Through three post-lockdown Juventus games, there’s good news and bad news for Maurizio Sarri’s squad.
Naturally, let’s start with the bad news. After 270 minutes of play, the Bianconeri have scored a single goal from open play. This is a team with a forward widely regarded as one of the best of all time. This is a team with an offensively minded coach whose reputation for innovation in attack in the country is well established. Yet despite these accolades, the attack has looked wholly insipid, not to mention unproductive.
Here’s the good news, and I wouldn’t blame for not dwelling on it too much: Matthijs de Ligt is the club’s most in-form player. Through those same 270 minutes, this defense hasn’t conceded a single goal. And yeah, of course, part of that record is due to some Gianluigi Buffon heroics, but de Ligt is finally becoming the player we always knew he was going to be.
Let’s revive the Landmarks of Turin.
Nietzsche’s Horse Award
For the player whose play demonstrated an insanity indicative of a serious decline in form.
Let’s open up a can of worms: Cristiano Ronaldo has not made Juventus better. He has arguably made Juventus worse.
There are two points I think demand attention when making a claim like that. The first is the recognition that Ronaldo has already had two different managers, and more importantly a roster that is not particularly suited to his playing on the left wing. I.e. it’s no wonder there are names like Arkadiusz Milik floating around, because a big physical forward — ahem, Mario Mandžukić — can create havoc and room in the center of the pitch to allow Ronaldo the space he needs.
But here’s the other point: if Ronaldo is as good as he’s supposed to be, why does he need to be coddled with X manager and Y roster in order to be a dominant (or even positive!) influence on the game?
Ronaldo was pretty awful against Bologna. He missed multiple chances he should’ve converted; he moped; he gave away at least one extremely awful turnover that sparked a pretty threatening Bologna counter-attack (after which he failed to track back and help erase the mistake).
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
For the first time in a long time, Federico Bernardeschi started a game and played well. The Italian has had a few shining moments in his career — à la last year’s second leg vs Atletico Madrid — but in the few moments he’s had to shine under Sarri he has been frustrating, lackluster, and unproductive.
That changed against Bologna.
No. 33 led the team in key passes, including an assist on Paulo Dybala’s heat-seeking top-corner missile, registered two dribbles, and also put in a sturdy defensive shift, tying the team lead with tackles and generally pressing opponents well.
Is this performance going to single-handedly change the fact that we’re probably seeing his last season in a Juventus uniform? No. But does the club still need a flexible attacker like Fede? Definitely.
Every side is going to need depth at every position in this last push to end Serie A, and given Douglas Costa’s health history having someone like Bernardeschi available is going to be vital.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the most valuable man.
De Ligt and Leonardo Bonucci looked nearly impenetrable, and considering how attack-minded Bologna were for most of the game that’s pretty darn impressive. I realize we’re not exactly dealing with Atalanta or Lazio here, but Bologna have scored 38 goals in league play — that’s six more than seventh-place Milan, by the way — and have some talented attackers, like a guy we know quite well in No. 7 Riccardo Orsolini.
What’s more, Juventus spend a fair amount of energy pushing both fullbacks so high up the pitch that the center backs are left at least relatively exposed a fair amount of the time. That hasn’t mattered recently with de Ligt and Bonucci at the back. The pairing has simmered like a fine bolognese, too, with the strengths of each starting to mesh, de Ligt’s physicality and aggression with Bonucci’s distributive acumen.
For years Juventus were used to an ironclad defense led by Giorgio Chiellini. For much of the first half of this season, that characteristic looked like a historical fact for the club. But the young Dutchman is very quickly brining back a scary-good Juventus defense. And with crucial games ahead against Lazio and Atalanta, that’s going to be crucial.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that a 2-0 win against Bologna has suddenly made me Mickey Mouse optimistic about this club. The penalty was pretty soft, even if it was the correct call, and it opened up Bologna in a way that certainly played to Juve’s advantage.
But right now, I’m happy to have three points. I remain skeptical of this squad, doubtful of this manager, and flabbergasted at Fabio Patrici’s approach — but let’s not allow Lazio to win the Scudetto.