Over the course of the second half of Wednesday night’s Coppa Italia semifinal, a small group of pigeons started making their way across the screen. I posted on Twitter about it, and the replies I got were pretty much right on point with what I was thinking: These stinkin’ pigeons are a lot more exciting than what we’re all seeing play out on the field.
No amount of virtual fans could save us from it.
Juventus played out the same kind of game that we saw a few days earlier in the Coppa Italia semifinals against Milan. The first 25-30 minutes against Napoli on Friday night were pretty good, with Juve testing Alex Meret at least a couple of times. The rest of it, though? Well, let’s just say that if it wasn’t for Gigi Buffon — yes, all 42 years old of him — doing absolutely classic Gigi Buffon things time after time, this would have been an absolutely Napoli romp rather than something that was decided by penalty kicks.
It was rather fitting that following a second half where Juve looked like they really had no idea how to break down Napoli’s defense that the first two penalties — from Paulo Dybala and ... Danilo — were saved and then skied over the goal. It was the wide open door that Napoli needed to capture the Coppa Italia 4-2 on penalties and extend Juventus’ post-coronavirus shutdown frustration just that much more.
But don’t you worry everybody, there’s now going to be a Serie A fixture every three or four days for this Juve side that looks completely sluggish coming out of the break.
So, we’ve got that going for us.
Which probably isn’t nice at this point.
I joked on Twitter after the game that I could very well just copy and paste the post-game thread from the Milan game a few days ago and there wouldn’t much of a difference. That’s mainly because there isn’t. It was different circumstances in the fact that Juve didn’t have a man advantage this time around, but the way the game played out was very, very reminiscent of what played out in Turin last week. Napoli, like Milan, pretty much dared Juventus to break down its defense — which is something that we expected to happen the second that we knew who the two finalists would be.
Yet, Juventus — outside of a couple of Jose Callejon-gifted opportunities in the first half — couldn’t really do much of anything right. There was the same kind of lack of imagination in the attack as there was against Milan, and so much of Juve’s moves forward ended up with absolutely no kind of final product that it became so incredibly predictable.
It not just allowed Napoli to hang around, but it basically allowed them to dictate the way the game was going to be played. For all the possession Juve had — especially in the opening 30 minutes of the game — you don’t need a second hand to count the number of shots that Maurizio Sarri’s side put on target to test Meret.
Ronaldo, Dybala, Costa, Cuadrado, Bernardeschi. So many individual players who should be capable of making this happen. And instead it's just so drab.— Nicky Bandini (@NickyBandini) June 17, 2020
So, as you can clearly see, the first two games following the Serie A shutdown are going quite well for the eight-time defending champions who now have a Scudetto race to put all of their attention toward. And if they play anything like they have been over the last 180 minutes of game time, then it’s going to be a looooooooong couple of months for everybody around here.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- In case you’re wondering why we didn’t get the privilege of seeing Sami Khedira start in the Coppa Italia final, it’s because he suffered a muscle injury in training on Tuesday and it wasn’t announced until a few minutes after the starting lineups came out. I know you all are disappointed, so feel free to share your displeasure about there being no Sami in the comment section blow.
- The Coppa Italia final gave us the first chance to see digital fans during a game in Italy. And, well, let’s just say that having animated fans that are constantly in motion holding up colors of the Italian flag while there is absolutely no crowd noise at all is a little awkward. A little distracting, too.
- However, the was this: An empty Olimpico provided the perfect place for Gigi Buffon’s booming baritone voice to carry so damn well. I know I said it last time and I will say it again: If there’s any kind of positive of no fans in the stadium — besides, you know, preventing another massive coronavirus outbreak — it’s the fact that we get to hear the players communicate when in normal circumstances we’d hear next to none of it.
- The one penalty shootout thought I had (besides the obligatory cuss words thrown at my television as things unfolded): It’s so on brand for Danilo to have the worst penalty attempt of the day. It was just so ... Danilo.
- I don’t even want to think about what the final score would have been if Buffon didn’t make the saves that he did in this game. It would have been very, very bad.
- And of course the best save Buffon made in the game would have never been necessary if Federico Bernardeschi didn’t dribble out of bounds and give Napoli a corner kick for free.
- He’s 42 years old and he’s still putting this team on his back when he plays. It really is remarkable what Buffon (STILL) brings to this team whenever he’s out there. And maybe the fact that playing time has been nowhere near as consistent as years past makes it even the more impressive. He’s eternal, and I love him so much.
- Miralem Pjanic ... annonimous.
- Blaise Matuidi ... annonimous.
- Rodrigo Bentancur doesn’t deserve this. He’s Juve’s best midfielder and it isn’t even close.
- The gulf in quality between the midfields Juventus and Napoli each threw out there was never so apparent than in the second half. As one team took control of the game, the other just faded away. Perfect, right?
- I don’t really know what else to say about this one, folks. It was bad, and I don’t think there’s a whole lot to take out of it other than the fact that Sarri is going to be under a whole lot of pressure to get this thing turned around before the likes of Atalanta and Lazio arrive on the schedule next month. Do I think that will happen? Hell, I really don’t know, but it’s not like games and performances like the last two are really inspiring a whole lot of faith for the next few weeks. I know the situation is one where we shouldn’t have the same kind of expectations as we might have had in February and March, but still, you want to see this team do at least a few things right rather than looking completely out of sync.