Super League as “a weak and imaginary competition”).

European Club Association General Assembly in Athens Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The list of other clubs believed to be involved with this project is entirely predictable: Real Madrid (who are, unsurprisingly, also big proponents of the idea), Atlético Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Bayern München, Juventus, and others.

Make no mistake about it: this is basically the inevitable arrival of the European Super League, a concept that has been talked about for almost as long as I’ve been alive. And judging by some of the details of this plan — Eurosport reports that JPMorgan and other banks will lend money to finance the creation of the competition — it’s pretty clear that this idea wasn’t created overnight.

What does this mean for Juventus? Any version of this pseudo-Super League will obviously include us, but it’s hard to say what impact it will have on our involvement in the Serie A (the plan doesn’t say anything explicit about clubs’ involvement in their domestic leagues). But regardless of what happens, Juventini have to prepare for the very real possibility of an inevitable, fundamental change in the financial and sporting landscape of European football.

I’m not sure exactly what it will look like, but I know that it will likely happen sooner rather than later.

My book You Say Soccer I Say Football will be published in less than a month!