As a youth, me and my brother used to play a fantasy tactical role-playing game called Fire Emblem.
In that game, you would control your little army of fantastic heroes as you maneuvered the playing field and wiped out the opposing army. Because it's an RPG, your players had strengths, weaknesses and different weapons that would influence whether you could take you opponent down. For example, if your character had a sword, you’d lose out against enemies with lances, but beat characters who had axes and so forth.
Whenever you’d face an enemy, depending on your weapon, abilities and level a screen would pop up, telling you how much damage you would inflict, how much you would receive and the odds of the attack being successful or not. A big caveat of the Fire Emblem games is that if you lose one of your characters in any level the character is gone for good, no respawns no nothing. So even if you pass the level, sometimes it’d be better to start from scratch if you lost an important unit.
This wrinkle made me and my brother extra careful when playing the game as we usually played in the safest possible way as to avoid losing any characters. Any attack with a chance below 70% was deemed too risky, because if you missed your hero would immediately be in mortal danger.
Even playing in this ultra-conservative approach, sometimes you’d get screwed by the computer getting lucky and getting two or three super low percentage hits on you and ruining your perfect strategy. As kids we were certain that the computer was cheating whenever this happened.
“The guy had a freakin 20% chance, HOW?! Is he getting a hit?!”
However, if you look at it from a straight up math perspective, just because something is not likely to happen, it does not mean that it won’t happen. After all, a 20% probability means the the event will happen two out of every ten chances. Considering we played the game non-stop, the evil minions we were up against were going to get one over us eventually.
(Full disclosure, I replayed the game while in lockdown and despite the cool, calculated approach I just mentioned above, I’m pretty goddamn sure the game is indeed cheating.)
So, speaking about low probability events. Juventus can technically win the treble! It's true — they are still alive in every competition that constitutes said treble, and until they are either knocked out of the cup competitions or are mathematically unable to reach first place in the league the probability still exists.
How likely is it to happen though? Well, according to stats site FiveThirtyEight — a website notorious for never messing up when it comes to important predictions or projections — Juventus currently has a meager 3% chance of winning Serie A and an even smaller 1% chance of winning the Champions League. There’s no Coppa Italia odds, those might be higher, but let’s face it the important ones are the ones above.
(Fun fact, they give my beloved Puebla FC the same 3% chance of winning Liga MX this season. YOU GOTTA BELIEVE, BABY.)
The way they come up with these numbers is very complicated and you can find it here, if you are so inclined. I’m sure that if you are also inclined you could poke holes in their process for getting said numbers, but for the purposes of this article they kinda work as a frame of reference and to understand how damn unlikely it is that Juventus can turn their season around.
But, as we stated above, just because it's unlikely it does not mean it's impossible. Here’s how Juventus can become the proverbial weak henchman that gets lucky and make this a season to remember.
As of the writing of this piece, Juventus trails season leaders Napoli and AC Milan by 14 points — which is, well, a lot of points. In fact, it’s so many points that their destiny is very much not in their hands as they have to go on a run for the ages and hope that the top teams start dropping points ASAP.
Let’s talk about their rivals first. We don’t have to imagine how an AC Milan collapse looks like as we saw it last season. Milan very much looked like the team to beat for most of the first half until injuries and a turn in form sent them tumbling down from the title race. A redux of that is not necessarily out of the question.
Napoli is a whole other beast. Led by Luciano Spalleti, Napoli has looked formidable in the first half of the season, and upon first glance they seem to have no obvious weaknesses. But, if you’re looking for straws to grasp, one could always look at the bench, where Napoli is thinner in depth than you’d expect. The Partenopei are competing in the Europa League, so they do have European matches to worry about and while I’m sure that when the crunch comes they will put all their marbles in the domestic competition basket, that does not mean they can simply forfeit their continental compromises. A couple of ill-timed injuries or turn in form here and there — especially to a guy like Victor Osihmen — and the southerners are just not deep enough to sustain that for a long time.
So, that’s the first scenario sorted, now what does a Juve turnaround look like? Things are already looking bleak as it appears that a number of players will come back from international duty banged up, but let’s pretend that they all recover quickly and don’t miss any significant time.
To start, any Juve turnaround hinges on Wojciech Szczęsny continuing to look like the guy we have seen the last month and not the walking mistake that we saw in September. Giorgio Chiellini and Leo Bonucci stumble upon the fountain of youth — or HGH — and manage to finish out the year without any notable injuries as Matthijs de Ligt takes a step forward and fulfills his potential establishing himself as the best defender in the team and one of the best in the world.
Daniele Rugani sees the field in garbage time only and is not terrible.
(Already this feels far fetched.)
Alex Sandro continues his revival under Max Allegri as he looks as lively as ever when he’s a bit more free and does not have to shoulder all the defensive duties of the left flank and Danilo continues to over-perform his initial expectations and is solid the rest of the way.
Allegri ditches the great Adrien Rabiot as a winger experiment and finally lets Federico Chiesa and Juan Cuadrado loose on the wings as the two wide players wreak havoc on opposing defenses and turbo charge the offensive side of the game as Federico Bernardeschi becomes a super sub, filling out for whenever either of the two starters need a break. He somehow plays himself into a contract renewal that is agreed upon by everyone as being pretty fair all things considered.
Not even in this wild scenario do I think that suddenly the midfield becomes elite, but in this hypothetical, Allegri rides Manuel Locatelli and whoever turns out to be most in form at the moment of the hydra of Weston McKennie, Rodrigo Bentancur and Rabiot.
By the end of the year, McKennie builds on his current form and becomes a suitable midfield partner for Locatelli who has to — unfortunately — rest here and there. To fill the gap Arthur and ... Nicolo Rovella make serviceable replacements. In this dream world, Rovella is recalled early from his loan spell at Genoa in January to the big leagues where his youthful vibes and work rate become an X-factor in the Juve midfield. Aaron Ramsey is sold to a wealthy Qatari club who can afford his wages in the Winter transfer window and he makes the team better in the ultimate example of addition by subtraction.
Paulo Dybala puts his injury troubles behind him as he stays healthy for the remainder of the year and rediscovers the form that made him earn the No. 10 shirt for Juve. After 3,456 flights and meetings he and his agent finally sign a contract extension. Alvaro Morata is more hot than cold and whenever he has a dip in form, Moise Kean and Kaio Jorge prove to be good enough to shoulder the frontman responsibilities.
Juventus convincingly beat the Maurizio Sarri led Lazio in the penultimate match day to take the lead in the table over a crumbling Napoli, before winning at Fiorentina in the last week of the season to complete a comeback for the ages. As they celebrate in Firenze, Dusan Vlahovic gets swept up in the moment and signs a pre-contract agreement with Juventus for next season.
The great/worst thing about cup competitions is that you’d be shocked how many times teams who are not considered to be the best on paper end up winning.
It’s the nature of the game, when everything can be decided over a two legged tie, so much can go wrong or right for one team or the other, that luck plays a huge factor in deciding who moves forward. So, it’s actually a lot simpler to make up a scenario in which Juventus manages to finally lift the evasive trophy.
The first step is getting a point at Stamford Bridge after the international break, securing a first place finish and getting a good draw for the Round of 16. That favorable draw ends up being whoever ends up in second place of Group G, so it's either RB Salzburg, Wolfsburg, Lille or Sevilla.
I know Juve has a checkered history with playing the role of favorite, but in this dream scenario, Juventus is rolling and easily dispatches the Group G representative to be named later.
After that, Juve manage to get some of that good old fashioned mid-decade Real Madrid luck in the draw, as they get seeded in the weak side of the bracket and avoid the heavy hitters with favorable matchups on their way to a final appearance where they face ... Paris Saint-Germain.
Now, of course PSG is the toughest test of all, but in a weird way it’s also a good matchup for Allegri’s Juventus as the French squad is a super offensive side with a questionable backline. The Bianconeri pitch the football equivalent of a perfect game in the final, with Chiellini and de Ligt locking down the mighty PSG attack. They both get gashes on their heads and need to be bandaged in the middle of the match, in a literal passing of the baton of legendary Juve defenders.
Chiesa and Dybala combine for a couple of brilliant moments to score twice against the run of play and when its all said and done, the mighty superteam has been defeated by the plucky Italian underdogs as captain Chiellini lifts the most prestigious trophy of his club career and retires as one of the winningest Juve players ever.
Gianluigi Buffon is around as he celebrates with his former teammates. It’s cool but sad at the same time.
And there you have it, that’s how Juventus wins the treble in the year of our lord 2021-2022 ... oh, wait, right the Coppa Italia.
Hmm, I guess the easiest scenario is they get Serie B sides all the way to the final where they beat, I dunno, Roma? Yeah, sure, Roma, that makes Jose Mourinho upset as he blows up, loses the locker room and gets shipped out of Italy yet again.
Now, are these scenarios, likely to happen? No, but wasn’t it nice to live in a fantasy world where they might?
And look, like I said above, until they are officially out of all competitions the motto has to remain YOU GOTTA BELIEVE, BABY.
See you Saturday.