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Straight 8: Thoughts on Juventus Women’s first eight games of the season

They’re good now, and will (hopefully) only get better going forward.

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

The most successful Serie A Femminile club over the last three seasons has only continued with their winning ways to begin the 2020-21 season. The catch with all of this was that, when the games started back in late-August, was the fact that Juventus Women’s veteran roster hadn’t played a competitive game in six months due to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent shutdown in Italy.

The notion didn’t impact what many loyal followers of women’s football in Italy thought about Juve’s chances of winning a fourth straight league title.

Juventus Women have started the 2020-21 season with eight wins in their first eight games. They are, as many predicted, on top of the league table and have already beaten their closest Scudetto challengers in Fiorentina and AC Milan, the latter coming in the first-ever women’s game to be played at the San Siro.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing to get to this point as the final two weeks of November arrive. But, as this team has shown, their true quality will begin to show once they’ve shaken off the effects of not playing for six months due to the pandemic.

And, what do you know? The team that has won the last three Serie A Femminile titles is looking like a team that is going to be putting up quite a big defense to make it a fourth straight league title.

The unbeaten season start to the season has extended what has been an impressive run by the reigning Italian champions. So much so that Monday was quite the milestone for the Juventus women.

What’s played into it? Glad you asked. Here are just a few things from a perfect 8-for-8 start to the new season for the best team Italy has to offer.

The early-season struggles are officially a thing of the past

Falling behind 1-0 to a Florentia team that has scored fewer goals than Juve’s leading goal scorer — more on her in a minute, folks — wasn’t exactly ideal, but a big theme of the first eight weeks of the season is that Juve have been able to rebound from adversity like it’s no big deal at all.

Another big theme is that the comeback against Florentia was the first something like that was required in months. Yes, months.

Ever since the roller coaster ride of the first few games of the new season where comebacks seemed like the norm, that hasn’t been the case. The rust has been shaken off, and the best team in Italy has resembled its old self once again.

Players themselves have said they still have room to go to meet the level at which they expect to play at on a regular basis. And, honestly, that’s good! This team is good now, but obviously the players feel like they have another level or two left to go before they truly hit their full stride once again.

Who really knows when that could happen, and with the way the schedule is with so much time during international breaks, who knows if it will allow them to truly hit full stride. But, the current state of the squad is far from a bad thing — and that’s a pretty good thing to have even though players see a need for improvement.

it’s eight straight wins to start the season now. It could be 10 straight by the time time December arrives. The more things change, the more things stay the same — and that’s Juventus Women winning games and maintaining their spot atop the Serie A Femminile table.

Cristiana Girelli is really freakin’ good

It’s become a running joke in our comment section whenever the Juve women have a game.

“Guess who scored again?”

It’s not about any of the men’s team players. It’s about Cristiana Girelli.

I’ve said it before during this season, I said it heading into this season and I said it during the 2019-20 season: The run Girelli is on right now is something that is truly remarkable when you consider just how long that it’s been going on for.

With her game-winning goal against Florentia over the weekend, she’s now scored eight goals in eight games this season. That’s on top of the 16 goals in 16 league games last season. Do the quick math and that’s one goal per every game played over the course of the last season and change during domestic competition.

That’s consistency, folks.

Florentia San Giminiano v Juventus - Serie A Women Photo by Juventus FC/Getty Images

She’s scored with her right foot, left foot, head and from the penalty spot. You name the kind of goal you wanna see scored, and there are very few that Girelli hasn’t done over the last two years.

While Rita Guarino waits for her other star forward, Barbara Bonansea, to find some kind of consistent form, there’s no worrying about Girelli. Not one bit. She’s scoring goals, and doing so at a clip that nobody else in Serie A Femminile has in a few years.

That’s a pretty nice luxury to have, isn’t it?

This is Arianna Caruso’s breakout season

It’s hard to believe since she JUST turned 21 years old, but Caruso has been with Juventus Women since the beginning. Imagine a 21-year-old being one of the longest-tenured players on the roster for a second. That is a lot of valuable experience and the prime of her career is still years and years away.

But when it comes to Arianna Caruso, the 2020-21 season has truly been a breakout. She was good before this season, sure, but this is truly stretch of games where she’s now becoming one of this team’s most important players.

We’ve become accustomed to seeing a striker’s name behind Girelli on the team’s scoring leaders chart. Through eight games this season, that’s not the case.

Through said opening eight games of the 2020-21 campaign, Caruso is Juve’s second-leading goal scorer with five goals. That’s right ... Caruso ... a midfielder.

The goals will get the headlines, sure, but it’s just the complete development in Caruso’s game that has gotten her to this point. Again, she’s 21 years old and is becoming a vital piece in Juve’s success. That shows both what kind of talent she has, as well as the faith that Guarino has in a young player to get the kind of heavy minutes that Caruso has gotten both this season and in years prior.

As much as Juve’s midfield rotation is a good thing because they have really good players up and down the depth chart, Caruso — who has now become a regular in the Italian national team’s setup as well — is becoming the kind of player who needs to play almost all the time.

And for somebody who is just barely 21 years old and playing on one of Italy’s most experienced teams, that says something about the kind of player she’s becoming.

Even without Sara Gama, Juve’s defense is getting the job done

When you lose your most experienced player on the roster and your heralded captain to injury, things run the risk of going sideways. And due to the fact that Gama has been the rock in the center of Juventus’ defense ever since a women’s team was created, one might worry that things would be thrown a little off kilter.

So far, so good.

The goal that Florentia scored this past weekend was the first one Juve allowed in nearly two months. (Which, mind you, can be a little deceiving with how long international breaks are in Italy for the women.) They’ve allowed four goals all season, and three of those came in the wild 4-3 win over Empoli back before the first international break.

Gama has been out since the win over Empoli back in late August, and it’s still somewhat unclear about when she will be back on the field. Her direct replacement, Cecilia Salvai, was arguably the most in-form player outside of Girelli before she was diagnosed with COVID-19 two weeks ago. So to say that it’s been smooth sailing even as shutouts have been posted again is far from the truth.

Yet, here we are with Juve having the best defense in the league.

It’s a product of how strong Linda Sembrant — one of the few players to play every single minute this season — has played in her second year in Turin. It’s a product of a fullback like Tuija Hyyrynen sliding over from right back to play alongside Sembrant in the center of the defense because of the absence of Gama and Salvai. And it’s a product of Lisa Boattin establishing herself as one of the best fullbacks in the league.

AC Milan v Juventus - Women Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Juventus’ defense is far from full strength, and who knows when it will be 100 percent again.

But even while they’re shorthanded, they’re still playing some pretty good ball. That’s a sign of there still being plenty of good pieces on the field despite being shorthanded. And it’s a sign of there being some pretty good depth.

Speaking of which ...

The squad’s depth is really proving to be vital

There was always going to be some kind of rotation in the midfield, so seeing so many different players get a good chunk of minutes — especially with the top four options — isn’t much of a surprise.

But Guarino has had to dip deep into her roster to help fill the voids left by Gama’s injury and Salvari’s recovery from COVID-19. Same goes for second-half changes with somebody like Bonansea struggling to get things going. That means players that might not have expected to get a decent chunk of minutes entering the season have been called upon to fill the void.

And they have.

Who’s tied for the team lead in assists even though she’s only started one game? Maria Alves.

Who’s had to step in to a starting role the last couple of weeks as Hyyrynen has taken Salvai’s spot in the center of defense? Summer signing Matilde Lundorf, who seems to be settling in after a couple of so-so showings to begin her Juve career.

Depth is always going to be important when competing on multiple fronts — the Coppa Italia is right around the corner, and soon after will come the Women’s Champions League — but in the age of COVID-19 and unpredictable absences, it’s even more of the case.

So far, Juve’s depth is paying dividends. And it will continue to do so going forward.