It feels weird to be sitting here just a few short days into January and thinking of Juventus needing to win pretty much all of their games for the foreseeable future. But because they have failed to win consistently over the course of the first four months of the 2020-21 season, that is the kind of situation they now find themselves in as they approach the official midway point of the schedule.
So, knowing the situation at hand, we got our first glimpse of how Juve would handle it.
Through the first 90 minutes ... not bad.
After a slog of an opening half, Juventus licked into gear coming out of the break, getting all-important goals from Federico Chiesa and Cristiano Ronaldo (his second of the day) to push what was a close game up to that point into a relatively comfortable win. The final score read 4-1, and it was a much-needed Juventus win that saw AC Milan go, at least for a moment, 13 points clear at the top of the table right as they were preparing to come out onto the Allianz Stadium field for pre-game warmups.
Milan’s lead is back where it was at when the games restarted in Italy — 10 points.
And, as we know, it is Milan who is next on Juve’s schedule as Andrea Pirlo will make his first trip to the San Siro as a manager on Wednesday night.
With how Pirlo’s former team is playing these days, we know it will be quite the challenge and that Juve will have to shed the herky-jerky nature of their results this season if they want any chance of cutting the deficit in the league table to single digits a few days from now.
But, I’ll pose this question to you all: If the Juventus we saw in the second half against Udinese shows up against Milan, will you be feeling confident at all in Pirlo’s squad coming away with a win in a game they have to win?
The first 45 minutes were what they were — something to forget outside of the Ronaldo opener and VAR coming to bail out a Juve defensive blunder. But the second half was what was truly needed, and because of that we can now say that Juve go into the Milan with a chance at keeping their title hopes alive. That was the saving grace in being so many points back even though it’s still just January — the head-to-head games that are still on the schedule against the two Milan clubs.
The scoreline might say that Juve blew Udinese away, but that’s not really the case. This was a solid win — especially because of what happened in the second half. But with this situation being what it is and Juventus needing points in the worst possible way these days, we can’t exactly be picky. Juventus did what they needed to do first and foremost — and that was to win. And that, my friends, is perfectly OK with me.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Aaron Ramsey not scoring goals from point-blank range — not great!
- That was, in fact, a handball on Rodrigo De Paul. It was also very bad defending by Rodrigo Bentancur and Leonardo Bonucci. Luckily for us, VAR was around to bail both of those dues out and keep Udinese off the scoreboard in the first half, but that’s still a really bad look for a couple of players who are not having very good seasons right now.
- Matthijs de Ligt came back from the holiday break with a beard:
- In this game, de Ligt (and his new beard) was shown a yellow card. It was a crappy call and he didn’t come close to deserving it. Imagine if he had a couple of more yellows to his name and ended up missing the Milan showdown because of it ... there would be rage.
- Udinese hit the crossbar twice in the second half. They had a goal called back because of VAR. We will now be very thankful that most of those 50-50 moments that Juventus haven’t exactly been seeing go their way this season actually did go their way for once.
- I don’t think Paulo Dybala was anywhere close to bad in this game. For the amount of work he did — and, boy, did Udinese get their money’s worth on some of those fouls against him — I feel safe in saying seeing Dybala get a goal in the final seconds was a good thing. But, man, you just continue to see him dropping so deep that it takes away from his greatest asset: his playmaking ability around the goal. Who knows how long Alvaro Morata will be out injured — and maybe keeping him out of this game was more of a precaution as compared to something more serious — but getting Dybala going during this huge stretch would be such a boon for this team.
- A player who was really good in the second half: Federico Chiesa.
- GIORGIO CHIELLINI GOT TO PLAY AND HOPEFULLY HE ISN’T HURT AGAIN BECAUSE OF IT.
- That run from Bentancur on the second goal from Ronaldo is something I would love to see more of from my son. It was him being aggressive on defense and perfectly timing his tackle and then driving forward to provide the assist. As much as he continues to do things that make you shake your head like what happened on the VAR reversed goal, he can also provide that kind of stuff defensively. You just wanna see more of the latter than the former.
- Bentancur led Juve with four key passes, by the way. More of that, please.
- There were a few games during the month of December where Ronaldo’s goals somewhat masked how ineffective he was in a more general sense. This was not one of those games. His goals and his assist were really well taken all the way around. That assist was something that few, if any, other Juve players could pull off. With the way Juve played in the first half, this was looking like the kind of game where Ronaldo would have to will his team to a win. And even though that might not have turned out to be the case, he was damn good no matter what.
- What will it take for Wojciech Szczesny to get a shutout? I am really struggling for answers at this point.
- Alex Sandro was 1 for 7 on his cross attempts against Udinese and that was better than I thought it was going to be. This game was not very good for Juve’s stalwart on the left wing.
- Juventus’ next four games: Milan, Sassuolo, Genoa (in the Coppa Italia) and Inter. That’s gonna be the biggest two-week test this team has seen this season. Buckle up, folks.