The first month of 2020 has been awfully busy.
A rush of six games in 20 days in which the team jumped from Coppa Italia to Serie A action and back again and forced Maurizio Sarri to use the full extent of his roster to keep players fresh and motivated. Even though things were extremely impressive on paper — 5 wins and 1 loss with 16 goals scored and 5 goals conceded in 6 games — it’s still the same old story with Juventus as it has been for the last two seasons or so: good results, but inconsistent form.
While there have been a few flashes of ‘Sarriball’ here and there — I feel like that’s such an overused term these days that I’m not even sure what it means anymore — Juve has generally done what it always does: win with just about enough effort to get the job done.
Still though, you can’t help but sense a general level of disgruntlement and lack of enthusiasm about Juve from the fans, despite a favorable Champions League draw against Lyon, a semifinal spot in the Coppa Italia against Milan, and a three-point lead at the top of the league.
But have no fear! I’ll try to inject some joy back into our lives with what I hope will be a mildly entertaining monthly recap.
Back, back, and forth, and forth
Juventus opened the new year (and decade) with a home game against Cagliari. Despite the team’s dominance in the first 45 minutes of the game, the score remained goalless until
that boy with the dodgy hair Cristiano Ronaldo capitalized on an errant pass from Ragnar Klavan, rounded the goalkeeper, and finished into an empty net.
He repeated these heroics roughly 20 minutes later, though this time from the penalty spot after the in-form Paulo Dybala weaved his way into the box and past three Cagliari defenders and went down under a challenge from Marko Rog. Juventus sealed the deal in the last ten minutes of the game through goals from Gonzalo Higuaín and a third by Ronaldo — which confirmed his first Serie A hat trick in Juventus colors. Final score: 4-0.
Up next was a tricky away fixture against AS Roma. The game started at a blistering pace as goals from Merih Demiral and Ronaldo — a penalty, again won by Dybala — in the first 10 minutes of the game put Sarri’s men 2-0 ahead in the blink of an eye. The game then continued at a comfortable pace as Paulo Fonseca’s men were shell-shocked at how the game had started.
They halved the deficit in the second half though, as a peculiar Alex Sandro handball in the box led to a penalty that was converted by Diego Perotti. In the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, the game proceeded into “squeaky-bum” time as Juve held on to their slender lead for their dear lives. But all is well that ends well: 2-1 victory for Juve!
A few days later, the Bianconeri jumped from the league to the Coppa Italia to face Udinese at home. Despite the heavy squad rotation, it was a stroll in the park for Sarri’s men as goals from Higuaín, penalties from Dybala and Douglas Costa, and a stunner from Dybala secured the second 4-0 home victory in nine days.
It was back to the Serie A again for a Sunday evening home game against Parma. A deflected Ronaldo shot put the Bianconeri ahead just before half-time, but Parma equalized a few minutes after the restart thanks to a powerful header by the equally powerful Danish striker Andreas Cornelius. Ronaldo scored his second of the evening just three minutes later to put Juventus back in front though and it turned out to be the winning goal as the Bianconeri won 2-1.
Back and forth we go, as Juventus boomeranged back to the Coppa Italia for a quarterfinal home game against AS Roma. Just like in the league game against the same opponents ten days earlier, it was another early goal blitz that decided Roma’s fate. Goals by Ronaldo, the returning Rodrigo Bentancur, and Leonardo Bonucci in the first half put Juventus in an unassailable position after just 45 minutes. An unlucky own goal by Gianluigi Buffon — after a Cengiz Under shot hit the underside of the bar and bounced in off the keeper’s back — and a flurry of chances by Roma meant that there were some worrying signs of a late comeback, but Juve held on to progress to the semi-finals against Milan.
Juventus left the worst for last though as the final game against Napoli was, well, unpleasant. It was a cagey game until Piotr Zielinski scored from the rebound in the 63rd minute after Szczesny had (unconvincingly?) parried Lorenzo Insigne’s shot into his compatriot’s path. Insigne doubled the home team’s lead in the 86th minute after volleying in Jose Callejón’s cross to put the result beyond doubt. Ronaldo’s late consolation goal was nowhere near enough to salvage a result for Juventus as they deservedly lost the game 2-1 and suffered only their third loss of the season in all competitions.
The January transfer window has gently closed! Juventus is typically not very active during this period and the same was the case for this year’s edition. Let’s see what happened, starting with the officially official transfers.
Emre Can returned to his home country after completing a loan move to Borussia Dortmund. It is a six-month loan deal with the obligation to “definitively acquire the player for a consideration of €25 million, to be paid in three financial years, if given sport results will be achieved in the course of the 2019/2020 financial year.” It’s a shame; I liked Can and I’ll always appreciate his fantastic performance in that remarkable comeback game against Atlético Madrid last season, but I guess things just didn’t work out.
In an effort to revive a steadily fading career, Marko Pjac joined Belgian side Anderlecht on a six-month loan deal. You get the feeling that Pjaca is running out of opportunities to prove himself and breathe new life into his still-young career, so let’s hope this move works out well for him.
Moving on then, Juventus reportedly has retained the right to sign young Italian winger Riccardo Orsolini from Bologna, allowed injury-stricken backup goalkeeper Mattia Perin to rejoin Genoa on loan until the end of the season, and signed exciting 19-year-old Swedish playmaker Dejan Kulusevski for €35 million plus another €9 million in add-ons from Parma (although he will remain at Parma until the end of the 2019-2020 season).
Lastly, we have the rumor mill.
There was talk about a potential transfer of Sandro Tonali from Brescia to Juventus (with the Bianconeri supposedly being in “pole position to sign the shaggy-haired midfielder”), a curious swap deal between Federico Bernardeschi and Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona (though Sarri quickly dismissed these rumors), and another fullback swap deal between Layvin Kurzawa of Paris Saint-Germain (who was supposedly on Arsenal’s radar, too) and Mattia De Sciglio. Juventus supposedly decided to cancel this deal at the eleventh hour because “De Sciglio is valued by first-year manager Maurizio Sarri as a versatile squad member.”
Shoutout: If you haven’t done so yet, make sure to read Danny’s interesting article about Juve’s poor defensive record this season and Hunter’s articles about Blaise Matuidi’s importance to Juventus and the center back conundrum this season for Sarri.
Opposite sides of the spectrum
Full disclosure: I still don’t like Ronaldo. There’s no rhyme or reason to this, but it’s purely personal and I don’t think it will ever change. That said, he has been unbelievably, impossibly good this season. Although not technically in January, he just matched David Trezeguet’s extraordinary record of scoring in nine consecutive Serie A appearances and has scored 22 goals for Juventus in all competitions this season. Despicable haircut or not, that’s remarkable.
Aaron Ramsey, on the other hand, has received some criticism from Juventini for his lack of contributions to the team’s attack. Given that people were already unhappy about the Welshman’s sizable salary while employed by Juventus and his persistent injury problems, patience might be wearing thin for him.
I have faith in Ramsey. What about you?
Before returning to the pitch, Juventus Women also registered a transfer just after the new year. Twenty-one-year-old attacking midfielder Annahita Zamanian, born in England but a dual citizen of France and England, joined Rita Guarino’s side after two years of playing for Paris Saint-Germain. En bocca al lupo, Annahita!
Onwards to the action on the pitch, then, though there were only three games (all in the league) to report this month. The first one was away against Tavagnacco and ended in an easy 5-1 victory. In what has been a rarity for Guarino’s team, they fell behind in the 19th minute but roared back with quickfire goals from Cristiana Girelli (penalty) and Martina Rosucci before halftime, a goal by Maria Alves in the second half, and two goals in three minutes by debutant Zamanian and Valentina Cernoia in the last few minutes of the game.
Next up was another away game, this time against Empoli. It was not quite the goal-blitz as with the Tavagnacco game, but it was still a victory nonetheless. Girelli put Juventus ahead early in the game, though Empoli responded just twenty minutes later with an equalizer courtesy of Arianna Acuti. Thankfully, Cernoia came to the rescue with her second goal in 2020 in the 56th minute. Her goal sealed a hard-fought 2-1 victory at the Stadio Carlo Castellani for Juventus!
Shoutout No. 2: Also make sure to read Danny’s great article that summarized the incredible statistics of Juventus Women’s stellar 2019.
The final game of January saw the Bianconere play their first home game of the new year against Sassuolo. Goals from Girelli — she just keeps on scoring! — and Sofie Junge Pedersen put Juventus in an unassailable 2-0 lead, although an 88th minute goal by Sassuolo forward Daniela Sabatino made for a nervy ending to the game. Nevertheless, a second consecutive 2-1 victory for Juventus to cap a perfect January!
Thanks to RGuarino’s stellar coaching and an impeccable January — 9 goals scored, 3 conceded, 3 games played and 3 victories) — Juventus Women remain where they belong: first place with a healthy six-point lead over joint second-place teams Fiorentina and Milan.