Week-in and week-out, the concept of momentum in sports continues to be proven an invention by this Juventus team
Mere days after having their best game of the season, the Bianconeri followed it up with their worst defeat in a couple of seasons at least, as they got bodied by Fiorentina 3-0 at Allianz Stadium on Tuesday night.
As with everything in this damned season, there has to be caveats — there was an early red card that changed the game, a couple calls that Fiorentina got lucky to get away with, yadda, yadda, yadda ... you know the drill. The reality is that when Juventus needed to play their best and close out the calendar year and stay on pace of the league leaders, they got blown out by a team that was battling relegation before this match.
That’s far from ideal.
LVP: Juan Cuadrado
After what was an initial yellow card on Cuadrado’s tackle, referee Federico la Penna went to VAR to determine if it should have been a red card. The ref looked at the replay monitor for maybe three or four seconds before jogging back and immediately red carding The Square Man, who immediately left the pitch without much argument because … yeah.
Juan Cuadrado with a horror tackle.— Goal (@goal) December 22, 2020
Straight red card. pic.twitter.com/6T9eMfTMLz
You go studs up on a dude and bad things are going to happen. The good news is that Gaetano Castrovilli — who was in the business end of that tackle — was uninjured, because we have seen far too many guys have their careers ended by a tackle like that. I obviously don’t think Cuadrado was trying to hurt the guy, but it was a dumb challenge that was rightfully called a red card and it left the team at a men disadvantage minutes after they were already down a score.
Not only does that change the entire complexion of the game tactically, but mentally it has to take a toll on the team as well. Cuadrado, at this point, is a veteran, a leader and a dude who is a freakin’ vice-captain. We have rightfully recognized his good play in this space, but it is now also fair to recognize how badly he messed this one up. He should know better.
Loser: Leo Bonucci
Debated highly whether he should have been the LVP, but I couldn’t get past how big a deal being a man down so early in the game was. With that being said, this was a horrible performance from the captain of the team.
Ever since his transfer saga and return to the club, Bonucci has not been the same top defender he was at the peak of the BBC era — that tends to happen when you are not flanked by two of the best defenders of this decade any longer — but he had been an upper tier, generally reliable defender, if not an spectacular one.
Well, he was spectacular on Tuesday, that’s for sure. You know that saying “He didn’t put a foot wrong”? I’m wondering if he put a foot right at any point against La Viola.
He was bad distributing, he was bad defending and he was bad in possession. Just an all-around horrifying performance from a guy who you just have to expect more from based on his status in the club.
Winner: Andrea Pirlo
Hear me out first!
It’s hard to find winners in a 3-0 throttling, but I do believe there is a case for Pirlo as one. The first goal is a magnificent piece of play from Frank Ribery — whose second act as a Juve destroyer in Italy is something I don’t like, but appreciate nevertheless — and then the following red card is something that I feel can’t really be put on the coach.
But after that, I really do think he nailed every move to put his team in the best possible shape to get something out of nothing. Subbing Aaron Ramsey for Danilo was the right move to reshape the backline, bringing in Federico Bernardeschi for Alvaro Morata was the right move to have more cohesion in midfield and try to control possession, Dejan Kulusevski for Weston McKennie was also the right move to bring in more offense at a time when they were creating dangerous chances and it was time to go all in.
Sometimes a loss is on the coach, sometimes it is on the players, well … playing bad. And I think, in this case, it is far more of the latter than the former.
Now, how does the team bounce back from this? That might be more of a true measure of who Andrea Pirlo is as a coach and a leader.
Even in all the wreckage, there are a couple guys who do deserve shout outs for their performances in rather dire circumstances.
I’m as opposed to the Cristiano Ronaldo Cult of Personality as anybody, but he was one of the few players who battled, fought and ran till the dying minutes to try and get something from this match. He had a couple of chances and while it didn’t manage to turn the tide in our favor it was the performance you expect to see from a leader of the club in a bad circumstance like Tuesday.
(I’d be perfectly OK with taking the captain’s armband from Bonucci and giving him to Ronaldo for what it’s worth. It won’t happen, but I’d be fine with it.)
Weston McKennie and Alex Sandro were also bright spots in the first half. Sandro will get the blame for the own goal and he does have some blame in it for sure, but that doesn’t erase the fact he was one of the few guys providing dangerous chances in the first half. McKennie was absolutely all heart and by the time he got subbed out you could tell he legit had nothing more to give.
Lastly, Matthijs de Ligt was a one-man fire crew the entire match as he essentially held the visiting Fiorentina for almost all game until the wheels inevitably fell off. Apparently his late-game sub was due to muscle fatigue, which hopefully is not too bad, but it’s also reflective of the type of game he had where he ran until he literally couldn’t anymore.
(Again, it will most definitely not happen, but I wouldn’t be mad if de Ligt got the captain’s armband either.)
Loser: Federico Chiesa
See, also: Trying to do too much.
I get it, he’s young, aiming to prove himself and playing against his former team for the first time. Of course, you are going to want to be the hero, it’s human. But after the sixth or seventh time of Chiesa making exactly the wrong decision whenever he had the ball at his feet I started getting some serious buyer’s remorse.
(Hell, even veteran players were playing hero ball as well. Ronaldo trying to bang a free kick with absolutely no angle late in the first half was the epitome of it. Dude, you have been ghastly at free kicks in the best of conditions your entire Juve career, why on earth would you try to pull something like that off?)
I exaggerate, of course, but it’s no coincidence that the majority of Juve’s dangerous moments came from the left. On a team that had a lot of bad performances, Chiesa is a standout and we would be talking more about if it weren’t for how awful Bonucci was and that he did in fact tried a whole heck of a lot to make something happen.
Still, you are in the big leagues now, just trying and running does not cut it.
Parting Shot of the Week
A rather difficult thing to do as someone who writes about Juventus constantly — ie. almost every game — is to try to keep the takes steady and keep in mind the big picture, while also providing commentary and analysis on a game-to-game basis.
So, sometimes the impulse to crown this team when they play well — like the second FC Barcelona match or last game against Parma — has to be tempered a bit as well as the need to call them freakin’ toast and a Europa League team at best when they play terribly.
With that in mind, last night sucked — badly. But it was also a case of everything that could go wrong actually going wrong. The decision by the courts to have the Napoli match rescheduled instead of remaining a forfeit obviously impacted Juve’s point differential as well, and depending upon AC Milan’s results against Lazio, we could see Juventus as far as 10 points off the lead entering the holiday break.
However, and as much as we don’t want to hear it right now, this is far, far from over. They still have every game against Inter, Milan and Napoli left to play. That’s 18 points up for grabs against every single one of their competitors for the title. Juventus still very much have their destiny in their own hands — win those games and you’re top of the table, pretty straightforward.
Tuesday night was no death knell for the title hopes, far from it. But it is a death knell to any sort of margin for error they might have had. They can still be champions by the end of the season, but they won’t have the benefit of dropping points here and there anymore. They won’t have the benefit of drawing or losing one of the Milan matches, they will have to beat Napoli on the make-up game as well as Inter for that matter.
It’s not over, but it got a whole more difficult.
See you next year.