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November’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: Creative Accounting

Juventus has the honor of being one of the lowest-scoring teams in the Serie A. What’s going on?

Juventus v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

I’ve joked on the podcast and in the comments section that I feel like every week I’m forced to completely change my verdict of Juventus. One week we play brilliant games against Zenit and Lazio, and then a few days later we get embarrassed against Chelsea and are toothless against Atalanta.

Let’s hope my monthly recap is more coherent and consistent than Juve’s erratic form on the pitch. At this point, it’s hard not to be.

Fizzling out

Speaking of Zenit, Juve started the month with a Champions League group stage game against the Russians in Turin. It was one of Juve’s best performances of the season, certainly in the second half when the Bianconeri thoroughly outclassed Zenit.

Paulo Dybala opened the scoring in the 11th minute after pouncing on a loose ball in the box from a corner and unleashing a wicked left-footed shot but Zenit equalized 15 minutes after a bizarre own-goal by Leonardo Bonucci. He tried to clear a Zenit cross with his head, but the header ended up looping over Wojciech Szczesny into the back of the net.

Juve really came to life in the second half. First, the team got a penalty in the 58th minute, which Dybala shot wide of the post, but, luckily for him, the referee ordered a retake of the penalty after a few Zenit players had encroached into the area before he took the shot. Thankfully, La Joya didn’t make the same mistake twice and put Juve 2-1 in front from the spot.

Federico Chiesa scored Juve’s third goal after a quick counterattack and Álvaro Morata put the finishing touch on the game after latching onto Dybala's through ball and finishing low past the goalkeeper. Although Zenit grabbed a second consolation goal through Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun in the 92nd minute, it was still an easy game and convincing performance: 4-2 final score and Juve qualify for the Round of 16 with two games to spare!

Juventus v Zenit St. Petersburg: Group H - UEFA Champions League Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Next up was the difficult game against high-flying Fiorentina. Led by the superstar striker Dusan Vlahovic, La Viola have sustained their remarkable start to the season that has put them in contention to qualify for at least one of the three European competitions next season. (Yes, the Conference League is still real.)

It was a surprisingly cagey affair for most of the game as both sides struggled to test the opposition goalkeepers. Things got interesting in the 73rd minute when Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic was deservedly sent off after picking up a second yellow card due to persistent fouling.

Juve struggled to make the numerical advantage count, however, and had to wait until the 91st minute to break the deadlock. Former Fiorentina player Juan Cuadrado scored through an ever-so-lightly deflected shot to give Juve a hard-fought 1-0 victory.

From one tough game to the next: Juve traveled to Rome to face Lazio, a team coached by former Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri. Just like against Zenit, the Bianconeri had one of its best performances of the season, although much of that was probably because Lazio was missing its star player Ciro Immobile due to injury. Nevertheless, Max Allegri’s side won the game 2-0 thanks to two penalties. Since Dybala was injured and missed the game, Bonucci took and scored both penalties (excellently!) in the 23rd and 83rd minutes of the game.

Leonardo Bonucci player of Juventus, during the match of the... Photo by Vincenzo Izzo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Alas, all good things come to an end and Juve was brought crashing down to earth a few days later in the Champions League. Allegri’s side traveled to London to face Chelsea in a game that would effectively decide which team was going to top spot in the group. In typical Allegri fashion, he set out the team to play for a draw (which would have been enough to secure first place). Unfortunately, though, the performance was a disaster.

Thomas Tuchel’s side thrashed Juve 4-0 thanks to goals by Trevor Chalobah (who has the new handball rule to thank for his goal), Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Timo Werner. Besides a heroic goal-line clearance by Thiago Silva a few minutes after the opening goal, Juve were completely and utterly invisible in attack. A disastrous loss that reminds us that, despite the occasional flashes of inspiration (e.g. against Lazio and Zenit), this team is still thoroughly mediocre.

The mediocrity continued in the next game against fellow Champions League hopefuls Atalanta. Once again, Juventus had nothing positive to show in attack as it lost the match 1-0 after Duván Zapata scored the game’s only goal in the 28th minute. Those faint hopes of a top four spot continue to fade with every passing week...

Before traveling to Campania to face last-placed Salernitana, the Bianconeri received the terrible news that star player Federico Chiesa sustained a thigh injury and will be out injured until just after the New Year. But the show must go on, as they say, and it did go on as Juventus finally returned to winning ways by beating Salernitana 2-0. It wasn’t pretty — honestly, when is it? — but goals from Dybala and Morata were enough to secure all three points and put a tipsy-turvy month behind us.

Juventus Women

November was a big month for the Bianconere, as it had games in the Serie A, Champions League, and Coppa Italia on the calendar. The team first traveled to Genoa to play Sampdoria in the league. Valentina Cernoia scored a late goal to give Juve a tight 1-0 victory and maintain its 100% start to the league campaign.

The tough game against Samp was good preparation for the even more challenging Champions League game against Wolfsburg at the Allianz Stadium. Cristiana Girelli opened the scoring midway the first half after beating the offside trap, collecting Arianna Caruso’s inch-perfect pass, and powering a left-footed shot past the goalkeeper. Wolfsburg equalized just three minutes later though thanks to a stunning Lena Lattwein goal.

The Germans then went one better by taking the lead in the 65th minute through Tabea Wassmuth and looked to be heading for a hard-fought three points in Turin. Thankfully, Girelli rescued a point for Joe Montemurro’s side after Andrea Staskova’s low cross went past a host of Wolfsburg defenders and found Girelli at the back post who easily scored from a few yards out. Final score: 2-2.

Juventus v VfL Wolfsburg: Group A - UEFA Women’s Champions League Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

From one competition to the other, as Juve played Lazio at home in the Serie A a few days after the dramatic draw with Wolfsburg. Thankfully, this game was a little less nerve-wracking as the Bianconere thrashed the Romans 5-0: goals from Agnese Bonfantini (twice), Lina Hurtig, Lisa Boattin, and Amanda Nilden helped the team to victory.

The Lazio game was just the type of preparation we needed for the next crucial game in the Champions League, which was the away game against Wolfsburg. Win this game and, as Danny very aptly put it, we have the chance to make things very interesting in Group A of the competition.

And Juventus sure did rise to the occasion. A stunning 2-0 victory thanks to a fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on who you ask) own-goal by Wolfsburg defender Kathrin Hendrich and a stoppage-time goal by Andrea Staskova (thanks to Barbara Bonansea’s wonderful assist) ensured that the Bianconere took all three points and moved into second place with two games remaining in the group stage. Getting closer to a place in the knockout round!

Last and certainly the easiest was the Coppa Italia game against another team from Rome: Roma CF. This team plays in the Serie B and is not to be confused with AS Roma. The reason I say this becomes abundantly clear when you look at the scoreline: a crushing 8-1 victory for Juventus, which was the third-biggest victory for the club in the competition.

Staskova scored her second hat trick of the season, with Arianna Caruso and Hurtig scoring two each and Bonfantini grabbing a goal as well. Badawiya scored Roma’s consolation goal when the score was 7-0. What a way to end the month!

Juventus v Lazio - Women Serie A Photo by Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

No firepower

At the time of writing, only six teams in the Serie A have scored fewer goals than Juventus has: Spezia, Venezia, Torino, Genoa, Salernitana, and Cagliari. Of course, the last three are currently in the relegation zone so it’s no surprise to see them struggling. But the fact that Juventus, with all its highly-paid superstars, can only outscore six other teams in the league — all teams which, with all respect, are lowly, provincial sides — after fifteen matches is an absolute embarrassment for everyone associated with the club.

For context, Juve is currently tied with Roma and Torino for the joint third best defense, with all three teams conceding 16 goals in the first 15 games of the season. Only Napoli (9) and Inter (15) have conceded fewer goals in the same timeframe in the league so far.

So what’s the solution to this misfiring Juventus team? I don’t know, but surely it starts with Allegri finally playing each player in their natural position, whatever the resulting formation might be. This means no more wingers in attack — it worked only once against Chelsea — or central midfielders out wide.

Beyond that, your bet is as good as mine. Whatever the solution might be, however, the current scenario is simply not it. If we want to reach the top four, we have to start scoring.

And fast.

Permanent potential

Back in high school physics class, I learned about the difference between potential energy and kinetic energy. To put it very simply, potential energy is energy waiting to be released, while kinetic energy is energy resulting from motion and energy that has realized its potential. Potential energy is essentially a measure of how much energy an object could have once it’s in motion.

Rodrigo Bentancur, who turns 25 years old next June and is currently in his fifth season at the club, is at the stage of his career where he seems to be permanently stuck in a state of potential energy.

Hellas Verona FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Ettore Griffoni/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We’ve been saying for years that he could be a world-class player, but that he needs time because he’s still young and that his growth has been stunted because he hasn’t been consistently played in his best position (mostly due to the frequent coaching changes in the last three seasons).

These are all valid points, but I can’t shake the feeling that Bentancur might never reach those heights. He might be a player who, after not significantly progressing in the last few years, finds himself stuck as a potentially amazing midfielder, rather than, if I may finish my metaphor, a kinetically great one.

Creative accounting

We finish this month’s review with something that my old accounting teacher always liked to call “creative accounting.” On Friday, November 26, the Guardia di Finanza, a law enforcement Agency in Italy under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Economy and Finance, searched Juventus’ headquarters at Continassa and offices in Milan for financial documents related to investigation “Prisma.”

Law enforcement suspects Juventus of conducting false accounting from 2018 to 2021 regarding the valuations of players, with a particular emphasis on the club’s “plusvalenza” transfer deals like that of the much-publicized Miralem Pjanic-Arthur Melo swap. The investigation apparently started in May of this year, thus showing that this has been long in the making.

Club President Andrea Agnelli, Vice President Pavel Nedved, and former Chief Football Officer Fabio Paratici (now at Tottenham Hotspur in England) are three of the six suspects at the time of writing. While it’s obviously much too early to say anything and nobody has yet received any criminal charges, this is yet another PR hit for Juventus after its embarrassing advocacy of the Super League.

(L-R) Fabio Paratici, managing director of Juventus FC,... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

This case also reminds me of a class I once took during my Master’s degree about the economics of entertainment, specifically on movies and books. One big takeaway from that class was that movies and books have a unique characteristic: they’re some of the only products in the world that we don’t know the value of until we consume them.

In other words, you only truly know how good a movie or book is after watching/reading it, and your judgement of the movie or book can be very different to that of the “experts.”

The same is true with footballers. Regardless of how many YouTube videos we watch, data we analyze, or glowing reports we read about a player, we only know how good he’ll be once he plays for our team. I’m sure we can all think of examples of players who were terrible with certain teams but world-beaters with others. Hence, there is simply no single objective measure of how much a player is worth.

This ambiguity essentially permits the wizards in the accounting departments to use, shall I say, “creative accounting” to value players, which seems to be what has led us to this mess. While that doesn’t absolve us of any wrongdoing, it does provide some context into the underlying causes of Juventus’ questionable actions.