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February’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: No More Joy

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I’m not going to tip-toe around this one: the situation and atmosphere around Juventus has become utterly joyless.

Olympique Lyon v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Photo by Erwin Spek/Soccrates/Getty Images

Lifeless. Uninspired. Lethargic. Unwatchable.

Those are just a few “tip-of-the-iceberg” words that I could use to describe the current state of affairs at Juventus. Things are painfully bad at La Vecchia Signora’s headquarters and even I’ve reached a boiling point about the team that I’ve loved and called mine for over 15 years.

The funny thing is that I’m generally an apologist. “Just be patient.” “One bad game does not equal a crisis.” “Just because you read on Twitter that it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean that it’s actually, you know, the end of the world.”

But the Lyon loss, regardless of if we turn it around or not, was the final straw for me. As I wrote in the aftermath of that game, even though I’m still a Juventus fan, I’ve lost the joy and emotion of being a Juventino.

Anyway, before I wander off into some misguided poetic rant about life, football, and romance, let’s just talk about the month’s action on the pitch.

The Ball Is Round

February was the typical Juventus month: somewhat acceptable results but insipid performances.

It all started optimistically though with a strong 3-0 victory over Fiorentina at the Allianz Stadium. Cristiano Ronaldo scored two (VAR-inspired) penalties in the 40th and 80th minute of the game after a handball in the box and a foul on Rodrigo Bentancur to halt the Uruguayan’s weaving run into the Viola box. Matthijs de Ligt then scored his second goal in Juve colors in the 91st minute to make sure of the result and secure the three points, though Fiorentina had a few big chances throughout the game and probably should have scored at least one of them.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse just six days later though, as Juventus traveled to the beautiful city of Verona to face Hellas Verona. After taking the lead in the 65th minute through a beautiful team goal finished by that boy Ronaldo, Verona hit back in remarkable fashion. First, Fabio Borini capitalized on a Miralem Pjanic error to equalize ten minutes after going behind and then, in what has been an almost infallible season thus far for him, Leonardo Bonucci made a rare error when he strangely handballed in the box from a Verona corner. Giampaolo Pazzini scored the subsequent penalty to make it two former Milanisti to score against Juventus in the same match and thus condemn the Bianconeri to a deserved 2-1 loss after an abject performance.

To rub salt in the wound, Douglas Costa was subbed off in what has to be the 9,001st injury of the Brazilian’s career.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus FC despairs during the Serie A... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

It was one appalling performance after the other, this time away at the San Siro to face Milan in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final. Milan dominated the entire game which, in fairness, it wasn’t difficult to do against a team playing such atrocious football. Milan went ahead just after the hour mark as the in-form Croatian striker Ante Rebic fired a powerful volley just out of Buffon’s reach and into the back of the net.

The home side looked to be on their way to a deserved 1st leg victory when VAR incurred the wrath of the nation (and howls of referee bias and conspiracy theories) by awarding Juventus a penalty in the last minute of the game for a very, very, very harsh handball on Davide Calabria. Ronaldo converted the spot kick, the match ended 1-1, and all of Italy is still seething with anger at the apparent injustice. Not to mention that Theo Hernández was sent off for two bookable offenses as well...

The next game was, thankfully, a walk in the park. Juventus welcomed Brescia to the Allianz Stadium and rested Ronaldo for the occasion. Brescia basically did the hard work for Juve after Florian Ayé was sent off in the 37th minute for two yellow cards in quick succession. Dybala scored from the subsequent free kick and then Cuadrado sealed the deal in the second half by scoring the team’s second goal. An easy 2-0 that was made all the easier by the early red card.

Paulo Dybala of Juventus FC during the Serie A match... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

The busy month continued with a trip to Ferrara to face bottom-of-the-table SPAL. An exquisite bit of teamplay between Ramsey and Cuadrado sent the Colombian speeding away down the line and resulted in him laying the ball on a platter for the onrushing Ronaldo, who scored in his eleventh consecutive Serie A appearance. Ramsey turned from (quasi) provider to goalscorer in the second half, after a silky run and wonderful pass by Dybala put the Welshman through on goal. The Juventus midfielder still had much to do though and, anticipating a dive by the goalkeeper, placed an exquisite chip over him and into the goal!

As usual though, Juventus loves to find a way to make life difficult for themselves. Daniele Rugani committed what seemed to be a marginal foul in the box and, after a (typically) lengthy VAR delay (this one made worse by the somewhat comical technical problems the system was having), SPAL were awarded the penalty and (the ridiculously large) striker Andrea Petagna duly scored it. Despite a nervy ending and some very heavy SPAL pressure at the end of the game, Juventus held on to their slender lead and went home with all three points: 2-1.

Last, and probably the least of them all, was the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 fixture against Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon. Frankly, and given that we recorded a grand total of zero shots on target, I have essentially nothing to say about this game. Lyon defended resolutely, scored a decent goal through midfielder Lucas Tousart in the 31st minute (in what was their first of two shots on target all game), and Juventini all over the world were subjected to watching an utterly abject and emotionless performance by their beloved team. And to think that Klopp told the joke of the century when he said that he believes that we’ll win that cursed competition this season...

Olympique Lyon v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images

Miralem Pjanic: “Would you love me again?”

Part of Juventus’ poor form can be attributed to Miralem Pjanic’s horrendous run of form. The Bosnian linchpin has had a dramatic fall from grace in the last few months as he has failed to dictate the play and launch attacks from the center of the pitch.

This is all the more important because of his role in the team: starting and building attacks and providing that regista-esque creativity from deep. Is this merely a temporary blip, a consequence of the team’s overall poor form, or an inevitable decline in form as the Bosnian enters his 30s?

Whatever the case, it’s clear to see that Pjanic is struggling ... badly. It’s up to Sarri to either bench him (and make the ambitious change to play Bentancur in that role?) or change his position (which I think might be a bit too much). Something has to change, though.

And fast.

Juventus Women

A day before her fabulous speech at the TEDx Torino conference, Rita Guarino traveled with her team to Santa Lucia to face Florentia. Unfortunately, the game ended goalless as Florentia successfully stifled the league leaders’ attacking efforts.

Perhaps the frustration of that game got under the players’ skin, because in their next game — the first leg of the Coppa Italia quarter final against Empoli — they went out all-guns-blazing. A hattrick by Andrea Staskova, a header from captain Sara Gama, and goals by Annahita Zamanian and Linda Sembrant secured a phenomenal 6-0 victory for the team.

Next up was the Derby D’Italia between Juventus and Inter. Much to my/our delight, it was yet another thrashing, this time 5-1 for Guarino’s team. (Glad to see that Juventus’ stratospheric superiority over Inter is maintained with both the men and the women.)

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Women Serie A Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Barbara Bonansea put the team 1-0 ahead just before the break, but the floodgates really opened in the second half. Valentina Cernoia scored the 2-0 ten minutes after half-time before Regina Baresi cut the deficit in half in the 72nd minute. Cristiana Girelli then made it 3-1 from the penalty spot and, in the dying minutes of the game, Linda Sembrant and Girelli (again) scored to cap a wonderful day at the office and an emphatic 5-1 victory.

Juve finished the month with yet another convincing victory, this time away at Verona. Goals from Tuija Hyyrynen, Cristiana Girelli, Sofie Junge-Pedersen, and Andrea Staskova secured an exciting 4-0 victory and allowed them to enjoy a comfortable nine point lead at the top of the table!

Modern day football “is broken beyond repair”

Quick shout out to Chief Football Writer for the Independent newspaper Miguel Delaney for his phenomenal two-piece report in which he outlines the staggering increase in financial and sporting inequality in European football over the last few decades. It’s a humbling read that outlines just how relentlessly and ruthlessly unequal the game has become.

Coincidentally, I’m writing a chapter in my upcoming book on the same subject matter so I’m very grateful to Miguel for the additional insights. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

“In the same way as in the global economy, the rich are able to accumulate and accumulate. In the absence of redistributive systems – in the form of taxation on benefits or whatever – the poor are getting poorer, even in the richest countries.”

David Goldblatt