Juventus’ Champions League loss to Lyon last week was the most alarming, disheartening, and deflating loss I have seen from the Bianconeri in recent memory.
We have all known for some time now — months, probably — that there is something seriously wrong with this team. Fully diagnosing the problem is, of course, another matter, but the brokenness of the club in its current expression is beyond palpable; it’s ever-present, oppressive. From the 6-2 thrashing at the hands of Lazio over two games in December to the lifeless 2-1 loss at Verona, from the complete lack of any semblance of “Sarrismo” to persistent questions at every unit, this is not a great Juventus team, nor a great team in Europe at this moment in time.
Here is what was so alarming about the loss to Lyon: Juventus did not lose because of a tactical blunder, Juventus did not lose because Lyon was more talented, and Juventus did not lose because of dumb luck.
Juventus lost because there was no grinta, no fino alla fine, no desire to win. And that is a very, very foreign and strange thing to see from a Bianconeri side.
Juventus are a goldfish among sharks in foreign waters
After beginning 2020 in vaguely promising fashion, Juventus have done the following since the end of January: lose to Napoli 2-1, lose to Verona 2-1, barely escape at the San Siro with a 1-1 draw against Milan, and lose to Lyon 1-0.
The hardware that is realistic for Juventus to bring home this season is in exact reverse order of their desire. The Coppa Italia looks winnable, Serie A is within grasp but will be a dogfight until the end, and the club’s Champions League aspirations are about as realistic as my dog sparking up a conversation with me this afternoon about The Brothers Karamazov over a cup of Earl Grey tea that she brewed herself.
The 1-0 deficit to Lyon is surmountable. Juventus are the superior side in terms of talent, and as bad as Juve have looked recently the Bianconeri should still be considered the favorite to go through on the return leg in Turin. As we saw in France, Cristiano Ronaldo is still playing at a high level and is capable of rescuing this side on many nights. Over and over, in fact, we’ve seen either him or Paulo Dybala (or, on occasion, someone else) save points, but that is a recipe that only works against mediocre competition.
Beyond that, though, what realistic path to Champions League glory is there? Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Barcelona are objective favorites right now over Juve. And I personally would hate to see us face really any of the other sides still with some modicum of a chance (PSG, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, Atletico Madrid).
The Champions League should no longer be a serious objective this year by Juventus fans.
Domestic bliss (is not a thing happening right now)
Lazio might just be the prohibitive favorite in Serie A. Certainly their date with Atalanta next week in Bergamo is going to tell us a hell of a lot about Simone Inzaghi’s side, but for all intents and purposes they are humming along with ease. They’ve got arguably the best midfield in the league, they’ve got a searing Ciro Immobile, and they conspicuously don’t have a defense with the same types of leaks we’re used to seeing from the Biancocelesti. In fact, through 26 Serie A games this season they’ve conceded just 23 times; Juventus have conceded 24 goals in 25 Serie A games.
There’s also this: Lazio crashed out of both European football and the Coppa Italia. For Juventus, such a scenario wouldn’t really (in my opinion) enhance their domestic play too much, because the Old Lady is built with startling depth. But Lazio (and Inter, for that matter) can’t afford such depth, but now Lazio don’t have to. They’ve got their eyes glued to a single prize, and decisive matches left against Atalanta this weekend and Juventus later on.
In the Coppa Italia, Juventus were extremely lucky to leave Milan with a 1-1 draw. Assuming a victory this week in Turin (which is obviously not a guarantee the way things are going right now), Juventus would meet either Napoli or Inter in the final. Another winnable game that would be a difficult game.
At the end of the day, what the loss to Lyon (and Verona for that matter) signals is that, unlike in the first several months of the season when Juve were playing poorly but still pulling out wins, this side might now drop points to teams clearly not as talented. Fixtures against mid-table sides are gimmes no longer. Fixtures against bottom-dwellers don’t even seem like gimmes.
Perhaps some will say that I myself am not displaying fino alla fine; that’s fine. It’s not my job to do so; that’s the job of the players, the job of the manager. The near future of this club looks murky at best. Ronaldo is 35 years old with two years remaining on his contract, yet the club has preposterously embarked on a so-called “three-year” project without, so far, making sensible moves to commit to that direction. Management can’t have it both ways (a three-year project in addition to a “win-now” mentality with Ronaldo), but they’re acting like they can
Thing are a mess in Turin right now.
This is the tipping point of the season. From March until May things can go one of two ways: better or worse. The former of those options might still not be enough to keep Maurizio Sarri around, might still not be enough to justify the squad as it is currently composed. But realistically a domestic double would probably maintain the status quo, and in some ways, I fear that scenario more than I do the total failure. A domestic double would almost surely entail the continuity of an aging, discombobulated roster with a manager who has publicly stated he is struggling to convey his ideas a full seven months into his tenure. Juve were extended a serious lifeline when the match against Inter was delayed until May (just look at the schedule Inter end their season with), a break when they needed it most, but the road ahead does not get any easier even so.
The latter of those two possibilities — things getting worse — would surely be a failure of epic proportions, but maybe a building crumbled to the ground would give the team room to build a surer foundation for the future.