The tenets of Murphy’s Law are well known: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.
Tuesday was a Murphy’s Law kinda day for Juventus. From the off, nothing went right. With all the momentum off their complete domination of Parma on Saturday behind them, they completely faceplanted in a 3-0 loss against a Fiorentina team that hadn’t won a game since the end of October and is in serious danger of being in the thick of the relegation fight come the spring. A soft, sucker-punch of a goal put them behind less than 180 seconds into the match, then referee Federico La Penna proceeded to further debase the reputation of Italian officiating with an absolutely awful performance.
To save time and space, and in honor of the fact that this article will be going live on Festivus, I’m going to just put forth an Airing of Grievances toward La Penna up front:
- This will be a minority opinion, but the VAR-assisted red card to Juan Cuadrado was a terrible call. Cuadrado’s foot hit the ball and rolled high as it was hitting Gaetano Castrovilli’s leg. It was certainly deserving of the yellow card that was La Penna’s initial call, but in my opinion it’s wrong to send a player off for getting to the ball and then being forced to succumb to physics. The call changed the entire game and precluded any chance for Juventus to be able to settle into the game.
- The game should have been 10 v. 10 five minutes into the second half when Borja Valero scythed through Rodrigo Bentancur from behind for what should have been his second yellow card in three minutes. Instead, La Penna displayed what can only be described as Chekhov’s Card. He actually reached into his pocket, then actively made the wrong decision and withdrew it empty. That was simply inexcusable.
- Juve could have set up a grandstand finish when Bartlomiej Dragowski mishandled a long ball in his own box and, as he attempted to recover, planted his hand firmly in Federico Bernardeschi’s chest, knocking the substitute to the ground. The foul is clear on the reverse angle replay, but La Penna did nothing, nor did VAR.
Now, I’m not claiming that these decisions were the ultimate deciders of the game. As bad as La Penna was in this game, it is equally true that Juventus, with a few exceptions, played like hot garbage. They could barely find each other with a pass, the defending (Matthijs de Ligt excepted) was awful, and there was absolutely zero composure — and this was before the red card.
It all added up to a terrible, horrible, no, good, very bad day, as Fiorentina took advantage of every opportunity that was afforded to them, both by Juve and the referee, and ran out of the Allianz Stadium winners for the first time.
Andrea Pirlo seems to have finally stuck with the 3-5-2 formation that has provided the team with more balance in midfield, although he was without Adrien Rabiot, who was suspended for this game after the decision on Napoli’s appeal vacated the forfeited game that had counted as the suspension for his early-season red card. Wojciech Szczesny picked up the starting gloves, with de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci, and Alex Sandro in the back three in front of him. Aaron Ramsey took Rabiot’s spot in the midfield along with Bentancur and Weston McKennie, while former Fiorentina players Cuadrado and Federico Chiesa bookended them on the wings. Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata formed the strike pair up top.
Cesare Prandelli was the last Fiorentina coach to come out of Turin with a victory, 12 years ago when Juve were still playing at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino in anticipation of the Allianz’s opening. He countered with a 3-5-2 of his own. Dragowski was protected by German Pezzella, Igor, and Nikola Milenkovic. Martin Caceres came to face his old club at right wingback, with Cristiano Biraghi on the other wing. Castrovilli and Valero were joined in midfield by Sofyan Amrabat, and the strike pairing consisted of Franck Ribery and Dusan Vlahovic.
Things went south early, when Ribery took a pass from Milenkovic and then found Vlahovic with a fantastic long-distance through ball as the 20-year-old split a huge gap between de Ligt and Bonucci. Szczesny has denied a couple of shots from similar situations in the last few games, but this time Vlahovic managed to lift it over his body and into the net to give the Viola a shock lead.
Ronaldo responded to the goal by providing an all-too-familiar sight — that of him slamming a free kick into a wall. A minute later he earned a corner on a blocked shot, but Cuadrado was dispossessed on the short routine before he could get a cross off. The first real sign of life came 12 minutes in when Morata made a great cross from the right side toward his partner at the back post, but Caceres, who might have been the best player on the field for either team today, made an excellent defensive header running toward his own goal line and put the ball out for a corner.
It looked like Juve was starting to finally drop themselves in, despite an extravagant mistake by Bonucci that saw him literally leave the ball behind as he tried to advance it and gift Vlaovic a good run, only to be bailed out by the young Serb trying to turn provider instead of being selfish. But then La Penna gave Cuadrado his marching orders, and the game was turned on its head. Ramsey was sacrificed for Danilo, moving Chiesa to the right side and pushing Sandro up into a wing-back position. Fiorentina nearly made the extra man pay right away when Valero was fed well into the left channel, but he clipped his shot wide. Moments later, Bonucci made another sloppy play, passing the ball straight to Caceres, who played a one-two with Vlahovic and then put the ball across for Castrovilli, who was denied by a fantastic reflex save by Szczesny.
Just after the half hour, Ronaldo wasted a good chance when he turned two defenders around only to hit the side netting from the left channel. Four minutes later, the Portuguese nearly jumped a bad back pass but Dragowski got to it first to knock it away. The team had one last chance in the first half when Sandro earned a free kick in stoppage time, but for some reason Ronaldo decided to set up over it and blasted it into the wall again when the angle suggested having him in the box as an aerial target would’ve been a much better option.
Pirlo replaced Morata with Bernardeschi at halftime, and within five minutes Valero had committed two bookable offenses, only one of which actually produced a card in what might have La Penna’s worst call of the night. Prandelli saw the writing on the wall and withdrew the Spaniard so quickly it didn’t look like Erick Pulgar had had time to warm up properly.
Just before the hour Ronaldo had the ball in the back of the net with a nice header off an excellent Danilo cross, but the striker was well offside and the goal was quite properly disallowed.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Juve started exerting pressure against a team that, even with a man advantage, could still be vulnerable to a team of Juve’s caliber. Fiorentina still spent some periods in the Juve half to try to make their extra player pay, but Juve were looking like they might make some kind of move, exemplified by a strong shot from the right channel by Chiesa that Dragowski needed to be strong to parry away. Pirlo sent on Dejan Kulusevski to try and turn the screw, but three minutes later the defense completely switched off, leading to a comical own goal that started when Sandro let a throw-in get over his head. After Amrabat had a shot blocked, Ribery found Biraghi in all kinds of space. The wing-back crossed and Bonucci completely missed his attempt to intervene, leaving Sandro to bundle it past his own keeper as he tried to adjust to a ball that came at him in a completely unexpected way.
The Dragowski penalty incident came next, and five minutes later the final curtain came down when Bonucci was dispossessed by Ribery, leading to an attack that ended with Biraghi making an excellent run, taking an extra touch to let Caceres make a run into the box, slipping in front of Sandro and side-footing home to put an exclamation point on a banner day for the Florentine club. One does, though, appreciate the class of Caceres, who didn’t celebrate as he finished off his three-time former club. The game ended soon thereafter, with La Penna not even bothering with stoppage time with Juventus so thoroughly humbled on their own turf.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 5.5. Prevented a bad day from turning worse with a nice save against Castrovilli, but when a defense is as discombobulated as this one was the keeper has to shoulder some blame for not keeping them organized.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 6. Was shouldered with almost all the defensive responsibilities with Bonucci playing at beer-league level. Made five clearances and constantly went all out to get the ball out of danger. Hopefully his late limp off the field wasn’t anything serious.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 2. This should suffice:
ALEX SANDRO - 5. It was tough for him to have to swap roles mid-game, but his play on both the own goal and Caceres’ capper was badly sub-par. He got forward a few times from the wing but wasn’t able to provide the kind of service that could have made a difference.
JUAN CUADRADO - NR. I thought the red card was a mistake, and so I’ve chosen not to put a number on this one. It does have to be said that Juan hadn’t made much of an impact up to that point, not creating any chances or good crosses.
AARON RAMSEY - NR. Sacrificed early after Cuadrado was sent off, but had already put in a key pass and might’ve had a decent game had he not had to come off.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 5. After his best performance of the season this was another anonymous showing. He did make three tackles on the defensive end, but was unable to create much of anything out of the midfield.
WESTON McKENNIE - 5.5. Had two key passes and ran as much as he could, but ended up pressing too much and his first touch let him down a lot. A down game after an excellent stretch.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 5. Only completed 75 percent of his passes, but did make four tackles and his angled drive at the near post might’ve been the most worried Dragowski was all night. Still, he needs to do more, especially in games like this.
ALVARO MORATA - 4.5. Made one really good cross, but otherwise made so little impact that it’s not surprising he was lifted at the half. Bad followup to his excellent game against Parma.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 6. Seemed like one of the only guys who was truly motivated. It wasn’t a perfect day — he was very slow getting back onside on his disallowed goal, and that shot into the side netting has to get on target — but he worked his ass off trying to get something, anything happening.
DANILO - 6. Played hard the moment he came on, made three key passes and defended pretty well.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 5.5. Should’ve earned a penalty and also got credit for a key pass over the second half, but couldn’t make the difference.
DEJAN KULUSEVSKI - 4. Only touched the ball six times, but the game got away from the team right after he was introduced.
GIANLUCA FRABOTTA - NR. On to get the team through after de Ligt pulled up late.
Juventus’ inability to carry momentum from one game to another is immensely vexing, but it’s hard to tell whether that’s a mentality problem Pirlo can fix or a symptom of the exhaustion that the players must be feeling after enduring such an insane schedule. It might be a bit of both, because Tuesday night’s game was another example of Juventus playing down to its opposition, a problem they’ve been dealing with since Massimiliano Allegri was still the manager. Balance is also important. This is the second time this season that they’ve followed up a great performance with a perfectly executed version of Pirlo’s press by playing too fast, barely able to control the ball and find a teammate with a pass. Pirlo badly needs to reign that overexuberance if his ideas are to come off the page of his thesis and into the real world.
Pirlo also deserves some criticism for his in-game performance. He again didn’t use his subs quite as well as he could have. Putting on Kulusevski was the right move, but he probably should’ve been on earlier, when he could have maybe used his devastating counterattacking ability to influence things earlier. Paulo Dybala was also sitting on the bench the entire game when his close control and passing could have been very useful, helping keep possession while teammates tried to find any holes in Fiorentina’s defense.
Juve get a badly needed rest for this week as Italy enters the festive period with a shortened winter break. Juve’s next matchup will come Jan. 3 at home against Udinese. That will be followed by the biggest domestic game of the season — a trip to San Siro to face leaders AC Milan.