A few days before the Juventus-Lyon game, Danny asked me what my lede would be if the Bianconeri were ousted by the Ligue 1 side later in the week. I thought for a second: too many options. Ultimately, though, I hoped I’d be able to avoid the issue by watching Juve cruise past Lyon and into to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
As you know, this was not what fate had in store. So here are three different possible ledes, a kind of choose-your-own-miserable-adventure:
- If Lazio (and Inter Milan) had not face-planted after the restart, Juventus would be headed into the offseason without a trophy.
- In back-to-back years with Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus have been bounced from the Champions League by Ajax and Lyon. (This is a depressing fact, I realize that. At the same time, though, it’s kind of hilarious and really, really makes me laugh a kind of Joker-mad laugh.)
- Juventus lost this game, not the ref.
Each is as disheartening as the last. You’re welcome.
At the end of the day, the bizarre decisions from referee Felix Zwayer were important but not decisive. Call me old-school, but I’m of the conviction that you can’t blame the referee for the ultimate outcome 99.9 percent of the time — and this game falls into that majority.
Despite going down 1-0, an equally bizarre second penalty and a moment of sheer brilliance from Ronaldo’s left foot brought Maurizio Sarri’s men within inches of victory. In that position for some time, the Bianconeri fired blanks. Ronaldo missed a wide-open header. Leonardo Bonucci missed a wide-open header. Gonzalo Higuain missed a wide-open header. The chances were there; the players failed to take them.
If anyone would like to stomp their foot and blame the referee, I suppose there’s nothing I can do about that. But this Juventus didn’t win, they didn’t deserve to win, and had they won I’m not sure how far they would’ve gone in the rest of the competition. But the time for season postmortems is not quite upon us, so let’s talk about Lyon.
Nietzsche’s Horse Award
For the player whose play demonstrated an insanity indicative of a serious decline in form.
Congratulations to our versatile, volatile Colombian friend Juan Cuadrado for having one of the weirdest games I can remember in a while. He didn’t make any egregious, egregious mistakes — well, I remember at least one pretty terrible turnover in the defensive zone that Lyon squandered, so let’s just call it an even one egregious mistake — but he looked absolutely panicked in possession and distribution.
My wife and I have taken a lot of early-morning walks over the last few months, because our apartment complex (thankfully) sits right on some trails and a pretty decent chunk of green belt in Austin, Texas, and when we go out — usually around 7:30 a.m. or so — we often run into these small rabbits. When you turn a corner on the gravel pathway into the sightline of one of these creatures, they flip out. They don’t just bolt in one direction and leave you. Sometimes they scurry one way, then another, and finally just dart head-first into the heavy brush.
That was Cuadrado.
Customarily when Cuadrado is deficient in some regard defensively or with his creation, he still maybe gets some good penetration in the final third or logs a few dribbles. That was not the case against Lyon. There was not a single instance of him slicing through with a careful run or directly attacking a defender with the dribble. Maybe he had some strange instruction from Sarri not to help out offensively, but I kind of doubt that.
If I were in a more generous mood, I’d give Alex Sandro an award for his performance on the left side of the pitch, which was pretty vintage Sandro. Sure, his crosses leave a lot to be desired much of the time, but he was defensively solid and attacked defenders the way that Cuadrado usually does. A fine performance. He’s not the first, second, or third player I’d get rid of on this team as we move into transfer season.
The Shroud of Turin Award
For the player who was never really there.
Gonzalo Higuain has scored literally hundreds of goals in his illustrious career, and he doesn’t quite get the attention he deserves for how damn good and lethal he has been over the last decade. Such, I suppose, is the case in a golden age of strikers.
But Pipita did not show up against Lyon in the least.
The best you could say for Higuain was that there were a few times when he held up the ball in an acceptable manner. He drew one or two free kicks, etc. But a striker is not on the field merely to hold up the ball and draw a couple of free kicks for Ronaldo to knock into the opposing wall .(Forgive me if I don’t slobber in praise for Cristiano getting the one free kick over the wall; I have higher standards of slobbering.) Strikers are supposed to score goals and create chances; Pipita did neither.
What’s more, shortly after halftime the Argentine looked absolutely gassed. His pressing was fine at some points, but then completely absent at others. He whiffed a pretty fine opportunity with the header. He was not just not great; he wasn’t good at all.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the only reason Juventus were anywhere near victory against Lyon. With Paulo Dybala out of the starting lineup and off the pitch after just a few moments as a substitute, the global icon of CR7 had to put this team on his back. And, for the most part, he did, not only burying the penalty but launching a left-footed rocket into the corner of the net to give his team some hope.
But this has been the damn problem all year long: Juventus have survived almost solely on the individual, ephemeral brilliance of Ronaldo and Dybala. That is not a recipe for great success. To this point, the club has not figured out to any degree how to successfully combine the greatness of the pre-Ronaldo Juventus with the greatness of Ronaldo. And they’re running out of time to make that happen.
Ownership has a titan task in front of it. There are units with glaring needs, quite a handful of players who should probably not play again wearing this kit, and an aging core. Now there’s the matter of replacing Sarri with Andrea Pirlo — a risk in every sense of the word, and something we’ll surely be talking about until the new season begins. He’s got a hell of a job in front of him, and only a few weeks to get started.
No matter what happens in the future, this season is one for the books.
As Porky Pig says, “That’s all, folks.”