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August’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: Disintegration

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It’s finally over, ladies and gentlemen. The tumultuous 2019-2020 season has finally come to an end.

Juventus Turin v Olympique Lyonnais - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 second leg Photo by Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images

It’s over.

The rollercoaster 2019-20 season, one that lasted for over 12 months and was thrown upside down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has ended. While the final league table looked the way it always does — Juventus as Scudetto winners for the ninth consecutive season — we all know that the Bianconeri’s season was thoroughly sub-par.

But there’s little time to rest. With the next season set to begin in less than three weeks time, there’s no time to mourn what feels like a lost season.

We must move forward.

Over and Out

Given that the season was wrapped up last month, there wasn’t much action on the pitch. The only games to report were home games against Roma and Olympique Lyonnais. The first game was a dead-rubber as neither team had anything to play for — Juve were Scudetto winners and Roma had already secured fifth place and a spot in the Europa League for next season. Unsurprisingly then, the teams played as if it was a training exercise and heavily rotated their sides, while also resting several first-team players. Juventus played in particularly lackluster fashion despite going ahead early in the game thanks to a clever goal by (the outgoing?) Gonzalo Higuaín.

Don’t forget to check out our 2019-2020 season review ratings of the Juventus players and manager!

Roma hit back quickly thanks to Nikola Kalinic and a Diego Perotti penalty after a clumsy Danilo foul in the penalty area. Perotti secured all three points with another goal in the 52nd minute as the game ended 3-1 in favor of Roma. Even though the game was played at half the intensity by both teams, it was yet another loss for the Bianconeri, one that wrapped up a dire run of form since the post-COVID restart.

Then came judgment day at The Allianz Stadium: the second leg of the Champions League Round of 16 against Olympique Lyonnais. After the appalling performance and subsequent 1-0 loss in the first leg, Juve had a mountain to climb in the second leg. Alas, the game started in hugely controversial fashion. After yet another farcical instance of the uselessness of VAR — it truly has been God’s gift to humanity, hasn’t it? — Lyon somehow were awarded a 12th minute penalty for a puff of wind hitting Houssem Aouar an alleged Rodrigo Bentancur foul. Memphis Depay scored by means of a Panenka penalty to put Rudi Garcia’s men 1-0 ahead, meaning that the Italians needed to score three times without reply to progress.

Memphis Depay (C) of Olympique Lyonnais celebrates after... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Juve’s reply to going down early was, in fairness, very admirable. A majestic, dazzling solo run by Federico Bernardeschi was halted inches away from the goal line, leaving the Italian winger desperately close to a heroic equalizer.

They say that two wrongs don’t make a right, but they sure make for yet another instance of VAR incompetence. In the most inexplicably unfair display of a handball offense, Depay was penalized for trying to protect his crown jewels with his hands during a Miralem Pjanic free kick. Even though there was no way the Dutchman could have ever kept his hands clenched any closer to his body, the referee awarded the penalty which Cristiano Ronaldo duly converted to level the scoring in the 42nd minute.

Ronaldo, seemingly the only Juventus player remotely bothered to put in a good performance that night, then fired Juventus into the lead after blasting a scorching shot past Anthony Lopes in the 60th minute. Juve smelled blood and cranked up the pressure as they desperately searched for a third goal.

Alas, Higuaín and Leonardo Bonucci missed absolute sitters (both headers) in the second half, the former after some marvelous wing play by Ronaldo and the latter after a Bernardeschi corner kick. Ronaldo, by far the best player on the night, somehow replicated the wastefulness of his colleagues by also missing an easy header from a corner kick a few minutes later.

Juve huffed and puffed as time ran out, even throwing on Paulo Dybala in a desperate attempt to score a third goal. However, to sum up the misery of the occasion, the 2019-2020 Serie A MVP had to be withdrawn just fifteen minutes later after aggravating a muscle injury (similar to how Diego Costa had to be withdrawn just nine minutes into the 2014 Champions League final against Real Madrid).

Juventus won the game 2-1 but lost the tie on away goals, once again prematurely crashing out of a competition that, to be brutally honest, it is at least another five years away from winning.

Juventus v Olympique Lyon - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Desperate times, desperate measures

The biggest event of the month was the sacking of Maurizio Sarri and the shock appointment of Andrea Pirlo as new manager of Juventus less than a day later. I’ve made my thoughts on this move abundantly clear on the podcast and I’ll repeat it here: I think the club and management has completely lost its way and has no long-term vision/plan. I think this move is more romanticism than it is pragmatism, which is why I’m very concerned about the future of this illustrious club. (My good friend Sergio Romero very much disagrees, though.)

That said, Pirlo is one of us now (again), which means that I’ll give my 100% support to the scruffy-haired maestro as he ventures into what is a brave new world for him.

And a brave new world for all of us.

Forza Pirlo!

Juventus Press Conference Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Money, money, money

Given that it has been such an unusual season, it’s no surprise to see that it has been/will be an extremely unusual offseason as well. The most notable transfer moves last month were the departures of Blaise Matuidi (contract terminated, after which he joined David Beckham’s Inter Miami in Major League Soccer) and the acquisition of Juve’s first ever American player Weston McKennie, signed on a loan with option to buy.

There were also rumors of the Bianconeri terminating the contracts of Higuaín and Sami Khedira. If these are true, then it means that not only are we receiving no money for the departure of three players, but we also have to pay off the remainder of their contracts. The latter two in particular were on huge wages, €6 million per season for the German and €7.5 million net per season for Higuaín.

Juventus’ finances are already extremely suspect, which is why I was very unhappy to hear that we couldn’t even get a few million euros transfer fee for Matuidi (especially because it sounds like that was the most amicable departure of them all). Moreover, while Khedira would probably struggle to stay fit for even half of next season, one could argue that Higuaín, the highest earner of the three, could probably still do a decent job at Juventus for one more season; so why not let his contract run out and use his services one more season?

On the other hand, given that both Khedira and Higuaín have only one year remaining on their respective contracts, is the marginal difference between letting their contracts expire in 2021 (i.e. paying them one more year of wages) and paying the money to buy out/terminate their contracts this summer large enough to justify making such a big fuss about it? You tell me ...

Other than that, we had the following transfer news to read about:

Juventus Women

One season ends, the other begins. After the 2019-20 Serie A Femminile season was prematurely ended due to the pandemic, Juventus Women didn’t have much to do for a few months. That all changed at the end of August, though, as the 2020-2021 season kicked off for the women!

Hellas Verona Women v Juventus - Women Serie A Photo by Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Just like the team always did last season, Juventus outplayed their opponents — in this case, Hellas Verona away from home — and recorded a comfortable 2-0 victory courtesy of two quick-fire goals in the second half. The first came in the 53rd minute from a Cristiana Girelli header and, just three minutes later, the goalscorer turned provider as Arianna Caruso scored from an (accidental?) Girelli assist. Easy game, easy life.

It was no easy game, and certainly no easy life at all, a week later at home against Empoli. In a blockbuster of a match, the Bianconere had to come from behind and score a stoppage-time winner to beat Empoli 4-3. Barbara Bonansea opened the scoring in the 13th minute, but Juventus were quickly pegged back by goals from Arianna Acuti and Elisa Polli.

Bonansea then grabbed her second goal of the game to level the scoring just 2 minutes after Juventus fell behind, after which Cristiana Girelli capped off a dizzying 6-minute spell of football by putting Rita Guarino’s side 3-2 ahead from the penalty spot in the 58th minute. Three goals in two minutes, but there was still more to come at Vinovo.

Empoli scored a penalty of their own in the 85th minute through Cecilia Prugna, but Juventus had the final word as the referee awarded the home side the third penalty of the game deep into second-half stoppage time. Girelli finished a remarkable evening of football by scoring from the spot and giving Juventus the victory in the second league game of the season.