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June’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: Back to (ab)normality

After three long months of shutdown and quarantine, football in Italy has returned!

Gonzalo Higuain of Juventus FC celebrate after scoring a... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

We’re back!

The return of football is good for many reasons, but one of the most important for me is that I finally have Juventus-related news to talk about in my monthly reviews! Because as much as I like talking about myself and the philosophical side of football, I think most of the readers come here to read about Juventus.

Football in Italy (and most of Europe) resumed in June, so let’s review the most important events that happened this month.

Back at it again

Juventus resumed play in the Coppa Italia with the second leg of the semi-final against AC Milan at the Allianz Stadium. It was, as expected, a diabolical affair and poor performance by the Bianconeri. There were, quite embarrassingly, barely any notable events to speak of from that match, except for a missed penalty by Cristiano Ronaldo (or was it a Gianluigi Donnarumma save?) and a kung-fu kick red card for Milan’s Ante Rebic early in the match. It ended 0-0 and Maurizio Sarri’s men progressed to the final thanks to the luck of the away goal rule (1-1 on aggregate).

The Bianconeri faced Napoli in the final of the competition and it was, quite impressively, an equally poor performance. Although Juventus showed a few flashes of life here and there and forced Napoli into some errant play at the start of the game, Rino Gattuso’s side were impeccable defensively for the remainder of the encounter. It was a very cagey match as Juventus was unable to find an inch of space in Napoli’s defense/midfield while our opponents, except for Insigne’s wonderful free kick that struck the post and a chaotic goalmouth scramble in the last minute of the game that resulted in Buffon palming a ball onto the post, also had little success in attack.

The game went to a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw in normal time (no extra time was added, per the new (temporary) rules). After penalty misses by Paulo Dybala and a particularly woeful one by Danilo, Napoli won the shootout 4-2 and were worthy winners of the 2019-2020 edition of the Coppa Italia.

Players of SSC Napoli celebrate with the trophy during the... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Juventus returned to happier times in the Serie A with an away game against Bologna. Once again, it wasn’t a great performance, although much improved from the aforementioned two games. A Ronaldo penalty and Dybala curler (after Federico Bernardeschi’s wonderful backheel assist) — both in the first half — were enough to settle the game early on, although a slightly bewildering Danilo red card and (yet another!) Mattia De Sciglio injury meant that the Bianconeri found themselves without recognized fullbacks (as Alex Sandro is still recovering from his own injury).

Defensively, though, the Leonardo Bonucci-Matthijs de Ligt partnership continues to thrive in the injury-plagued absence of captain Giorgio Chielini. Elsewhere on the pitch, Rodrigo Bentancur was, once again, fantastic in midfield and Bernardeschi also impressed upfront (the wonders of playing someone in his correct position!). Still though, the nagging feeling remains that Sarri is not getting the best out of what really is an embarrassment of attacking riches. Nevertheless, the final score was 2-0 in favor of Juventus, a much-needed confidence boost after a challenging return to action after the three-month lockdown.

Juventus were back at home a few days later against relegation-threatened Lecce. The visitors were put into an almost insurmountable position after 31 minutes though when Fabio Lucioni dilly-dallied on the ball and allowed Rodrigo Bentancur to dispossess him close to goal. The defender then fouled the Uruguayan and, given that he was deemed to be the last man, was sent off by the referee.

Although Lecce weathered the storm until half time, the floodgates opened after the break. A pearl of a goal by Dybala (after Ronaldo capitalized on another mistake in the Lecce defense) was quickly followed by a Ronaldo penalty goal and two late goals by Gonzalo Higuaín and de Ligt. A thumping 4-0 victory and finally — finally! — a good performance by the Bianconeri.

Juventus continued its upward trend in form with a convincing 3-1 victory away at Genoa. Once again, a goalless first half was followed by a flurry of goals in the second half. This time, they were all magical goals as a marvelous solo goal by Dybala (should Mattia Perin have done better?), a thundering strike by Ronaldo (who also continued his improvement in performances), and a fantastic curling shot by Douglas Costa were enough to secure yet another victory for Sarri’s men. Remarkably, Andrea Pinamonti’s consolation goal in the 76th minute, caused by a the rare defensive lapse in concentration by Bonucci, was the first goal Juventus had conceded five-and-a-half games.

A great way to end the month and continue the march towards an extraordinary ninth consecutive title!

Juventus v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

The Ronaldo-Dybala conundrum

As Hunter wrote about in his excellent piece a few weeks ago, there continues to be lingering problems with the illustrious but “already-clunky partnership” between Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala. Hunter described two aspects of this tactical conundrum in his article:

“Sometimes when Ronaldo tracks back a midfielder will fill the space he vacated, and then if Juve lose possession and the opposition mount a counter-attack then Ronaldo is absolute deadweight in defense, and we’ve already lost a player who would’ve been defensively productive (i.e. the theoretical midfielder who made an offensive run to fill Ronaldo’s vacated space).

A second problem is the opposite case of the same scenario: Ronaldo, who is still very good with his passing, doesn’t have anyone make a good run or fill the space, and all his tracking back accomplishes is a touch back to de Ligt or Bonucci.”

The fortunes of both players were starkly different in June. Dybala had a series of excellent performances, which is all the more impressive given that he was one of the Juventus players to test positive for COVID-19 and the reports of how physically draining this was for him. Ronaldo, on the other hand, has huffed and puffed and continued to display his horrendous haircut and, barring an impressive performance in the 3-1 away victory against Genoa on the last day of the month, has been poor since the restart.

Meanwhile, Ronaldo’s impact on Juventus continues to be a point of heated debate (hey Hunter!), one that is made even more controversial because there’s the strong argument that we should be building the team around Dybala instead of the showboating Portuguese (oh hey again Hunter!). For now though, the Dybala-Ronaldo partnership continues to be a hit or miss pairing for Juventus that is frustrating many and pleasing few.

Genoa CFC v Juventus Fc - Serie A Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images

Player swap

The biggest transfer news to occur in June was, without a doubt, one of the worst-kept secrets in town. Arthur Melo of Barcelona joined Juventus for a reported €72 million (plus add-ons) while our much-maligned Miralem Pjanic joined Barcelona for €60 million (again, plus add-ons). Both players will join their new employers when the current season ends.

As Sergio aptly noted in Episode 9 of the amazing, brilliant, stellar, phenomenal Old Lady Speaks Podcast, the fact that one of the first and most discussed aspects of this transfer is the financial/creative accounting element of it — the transfers were important and necessary opportunities for both clubs to tinker with their respective balance sheets — rather than the sporting aspect really says it all. Even though both players are excellent at what they do, it seems like the tactical/footballing impacts of Arthur and Pjanic were afterthoughts, which is quite unfortunate.

“The pleasure of sports has been diminished by its commerciality.”

— Michael Sandel

Nevertheless, the overall consensus seems to be that Juventus have emerged victorious from this deal. Arthur is the younger player with more room for development, while Pjanic joins a rapidly aging side that finds itself in significant turmoil at the moment.

Above all, I’m grateful for the time that Pjanic spent at Juve and the supreme professionalism he has displayed during his time at the club. He has always been a wonderful person, great role model, and, despite a recent decline in form, excellent player.

Grazie Mira. In bocca al lupo!

Juventus Women

As we all know, the Serie A Femminile was also suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But as the footballing/governmental authorities have allowed men’s football in Italy and across Europe to resume, nobody really knew what was going to happen to women’s football. So the players waited patiently until an official decision was made.

Juventus U19 v AS Roma U19 - Viareggio Women’s Cup
“Will anybody tell us what is going on?“
Photo by Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Eventually, the FIGC decided to end the season and announce Juventus as champions of the 2019-2020 season. They finished nine points ahead of joint second-placed teams Fiorentina and AC Milan with six games left to play and, thanks to this triumph, have recorded their third consecutive title.

The 2020-2021 season will start on August 22nd in order to give the national team time to prepare for Euro qualification matches.

But the biggest victory for Juventus, and the rest of the league, was achieved off the pitch. After intense lobbying efforts (especially from Juventus captain Sara Gama), the FIGC ruled that starting in the 2022-23 season, the league will finally become a professional one. This has tremendous financial ramifications, as our friends at Chiesa Di Totti explain:

“For Roma (and the league as a whole), this could be a game changer. As it stands right now, clubs are forced to operate under a quasi-salary cap that limits player salaries to €30,000 and total wage bills to roughly €800,000, though there was some slight wiggle room in those figures.

But, free from those restrictions, Roma should not only be able to pay their own players more, but will soon have extra bargaining power when it comes to competing for talent with the other top leagues in the world.”

Serie A clubs will now be able to attract better talent from foreign leagues (like the NWSL) and actually be able to offer competitive wages, while players will also not have to obtain part-time jobs to supplement their income. It truly is a game changer for women’s football in Italy and the industry as a whole meaning that this story is, without a doubt, the best news to occur last month!