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December’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: (In)consistency

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Phew. An extraordinary, tumultuous year has finally come to an end. What a year it was...

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FC Barcelona v Juventus: Group G - UEFA Champions League Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

One of the biggest complaints from Juventini (and even Andrea Pirlo himself) is the lack of consistency shown by the team this season. Comfortable victories in the Champions League are quickly followed by insipid draws (and even losses) in the Serie A. So the word of the month (and season?) is just that: consistency.

Did Juve close off the rollercoaster year of 2020 with some semblance of consistency then? And what else happened in December? Let’s find out.

Relentlessly inconsistent

The first game of the month saw Juventus play Dynamo Kyiv at home in its penultimate game of the Champions League group stage. Pirlo’s men played one of their best games of the 2020-21 season, as they comfortably outplayed the visitors. A fantastic headed goal by Federico Chiesa put the team 1-0 ahead early in the game, although they waited until the second half to put the game beyond the shadow of a doubt. Two goals in less than ten minutes by Cristiano Ronaldo and the in-form Álvaro Morata sealed the deal and sealed an easy victory for Juventus. Ideal preparation for the massive game in Spain on Matchday 6 against Barcelona, a game that would decide who topped Group G.

But first, the Derby Della Mole against Torino. It started off in comprehensively terrible fashion as Nicolas Nkoulou put our city rivals 1-0 ahead in the ninth minute. Torino thoroughly frustrated Pirlo’s men for the majority of the game thanks to great defensive shape and discipline and, of course, Juventus’s profligacy. The Bianconeri thought they had scored a crucial equalizer when Juan Cuadrado’s piledriver of a shot went past a crowd of players and into the back of the net, only for football’s most irritating invention VAR to correctly rule the goal out for offside on Bonucci (who was interfering with the play).

Juve wouldn’t be denied a second time though as the (disallowed) goal scorer turned provider; a wonderfully lofted cross by Cuadrado was headed in by Weston McKennie, the first American to score for the Juventus men’s team! Cuadrado continued his crossing perfection by laying on the second goal for Bonucci in the 89th minute: another perfect cross and another perfect header. They left it late, but at the end of the day it was yet another Derby Della Mole victory for the Bianconeri: 2-1!

Juventus v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

As erratic as Juve were against Torino, it was all past news when the showdown against Barcelona was on the calendar. We had to win either 3-0 or by any two-goal margin besides 2-0. It seemed nigh-impossible but then again, it always seems impossible until it’s done. Realizing the gravity of the situation, the Bianconeri flew out of the starting blocks with a goal in the 13th minute after Cristiano Ronaldo earned and scored a penalty after a brilliant bit of footwork by Aaron Ramsey started the move. The goal of the season game came just seven minutes later through McKennie. After a nice passing sequence by the visitors, Cuadrado lofted yet another phenomenal cross into the path of the onrushing McKennie, who scored a stunning bicycle kick to put Juve 2-0 ahead before halftime!

Juve needed just one more goal to seal top spot in Group G and even though Messi Barcelona forced Gianluigi Buffon into a few saves from time to time, they were mostly routine, unspectacular saves. The crucial breakthrough came early in the second half after a clumsy handball by Clement Lenglet gifted Juventus another penalty. Ronaldo stepped up again and, as (almost) always scored from the penalty spot to seal his second and Juve’s third goal of the game: 3-0!

Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Barcelona were inches away from pulling a goal back but were denied by the woodwork as Antoine Griezmann’s cleverly lofted header clipped the top of the bar and went out of play. Juve thought that it had scored a remarkable fourth goal through Bonucci, but his goal was correctly ruled out for offside after a VAR check. That was all the action for the day as Andrea Pirlo secured arguably his biggest win as Juventus manager with a monumental 3-0 victory and top spot in the group!

The Bianconeri were eventually drawn against FC Porto for the Round of 16 fixture.

After the sugar-high that was the victory at Camp Nou, it was back down to earth for an away game against the Juventus B team Genoa. Would there be yet another Champions League hangover? It seemed so for part of the game, but thankfully Juventus just about avoided embarrassment at the Luigi Ferraris. The majority of the game was a gritty stalemate as it took 57 minutes for the first goal to be scored. Paulo Dybala picked up a perfectly cushioned header by (the in-form!) McKennie, slalomed his way into the box, and tucked away a tidy shot into the bottom corner. Remarkably, it was Dybala’s first league goal of the season in what has been an extremely difficult season (and calendar year) for him.

Even more remarkably, Genoa equalized a few minutes later through a goal that was very much made in Juventus. Marko Pjaca passed to the on-loan Luca Pellegrini, whose cross was impressively volleyed in from a tight angle by Stefano Sturaro. Thankfully, Ronaldo sealed all three points for the visitors in his 100th appearance for the team through two late penalties, the first earned by Cuadrado and the second by Morata. Final score: 3-1.

There’s barely any time to breathe for the players this season as games are coming thick and fast. Juventus hosted Atalanta a mere three days later in what ended up being a fascinating draw. Federico Chiesa’s first Serie A goal in Juve colors was a peach of a strike, but it was cancelled out thirty minutes later by Remo Freuler’s equally brilliant goal. It was an eventful draw as both sides peppered the opposition goalkeepers with shots (and horrendous backheel attempts) and could very well have scored two or three goals each.

Ronaldo had the chance to earn Juventus all three points from the penalty spot in the 61st minute, but he did something that he hasn’t done in a long, long time: miss a penalty. Goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini guessed the right way and comfortably saved the spot kick, thus ensuring that the game ended 1-1.

Juventus FC v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Alberto Gandolfo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As has been a recurring theme this season, you never know if you’re going to get an inspired or dire Juventus performance from game to game. Thankfully, we saw Juve’s sunny side in the subsequent game against Parma at the Ennio Tardini stadium. The team was in irresistible form as Pirlo’s men scored two goals in three minutes early in the first half; first by former Parma winger Dejan Kulusevski and then through an imperious header by Ronaldo after a great cross by Álvaro Morata. Ronaldo, responding to a recent dip in form with a fantastic game here, doubled his tally with another goal early in the second half. Morata then turned from provider to scorer after heading in a wonderful cross from Federico Bernardeschi. A wonderful conclusion to the Bianconeri’s biggest Serie A victory of the season: 4-0!

To answer the title of this month’s review though, Juve proved with the final game of 2020 that they are simply one big basket of inconsistency. It was utter chaos in the home game against Fiorentina, as Cesare Prandelli’s men ran riot at the Allianz Stadium. Dušan Vlahović shocked the home side with a breakaway goal in the third minute, but the real turning point in the game came when Cuadrado’s yellow card was turned into a red card after a VAR review deemed that his dangerously high tackle was worthy of (yet another!) Juventus sending off.

Despite outshooting La Viola, 10-man Juve rarely looked like scoring at any moment of the game. Alex Sandro deflected a cross into his own goal in the 76th minute (after seemingly being surprised by Bonucci’s failure to clear said cross) and, to compound the misery, once-upon-a-time former Bianconeri defender Martín Cáceres rounded off a Fiorentina counter-attack to score the third and final goal of the game: 3-0 and we’re once again left scratching our heads regarding what on earth we’re supposed to expect from this erratic Juventus team.

Hot or not?

Even though the team’s form was all over the place, Juventini were treated to some stellar individual performances in December. McKennie’s stock has skyrocketed after his crucial equalizing goal against Torino, stunning bicycle kick goal against Barcelona, and flurry of fantastic, energetic performances in other games. To recognize his wonderful form, McKennie was named U.S. Soccer Men’s Player of the Year, beating the likes of Christian Pulisic and Sergiño Dest to the award.

Returning from injury with the might of a thousand burning suns, Matthijs de Ligt has been absolutely imperious. It’s hilarious to think of how many people criticized him and Juve for what a foolish signing he supposedly was and how overrated he was when he suffered so much during the start of his Juve career last season. Oh how things have changed. He even showed off his fantastic passing array in the 4-0 victory over Parma.

Meanwhile, many people have (rightly) complained about the complete mess that our fullback situation was at the start of the 2020-21 season. Juan Cuadrado’s incredible form, however, is a big reason that this situation didn’t become an unmitigated disaster. Juanito has racked up assists, provided pinpoint crosses, and kept the right side of defense locked up. Not only that, but I also cannot understate how useful his versatility is to the team, as his ability to play essentially everywhere on the right side of the pitch continues to be an incredible asset.

I’m just going to conveniently forget about his utterly unnecessary and stupid red card against Fiorentina, arguably the only blemish on what was otherwise a phenomenal month for the Colombian.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-JUVENTUS-BRESCIA
Rabiot: “Now what in the hell is he doing...?”
Photo by ISABELLA BONOTTO/AFP via Getty Images

Unfortunately, though, the man who has struggled the most this season is, without question, Paulo Dybala. Despite Pirlo giving him ample opportunity to regain fitness and form, La Joya has not come remotely close to hitting the heights of his potential (only one goal so far in the league). I still believe in him — and he has people around him that support him 100 percent — but with Morata and Ronaldo scoring goals at a relentless pace, Dybala has a very high standard to match. Tick tock; the arena is a clock.

Juventus Women

While Juventus Women had a less grueling schedule than the men’s team, their games were no less important. First up was a tricky away game against Napoli in the league. Rita Guarino’s team fell behind in the 39th minute through a Sarah Huchet goal, but the ladies fought back and secured victory through two late goals from Maria Alves and Cristiana Girelli (penalty): 2-1.

As Danny wrote in his post-game thread, the Bianconere were agonizingly close to a stunning result at home in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 32 against Olympique Lyonnais, the world’s best team. Juventus went ahead twice against the French side, first through a Lina Hurtig header and then after Hurtig’s cross was deflected into her Lyon’s goal by Kadeisha Buchanan. But Lyon fought back admirably both times, first thanks to a penalty goal by Wendie Renard in the first half and then through a Melvine Malard goal in the second. They completed the turnaround in the 88th minute when Saki Kumagai scored a late winner to give her side a crucial edge (and invaluable third away goal) in the fixture: 3-2 in favor of the French side.

Juventus Women v Olympique Lyonnais Women - UEFA Women’s Champions League Round of 32: First Leg Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Next on the calendar was another home game, this time in the league against AS Roma. Most of the action happened during a 25-minute burst in the first half: Goals by Cristiana Girelli and Linda Sembrant put Juventus 2-0 ahead early in the game, only for Annamaria Serturini to halve the deficit a few minutes later. Girelli then restored Juve’s two-goal lead, getting her second goal of the game, in the 36th minute. Roma tried to battle back during the remainder of the game but the Bianconere finally killed things off in the 89th minute thanks to a Hurtig goal: 4-1.

The final game of the month saw Guarino’s team accept the mammoth task of trying to overturn a 3-2 deficit in the Champions League away against Lyon. They needed to win by any two-goal margin or a one-goal margin with at least three goals scored (to at least force extra time). Alas, it wasn’t to be as Lyon had clearly learned from their mistakes of the first game.

An early goal by Dzsenifer Marozsán meant that Juve had to score at least three goals to go through, thus forcing the team to take a lot of risks. It was a valiant attempt, but these risks were eventually punished as Lyon scored two goals in the last two minutes of the game through Melvine Malard and Janice Cayman. The final score was 3-0 but Juve bowed out of the Champions League with their heads held high and with their sights set on winning the (soon-to-be granted professional status) Serie A.

Sidenote: Make sure to check out World Soccer Talk’s review of my book and the interview about my book on the “Soccer Down Here” podcast!