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February’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: Keeping the faith

The month of February started very brightly for Juventus, but ended on a real downer.

Matthijs de Ligt (L) of Juventus FC and Rodrigo Bentancur (R... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

February was yet another breathless month of action for Juventus. The team played 7 games in 25 days — or roughly a game every 3.5 days — while also coping with numerous injuries and illnesses. While things started out brightly, Juventini were left very disappointed at the end of the month.

Let’s review the good, the bad, and the infuriating of the month of February.

Fading away?

Juventus faced Inter for the second time in a few weeks for the first leg of the Coppa Italia semi-finals. Seeking revenge for the embarrassing loss in January, Pirlo’s men traveled to Milan with a point to prove. Based on the opening ten minutes of the game though, it certainly didn’t seem that way. Lautaro Martínez opened the scoring in the ninth minute of the game as a result of (collectively) poor defending from Alex Sandro, Merih Demiral, and Matthijs de Ligt.

But Juventus fought back. It was that man Cristiano Ronaldo who spearheaded the comeback through a quickfire double in the first half. A penalty in the 26th minute and an exquisite finish after pouncing on a communication error between Handanovic and Bastoni catapulted the Bianconeri into the lead just before half-time. Juventus defended resolutely for the remainder of the game and took a slender lead 2-1 back to Turin for the second-leg.

Next up was a crunch home game against (fellow title contenders?) AS Roma. The Bianconeri were at their most efficient, ruthless best as they scored twice from their only two shots on target (and three shots overall). Ronaldo and Ibañez (own goal) were the goalscorers as Juventus secured a hugely impressive 2-0 victory.

Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Giorgio Perottino/Getty Images

There was little time to celebrate though because the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final was right around the corner. And Juventus returned to its roots for this crucial game as it did what it has always loved to do with passion: defend. An impeccable display of resolute defending resulted in a 0-0 draw (2-1 aggregate victory), thus allowing Pirlo’s men to progress to the final of the competition for a record 20th time!

As always happens though, things fell apart just four days later when Juventus faced Napoli (finally!) at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. The Bianconeri huffed and puffed and peppered Meret’s goals with a flurry of shots, but Napoli did to Juve exactly what it had done to Inter just a few days earlier: defend with their lives. A penalty goal by Lorenzo Insigne after a peculiar Chiellini foul on the ridiculously exaggerating Napoli defender Amir Rrhamani proved to be the difference between the two sides: 1-0 loss.

While Juve’s performance against Napoli wasn’t necessarily all that bad, its performance against FC Porto in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 was an absolute disaster. Rodrigo Bentancur gifted Porto the lead at the Estádio do Dragão after just 61 seconds when Porto striker Mehdi Taremi intercepted the Uruguayan’s atrocious backpass and the ball flew into the back of the net.

Remarkably, Juve failed to learn from their first half woes as Porto scored their second goal just 20 seconds after the start of the second half! Moussa Marega rounded off an intricate passing move for the Portuguese side, although Wojciech Szczęsny should probably have done better to save the shot at his near post. Thankfully though, the impressive Federico Chiesa scored a priceless away goal in the 82nd minute after cushioning Adrien Rabiot’s difficult, bouncing cross into the far corner of the goal. Final score: 2-1 and all to play for in the second leg!

FC Porto v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round Of 16 Leg One Photo by Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Back to the Serie A then to face last-placed Crotone at home and hopefully wash away the horrors of the previous two games. Although it took us a while to get going, it was eventually an easy game for the Bianconeri. Ronaldo scored two quickfire headers in the 38th and 45th minute of the game (and really should have had a hattrick before half-time) to set the team on its way before Weston McKennie added gloss to the result with Juve’s third goal in the 66th minute: 3-0.

The final game of the month was a tricky away match against Hellas Verona in the league. A cagey first half ended goalless, but Ronaldo put Juve ahead in the 49th minute after benefiting from excellent work (yet again!) by Federico Chiesa. Hellas proved once again why they are such a tough side to beat and by scoring the equalizer in the 77th minute through Alex Sandro’s absentee marking Antonín Barak’s header. The game ended 1-1 as Juve lost further ground on league leaders Inter and continue to see their hopes of securing a 10th straight league title slowly fade away.

Juventus Women

While the men had games every 3.5 days, the schedule was nowhere near as hectic for Juventus Women. The team traveled to face Empoli for the second time in a week (this time in the league) early in February and thankfully this encounter was nowhere near as crazy as the first encounter. Rita Guarino’s side secured a comfortable 3-0 victory thanks to two goals from Cristiana Girelli and one from Lina Hurtig.

The Bianconere then faced Empoli for the third time in two weeks for the second leg of the Coppa Italia quarter-final. It was another avalanche of goals as Barbara Bonansea, Girelli, Linda Sembrant, and an Andrea Staskova brace sealed a comprehensive 5-0 victory. Off to the semi-finals against Roma!

In the final game of the month, Guarino’s side faced San Marino in the Serie A. An early own goal by Giulia Montalti put Juventus ahead in the 13th minute before Hurtig doubled the lead in the second half. San Marino didn’t give up without a fight though, as Serena Landa grabbed a goal in the 78th minute and forced Juve to defend resolutely in the latter stages of the game. But Girelli scored Juve’s third in the 89th minute to put the result beyond doubt and seal yet another victory for the team: 3-1!

Empoli Ladies v Juventus Women - Women Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Contrasting fortunes: Chiesa & McKennie

After a difficult start to his Juve career, Federico Chiesa has been an undisputed star for the Bianconeri. His direct dribbling and piercing runs have added a new dimension to the Juventus attack at a crucial point in the season, as Morata’s form has dropped off due to illness, Dybala has struggled with a longer-than-expected injury layoff, and Kulusevski has failed to live up to early-season expectations. As I mentioned in the latest episode of the podcast, not only has Chiesa been great in attack, but he has also shown tremendous discipline and reliability in defense.

Contrastingly, after a very bright start to his Juventus career, Weston McKennie’s form has dropped off quite a bit (although, curiously, few have mentioned it). The main reason that people have proposed is that he is suffering from burnout, but I find this an odd theory. According to WhoScored, McKennie has played 1,477 minutes in all competitions so far while Chiesa has played 2,200 minutes (almost 50% more than McKennie). However, while Chiesa has thrived as the season has progressed and he has played more minutes, McKennie has slowly stalled.

The other theory is that McKennie is struggling with some kind of chronic pain or injury that is causing him to be more fatigued than normal, which is a more plausible hypothesis. Whatever the case, McKennie’s (minor?) struggles occur just as Arthur is battling a long-term injury as well, thus seriously limiting our options in (central) midfield. In fact, it’s no coincidence that both of these incidents come at the same time that Juve’s central midfield suffered (and still is suffering) from a significant decline in form (just as it was starting to look so good).

We’ve seen what this midfield is capable of when everyone is fit and in form. Now we just need, well, ehm, everyone to be fit and in form.

Easy enough, right?

Juventus v Crotone - Italian Serie A Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images

Potential or kinetic energy?

Rodrigo Bentancur is a player who is stuck in the “great potential” category. But as anyone that has taken an introductory Physics class would know, potential energy isn’t much use if it isn’t turned into kinetic energy.

I think Bentancur is a wonderful player and, indeed, has the potential to be a world-beater. He has thrived when playing alongside Arthur and McKennie (when both are fit and in form) and has shown flashes of brilliance for the team. But based on the stop-start nature of his form this season, I fear that this is all Bentancur will ever be: potential, rather than kinetic energy.

And that would be a real, real shame.