In a season that doesn’t really make much sense at all, it is very fitting that the second game after a three-month layoff due to the coronavirus outbreak in Italy will be with a trophy on the line. That just seems to fall in line with what this season has become — totally unpredictable, logic and everything thrown out the window and a global pandemic causing everything to be turned upside down except for a few things in our lives most weeks.
Or maybe our new reality is a new normal.
I don’t know. I’m just out here trying to not get coronavirus, man.
But I digress.
The second post-coronavirus suspension game just so happens to be the first chance for Juventus to win a trophy in the 2020 calendar year. The last time Juve had a trophy on the line six months ... well, we won’t go into the specifics of that one. Hell, you probably don’t want to remember the last time Juventus and Napoli played one another at the San Paolo in late January. But, with a trophy on the line, Juve will look to do it against one of the sides in Italy that is truly a bad matchup for the eight-time defending Italian champions.
Encouraging, ain’t it?
OK, so maybe not so much. That just tends to happen — yes, even with the current situation where tempering expectations and reactions to how the team plays might be the best because there’s been over three months between serious game action.
Was Juve’s return to the field not very good in the overall sense? Well, yeah. After the first half hour, as Maurizio Sarri said afterward, things just fell off the level from where Friday’s return to action started out. The first parts of the match were encouraging, but we’ve said that plenty of times before this season even though the overall picture of things aren’t as easy on the eye as many of us had hoped.
Maybe it’s a good thing that there’s been two Coppa Italia games right out of the gate just so Sarri can see where his squad stands coming out of the restart of play.
Or maybe what we saw against Milan was a reminder after three months without games that this Juventus squad is just what it is and its previous showing — you know, that win over Inter in Turin right before the shutdown — was more of an aberration rather than a sign of major progress despite the fact we’re 3 1⁄2 months removed from it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is exactly what I said just a few days ago in the preview for the second leg of the semifinals against Milan: I don’t know what to expect from this team.
The difference between the Milan and Napoli is that we know they’re coming off a very good showing in its return to the field rather than knowing full well the opposing team is going to be far from full strength (even before a red card happens). Napoli looked very good, and Rino Gattuso’s side advanced to the Coppa Italia final in the same kind of fashion as it recorded its win over Juve back in January.
That is why this matchup is different in a way from what we saw Juventus face a few days earlier. Napoli will look to counter Juve just as Milan did, and Sarri’s side will almost certainly be the team that has more of the possession. But, what Napoli can do is what Milan failed to do — and that’s actually make Juventus pay on the counterattack.
If Juventus can take Napoli out of its game, then the chances of winning the Coppa Italia will become that more possible. But, if Juve look more like the squad that lost to Napoli five months ago, then it will be a disappointing Coppa Italia final and rather than returning to Serie A action with some good vibes, Sarri’s squad will be left licking their wounds a little bit.
Just how Sarri approaches this will be interesting as all hell. Why? Because the games are going to come with Douglas Costa-like quickness starting next week, and there’s a major fight for the Scudetto that’s coming along with it.
- Pretty much everybody you would expect to be called up has been called up for the Coppa Italia final. That includes Giorgio Chiellini, Merih Demiral and a coupe of guys we’re about to talk about.
- Gonzalo Higuain and Aaron Ramsey — who both missed Friday night’s semifinal against Milan — were called up for the Coppa Italia final, but Sarri added this on their respective statuses “Gonzalo didn’t take part in the group session, whilst Aaron trained for 20 minutes with his teammates. Let’s see if it will be available for a part of the game.”
- A couple of lineup predictions, courtesy of the Italian press: Sami Khedira will step in for Miralem Pjanic with Rodrigo Bentancur playing as Juve’s regista, while Danilo will maintain his starting spot at right back ahead of Juan Cuadrado. Take these as you will.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
OK, fine. I’ll bite. It’s this guy:
That is quite the photographic representation of how Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to the field went on Friday night. It was, essentially, a lot like the player we saw before he hit a rich vein of form and took off in early December and took it right up until the coronavirus shut everything down. You know, that whole stretch where you might or might not have been injured and then got subbed out in a Champions League game in Russia. Yeah, all of that.
So, yeah, the knee jerk reaction to one so-so showing isn’t exactly the right path to go down. And going all crazy over one single player not playing all that well — or the entire team as a whole — probably isn’t the most productive thing to do knowing the current circumstances and how long this team had to wait to play another game.
However, if there ever is an exception to what I pretty much said I don’t want to try and do, it’s probably applying the opposite line of thinking to Ronaldo. Why? Because it’s Ronaldo.
Friday’s return to the field wasn’t great for Ronaldo. It was pretty much the opposite of what we saw from him during the first 2 1⁄2 months of 2020 when he was on a complete tear and scoring goal after goal after goal and went from all the pundits (again) wondering if he was starting to show what most players show in their mid-30s — signs of age. Then he took off and everybody who was questioning him was suddenly praising him with the usual glowing words that we’ve been accustomed to.
I don’t doubt that it will click again for Ronaldo because he has shown — even in his still-relatively short time with Juventus — that he can go from 0 to 100 real quick in terms of his form. We’ve seen it before and, until further notice, we’re going to be seeing it again. That’s not any kind of gut feeling, really. That’s just me looking at the recent past and how Ronaldo can click things into gear.
It’s just a matter if when that happens.
And if Juve want to win the Coppa Italia this season, it wouldn’t hurt it Ronaldo being Ronaldo again clicks into action on Wednesday night in Rome.
When: Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 8 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 3 p.m. Eastern Time; 12 p.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: ESPN, ESPN Deportes, RAI Italia North America (United States); RAI Italia North America (Canada); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); RAI Uno (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+, WatchESPN, ESPN Deportes+ (United States); FloSports (Canada); BTSport.com, BT Sport app (United Kingdom); RAI Play (Italy)
Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.