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January’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: Keeping Up

The crucial first month of 2021 was almost perfect for Juventus.

Juventus v Bologna FC - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

It was yet another relentless month of fixtures for Juventus, with a staggering nine games in 27 days meaning that the Bianconeri played a competitive fixture every three days. As I’ve repeatedly stated in the past, such a high frequency of games does not grant players the minimum of five days of recovery time as is recommended by medical professionals, but such are the times, unfortunately.

We’ve mentioned earlier, both on the podcast and in articles, that January was going to be a crucial month for Juventus. All things considered, I’m relieved to say that we got through it quite successfully, with eight victories out of nine games. Not too shabby.

A six-team title race!?

Juventus opened the new year with a 4-1 victory over Udinese. Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring in the 30th minute before Federico Chiesa added a second shortly after halftime. Ronaldo grabbed his second of the game in the 70th minute and while Udinese’s goal in the final minute of the game tarnished the team’s oh-so-sacred clean sheet, Paulo Dybala restored Juve’s three-goal lead with a right-footed (!) goal in the 93rd minute. A tidy 4-1 victory for Andrea Pirlo’s men.

Then came the first big game of the month: away at Milan. And it sure was a cracker of a game as both teams came out with a real commitment to play positive, attacking football. Chiesa opened the scoring after running onto an exquisite Dybala backheel and finishing past goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, but Milan equalized in controversial fashion soon afterwards. Hakan Calhanoglu clearly fouled Adrien Rabiot in the buildup to Davide Calabria’s equalizing goal, but the referee was having none of it.

Nevertheless, Chiesa was clearly the star of the show as he played his best game for Juve to date. He scored his and Juve’s impeccable second goal of the day when he found a picometer of space past the bamboozled Theo Hernandez to bury his shot into the back of the net. The in-form Weston McKennie then sealed the victory with Juve’s third goal after a great run and assist by Dejan Kulusevski: 3-1!

AC Milan v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Next up was a tricky home game against the always-impressive Sassuolo. Despite going a man down just before half-time after Pedro Obiang’s dangerous tackle on Chiesa (a tackle which, in my opinion, seemed very similar to the one that got Chiesa sent off against Crotone), Sassuolo made a real nuisance of themselves. Danilo opened the scoring after his piledriver of a shot flew past Andrea Consigli, but Sassuolo hit back almost immediately as Gregoire Defrel very impressively turned and fired in the equalizer in the 58th minute.

Remarkably, the visitors then dominated proceedings despite playing with 10 men. Thankfully, Aaron Ramsey scored his first goal of the season to rescue Juventus in the 82nd minute and Ronaldo scored the team’s third goal in stoppage time to secure a flattering 3-1 scoreline and victory.

In case you forgot, we are also still active in the Coppa Italia, which means that Juventus welcomed Genoa for a Round of 16 fixture in the competition. As is custom for the earlier stages of the Coppa, Pirlo heavily rotated his side for this game. It resulted in a rollercoaster match, with goals from Kulusevski and Alvaro Morata giving the Bianconeri a comfortable 2-0 lead, only to see Genoa fight back to level the score at 2-2. To extra time we went, and youth player Hamza Rafia scored his first senior goal for Juventus in the 104th minute to give us the 3-2 victory. On to the next round!

Before that, though, Pirlo’s men traveled to Milan to face bitter rivals Inter Milan in the much-anticipated Derby D’Italia. It was a huge test of both sides’ title credentials but unfortunately, only one team showed that it was serious about winning the Scudetto this season. Inter completely outplayed the Bianconeri, who simply failed to show up for this big encounter, and secured a comfortable 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Arturo Vidal and Nicolo Barella. The only mystery is that/how they didn’t score more than two goals...

Thankfully, Juventus bounced back from the chastening loss against Inter with an impressive 2-0 victory over Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana final. In what was a cagey match, Ronaldo broke the deadlock in the 64th minute after pouncing onto a flick-on from a corner and firing past David Ospina. As Napoli threw men forward in desperate search of an equalizer, they were punished by a counter-attacking goal deep into stoppage time. Morata tucked away Juan Cuadrado’s layoff to secure the 2-0 victory and Pirlo’s first trophy as a manager!

Juventus’s Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci holds the... Photo by Antonio Balasco/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Bianconeri followed up this morale-boosting victory with a comfortable 2-0 win over Bologna. Arthur’s deflected strike, his first goal for Juventus, and McKennie’s header in the 71st minute were enough for us to cruise past Siniša Mihajlović’s side.

Juve ended the month with arguably the finest run of form we’ve seen this season. The Coppa Italia quarter-final match against SPAL was a walk in the park — a 4-0 victory with goals from Morata (penalty), a stunner from Gianluca Frabotta, Kulusevski, and Chiesa — and the league encounter with Sampdoria, while a little trickier, ended in a well-deserved 2-0 victory. Chiesa continued his rich vein of (goalscoring) form with yet another goal while Ramsey sealed the victory in stoppage time with his second goal of the season from Cuadrado’s 11th assist in all competitions.

Four consecutive victories and four consecutive clean sheets to close off the month. Are we finally seeing the real Pirlo’s Juve take shape just as we enter a crucial stage of the season?

Juventus Women

It was also a relentless month of football for Juventus Women. They started with a big 2-1 victory against Roma in the semifinals of the Super Cup, although it definitely wasn’t easy. Roma probably should have taken the lead early in the game, but midfielder Andressa struck the crossbar from her 17th-minute penalty. Juve punished this wastefulness by scoring just five minutes later through Barbara Bonansea, although Roma equalized early in the second half thanks to a tidy Allyson Swaby strike.

Just before the game went to extra-time, Roma goalkeeper Ceasar was sent off for handling the ball outside the box and stopping Maria Alves’ attempted lob, which surely would have resulted in the winning goal, in the process. Thankfully, Cristiana Girelli headed in the winning goal in the 116th minute to send Juventus through to the Super Cup final against Fiorentina!

FC Internazionale v Juventus - Women Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

It was another difficult game for the Bianconere, but they passed the challenge with flying colors. A fantastic Bonansea double secured a 2-0 victory over Fiorentina and, just like the men’s team, a well-deserved Super Cup victory!

From one cup to the next then, as Juve traveled to Serie B league leaders Pomigliano for a Coppa Italia group stage match. Goals from Valentina Cernoia, Andrea Staskova, Dalila Ippolito, and Maria Alves put Rita Guarino’s side 4-0 up. Pomigliano grabbed a consolation goal in the 85th minute, but Staskova grabbed her second and Juve’s fifth of the game in the last minute to secure a routine 5-1 victory.

The Bianconere finally returned to the familiar sights of the Serie A to play Inter in the Derby D’Italia scheduled on Jan. 17. Thankfully, they fared much better than the men’s team did later in the day as they secured an impressive 3-0 victory away from home thanks to goals from Girelli (penalty), Aurora Galli, and Sofie Pedersen. Juventus continued its relentless winning streak by then comprehensively beating Hellas Verona 5-0 at home in the subsequent encounter. Lina Hurtig, Pedersen, Girelli, Bonansea, and Annahita Zamanian were the goal scorers.

The last, and undoubtedly most entertaining game of the month, was the Coppa Italia fixture with fourth-placed Empoli. Benedetta Glionna, an extremely talented 21-year-old striker on loan from Juventus, opened the scoring for Empoli in the 37th minute, although Lisa Boattin equalized for Juventus a few minutes later. Glionna then scored two quickfire goals to complete her hat trick — all on free kicks, too — and put Empoli 3-1 ahead. Zamanian put the Bianconere back in the game with a goal in the 68th minute, but Empoli put yet another goal into the back of the net through Dutch striker Chanté-Mary Dompig.

Somehow, Juve got the last laugh in this utterly remarkable fixture after a crazy 10-minute period at the end of the game. Goals from Staskova, Girelli, and Cecilia Salvai turned the game on its head and gave Juventus an extraordinary 5-4 victory in the first leg of the Coppa Italia quarterfinals! What an end to the month!

Empoli Ladies v Juventus Women - Women Coppa Italia Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Stuck in the middle

I struggle to remember a time in the last few seasons when the midfield was not a topic of frustration and anguish. We’ve talked about it on the podcast and lamented the days of future past when we had arguably one of the best midfields on the planet.

During Episode 34 of the podcast, I argued that, in contrast with last season, the problems in midfield are absolutely not due to a lack of talent. At the moment, it seems that it’s mostly due to a lack of form and partly due to yet another change in system that comes from having our third coach in three seasons. (Although, I will admit that our midfield looked very good towards the end of January).

To address the first issue, the majority of our midfielders have been worryingly out of form for much of the season. Arthur has struggled to successfully integrate into the Juventus squad, although he showed a promising improvement at the end of the month. As Hunter mentioned in the past, Rodrigo Bentancur seems to still be stuck in the category of potential superstar rather than realized talent.

Meanwhile, Adrien Rabiot has failed to maintain his great end to the 2019-20 season and Aaron Ramsey, well, barely exists. I really believe that if all our midfielders were in form (or at least not playing as poorly as someone like Ramsey is), our midfield woes would be solved. Easy, right? If only ...

Thankfully, we have this guy to help us out. The player that Aaron Ramsey was supposed to be but never was:

Weston McKennie of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring a... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images