July was a physically and mentally punishing month for footballers in Italy and all over Europe. Juventus played an astonishing eight games in 25 days, which amounts to roughly a game every three days. This is significantly less than FIFPro’s — the global footballers union that represents tens of thousands of players all over the world — minimum recommended recovery time for players of five days (which is something that the organization made sure to point out in a recent article).
Nevertheless, after the blood, sweat, and tears from the relentless flurry of matches since the lockdown was lifted, Juventus emerged as it always does: victorious. The Bianconeri secured a remarkable ninth straight Scudetto after a 2-0 home victory over Sampdoria on July 26.
Now then, let’s see what else happened in July.
We started the month with the Derby della Mole at home against Torino. Despite a very bizarre and dubious penalty given for a handball offense by Matthijs de Ligt, Juve ran rampant against a Torino side that, remarkably only had one shot and one shot on target less than Maurizio Sarri’s team all game (19-18 and 7-6 respectively). An early goal from Paulo Dybala and another one from Juan Cuadrado put the Bianconeri ahead before the aforementioned penalty, which was scored by Andrea Belotti, halved the deficit deep into first half stoppage time. Additional goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and (an own goal by) Koffi Djidji sealed a comprehensive 4-1 victory for the home side.
Things weren’t so rosy three days later as Juventus faced a resurgent AC Milan side away from home. A goalless first half was followed by an absolutely blistering second. After storming to a 2-0 lead with two quickfire goals — a wonderful solo effort by the in-form Adrien Rabiot and a goal by Cristiano Ronaldo — Juventus suffered the type of monumental implosion that I haven’t seen in years. Milan smashed in three goals in five minutes thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic (penalty), Franck Kessie, Rafael Leão, and an utterly bamboozled Juventus. As Sarri’s men poured forward in desperate search of an equalizer, Ante Rebic capitalized on an inexplicable Alex Sandro error to condemn Juve to a damning 4-2 defeat.
Next up was the surprisingly title-defining clash against an Atalanta team that has scored truckloads of goals this season. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t stop their scoring record against Juve. A thrilling game that Gasperini’s vibrant side completely dominated somehow ended in a 2-2 draw after the Bianconeri twice came from behind thanks to controversial handball penalties. Goals by Duván Zapata and Ruslan Malinovskiy were canceled out by a pair of Cristiano Ronaldo penalties, the second one of which was scored in the 90th minute of the game.
Another high-scoring game was on display just four days later when Juventus traveled to Sassuolo. Just like against Milan, Juve threw away a 2-0 lead (goals from Danilo and Higuaín) to go 3-2 behind after goals from Filip Đuričić, a cracking Domenico Berardi free kick, and a Francesco Caputo strike stunned us yet again. Thankfully though, Alex Sandro salvaged a point for Sarri’s men through a bullet header late in the game: 3-3.
Another pivotal clash, one that we all had been waiting for, was next:
the battle for capocannoniere the home game against Lazio. After a stalemate in the first half, it was yet another controversial handball penalty that broke the deadlock, with Ronaldo scoring it as always. Ronaldo quickly got his double after Dybala capitalized on an error by the dilly-dallying Luiz Felipe and squared the ball for an easy tap-in for the Portuguese. Leonardo Bonucci seemingly felt bad for Felipe and displayed some real sportsmanship when he committed an inexplicable error of his own late in the game to give away a penalty that was coolly dispatched by Ciro Immobile, Serie A’s rampant leading goal scorer.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was inches away from an equalizer from a free kick strike that pushed Wojciech Szczesny to the limit, but it was too little too late as Juventus secured an invaluable 2-1 victory and, credit where credit is due, a game that Juve actually dominated!
Three points. That was all that was needed to secure a remarkable ninth straight Scudetto in the away game against Udinese. Anddddd ... it wasn’t to be. A misfiring and insipid Juve fell to a 2-1 loss after Matthijs de Ligt’s scorching strike was canceled out by a wonderful diving header by Ilija Nestorovski and a stoppage time winner by Seko Fofana.
Sarri’s men redeemed themselves three days later and completed their stuttering title victory (almost in spite of, rather than thanks to themselves) in the 2-0 victory at home to Sampdoria. It looked like it was going to be another frustrating day as the first half almost ended goalless, until Ronaldo scored from a clever free-kick routine deep into first half stoppage time. Federico Bernardeschi then made sure of the three points — and the title — by scoring his first goal in over a year. Final score: 2-0 and a ninth consecutive title!
The last game of the month was, predictably, a bit of a non-event as Sarri’s men traveled to Sardinia to face a Cagliari side that also had nothing to play for anymore. It was a predictably uninspired showing by the Bianconeri as Sarri took the opportunity to play a few (and fill almost the entire bench with) Primavera players. Cagliari won the game 2-0 thanks to first-half goals by Luca Gagliano and Giovanni Simeone in a game in which, somewhat inexplicably, Juventus recorded a staggering 33 shots (9 on target). Lord knows though that nobody cared about this loss. Why?
Because all eyes are now on the Champions League.
In last month’s review, I talked about the problematic and seemingly stuttering on-field partnership between Ronaldo andDybala. Tactically, it just seemed like it wasn’t working, even though Ronaldo’s 31 goals and Dybala’s 11 goals in Serie A might fool you into thinking otherwise.
But based on the flurry of games in July, I might just have to change my tone a little bit. The two forwards seem to have improved some of the flaws in their partnership and are assisting/working together better as each game progresses. While I still have my reservations over the long-term viability of this partnership — should we not build the team around Dybala? — it was encouraging to see them not get in each other’s way as much and improve the tactical balance between them, especially given that it’s very likely that they will remain the two guaranteed starters for Juventus next season in attack.
Adrien Rabiot is arguably the most (rapidly) improved player for Juventus since the lockdown was lifted. While Hunter put it in far better terms than me in an article he posted last week, I thought that this month’s review would be sorely lacking if I didn’t recognize Rabiot’s rich vein of form in the Bianconeri midfield.
Given that the (dire) state of the Juventus midfield has been one of the most hotly-debated topics of the 2019-2020 season, it’s no wonder that the performances of the fresh-faced Frenchman with the bushy hair stand out so positively. Just like with Rodrigo Bentancur, it has been a breath of fresh air to see another young midfielder step up and take control when his older counterparts have been found lacking (or permanently injured).
If Rabiot can keep up this form, there’s no question that he can, and should, claim a long-term spot as starter in the Juventus midfield.
Running out of time
Federico Bernardeschi is a very likable person. He seems like a down-to-earth guy, loves his dogs, plays instruments, and has a fun social media presence. But just like in the world of romance, being nice doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be successful.
I think many Juventini are getting the lingering feeling that time is running out for Bernardeschi. Alright, he had a few decent performances here and there when he was finally played in his natural position, but have any of them truly lifted us off our feet and reminded us of why we spent €40mil EUR to purchase him from Fiorentina?
With the very highly-rated Dejan Kulusevski joining an already crowded Juve frontline next season, you get the feeling that the pressure on for Bernardeschi.
Time is ticking, Federico ...
I’m on YouTube!
As some of you might have heard, I recently started a YouTube channel to preview my upcoming book ‘You Say Soccer, I Say Football.’ In each video, I give a brief outline of each chapter of my book to give you a better idea of what to expect. Please excuse the erratic/poor lighting in the first video, I bought some softbox lights so that I’ll be better illuminated in future editions.
You can find the first video at this link. Make sure to subscribe!