This is the quintessential game that if you were playing a FIFA career mode, you just sim it to get it over with.
Sure, technically there was still the top of the group on the line, but that hinged on Chelsea dropping points against an eminently feeble Zenit side that even our beloved, not all that great Juventus had managed to beat home and away.
Signaling how much they just wanted to get out of this game without any injuries, Max Allegri rotated his squad heavily against the weakest team in the group and hoped to do just barely enough to get the win.
Which to their credit they did Wednesday night, winning 1-0 in a sloppy affair that was defined mostly by all of the chances that Juventus did not convert, rather than the ones they did. Really, the good breaks for the Bianconeri were happening 2,601 KM away in Russia, where Zenit miraculously pulled off a draw in a 3-3 thriller to gift Juventus the first place in the group.
Would you rather be lucky or good? Thankfully in the last match day of the year, Juventus was just barely good enough and had plenty of good luck to go along with it.
MVP: Federico Bernardeschi
I know the man wearing No. 20 for Juventus right now has the name “Bernardeschi” stamped on it, but you cannot convince me this is the same guy we just saw be adequate at best for the last two seasons.
Bernardeschi was the living, breathing example of a cautionary tale for Juventus faithful not five months ago. He was player brought in for a high transfer fee that, despite showing flashes, never quite panned out and could not be trusted to be anything more than a depth piece. Bernardeschi was either the second or first name to be thrown out there in comments wishing for a house cleaning on the depth chart. He was guy who seemed destined to become Stefano Sturaro 2.0
That same guy is now throwing crosses like these?
I know it seems like I’m repeating myself, but the man was broken. He could not put a foot right. And now has enough panache to try and complete moves like those while being an all around threat all over the field. This hasn’t been a once-in-a-lifetime thing, either, he’s playing legit good ball as of late and the words “contract renewal” do not seem like such a crazy thing anymore.
This might still be a flash in the pan — after all, three good months do not erase the 2 1⁄2 years of objective mediocrity — but the man has got his swagger back, and time will tell if that’s enough for him to shockingly remain a Juve player for years to come.
Runner Up: Moise Kean - It wasn’t a virtuoso performance from the team, alright? So, I’m going chalk and giving the runner up points to the guy who scored the goal. It was a good one to be fair and while he was very much part of the cavalcade of missed chances that was the second half, a goal can do wonders for the confidence of a young striker that was in desperate need of some.
Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Paulo Dybala (10 Points)
Winner: Max Allegri
In the perfect game to just throw stuff to the wall and see what sticks, Allegri did just that and he got away with the win and top of the group.
Starting the youngest player ever in Champions League history for Juve? While also throwing some pitch time to two other U-23 guys? Sure.
(None of whom showed a whole lot, in my opinion. Koni de Winter was the most impressive of the bunch, but he still looked a bit outside of his depth. Still, there’s no harm in giving these guys shots in low-ish pressure environments.)
Give Daniele Rugani and Mattia Perin minutes? Why not.
Play a weird 3-5-2-ish formation that relied heavily on Arthur Melo of all people? Give it a whirl, the world is your oyster at this point.
This game was just missing some extended minutes from Kaio Jorge and Mattia Soule — whom were unfortunately not in the Champions League group stage list — to get bingo in my “Juve After Dark” card.
Good stuff from Max.
Winner: Juventus Chance’s to Make the Quarterfinals
A recurrent point of disagreement on The Old Lady Speaks recording sessions between the gang is whether it makes a big difference to finish first or second in the Champions League group.
It is the opinion of our very own Sam Lopresti and #TwitterlessChuks that it doesn’t make a huge difference as in the mix of teams there’s always some big boys that either by getting a tough group or just bad luck end up in second, so you might still end up with a tough match in the Round of 16.
My take — and the correct one, thank you very much — is that despite some really good teams finishing second, 9 times out 10 it’s usually better to play the second places as they always have a healthier mix of second tier squads.
It’s an argument because both sides have been right depending on the year, but this was one season where it’s undeniable that finishing first was absolutely huge.
The possible matchups for Juventus are as such:
- Paris Saint-Germain
- Atletico Madrid
- Sporting Lisbon
- Red Bull Salzburg
Outside of PSG, Juventus is either the favorite or even money at worst against any team in that pot. All while avoiding pretty much every favorite to the trophy with Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Liverpool and Real Madrid all qualifying first as well.
(And, sure, PSG is favorited in that matchup, but despite their offensive trident of death they have not looked as unbeatable as you would think with a pretty shaky defense to boot. That’s not a guaranteed loss either.)
Juventus could still bottle it up against any of these teams, don’t get me wrong, they have been bounced by Lyon and Porto in back to back years after all. But, I can very easily talk myself into Juventus making it to the quarterfinals — and beyond — if all they have to do is beat, say, Salzburg instead of trying to conjure up a world in which they get anything but trounced against Bayern.
- Manuel Locatelli - Still the best player here. The double pivot suits him and despite not playing on Tuesday he will remain this team’s rock.
- Weston McKennie - Another guy who didn’t play but has looked the most comfortable partner of Locatelli which automatically and by default makes him the second place.
- Rodrigo Bentancur - He looks adequate! Progress!
- Adrien Rabiot - While the double pivot might be the way to go moving forward, I don’t see him playing his best ball in that spot. Anything is better than watching him as a winger though.
- Arthur - Looked shockingly decent against Malmo. He’s not rising for one decent performance agains the worst team in their group, but something is something.
- Aaron Ramsey - Do you think he feels kinda bad that he’s been completely erased from the team and all reports indicate how desperately they are trying to offload him? Or does he just open up his bank app, smiles and forgets about it?
Parting Shot of the Week
It wasn't a marvelous performance, in fact, at times in the second half it looked like Juventus were just trying to find the funniest ways they could continue to miss clear cut chances.
But the thing is, they didn't really need a great performance in this one. They played with a B squad against a team with nothing to play for, just good enough and a healthy bill after the game was more than enough.
THEY STARTED DANIELE RUGANI FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, WHAT WERE YOU PEOPLE EXPECTING?
Sometimes in life, it’s just fine to accept a good thing happening to you, instead of wondering why in the world you didn’t get a great one.
See you Saturday.