Any season in which Inter win the Scudetto is a bad season; a season in which Inter win the Scudetto with a double-digit point cushion is a very, very bad season, even with the miniature consolations of the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia. The cumulative wage bill, high-profile players, and recent domestic hegemony of the club make the end result in Serie A sting all the more, and I admit that over the last few months there’s been a sort of dark cloud hanging over my own love for this team; I’ve felt like Frodo right when he departs the Fellowship and starts to wander with Sam and Gollum in tow.
But the last two games — a controversial victory over the new champions and a 2-1 trophy winner vs Atalanta — have reminded me that there’s still plenty to love, that there still are, in fact, players with grinta and the desire to fight until the end.
Two wins and one trophy do not erase the disappointment from the season. This last week alone doesn’t quell the onslaught of questions that comes to mind when I ponder both the immediate and long-term future of the Bianconeri. But I don’t think we need all the answers right now; the season has been such that, for me at least, a little dose of hope, a little fight, feels like an elixir.
Chiesa & Kulu & Weston
The stuff that Federico Chiesa, Dejan Kulusevski, and to a lesser degree Weston McKennie offered against Atalanta was very, very good; the trio is 23, 21, and 22 years old, respectively, by the way.
The American played two pivotal passes in the build-up to the first goal, including the actual assist after the ball squibbed around the penalty area for a moment. The more impressive play, though, was the header to Kulusevski earlier in the move. McKennie put the ball exactly where it needed to go with enough zip on the pass to really spark the counter-attack after Juan Cuadrado’s, uh, full-hearted tackle. Was McKennie perfect on the day? Of course not. But it was his best game in a long, long time, and seeing him involved in multiple phases of the game in a meaningful way was a relief.
The Swede has been battered by fans for the better of four or five months now, and when Andrea Pirlo decided to start the youngster against Inter while leaving both Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata on the bench against Inter, there were more than a few grumbles. But Kulusevski, although he didn’t make the scoresheet, didn’t disappoint, tasked with defensive duties that neither Morata nor Dybala could’ve completed. But No. 44 really unleashed against Atalanta, repaying his manager’s faith for a second consecutive game in the same role and tallying a goal and an assist against his former club.
The Italian missed one chance and put away a second, and with the uncertainties surrounding Dybala’s future at the club — especially if Juve miss out on the Champions League — I’m starting to see “No. 10” in the future. When he’s on his game and in the right environment, Chiesa is the best player on the pitch; his motor never stops; he truly is the embodiment of fino alla fine and in the best sense possible it feels like he’s been with the club far longer than a single season.
The goals that Chiesa and Kulu scored were wonderful, but the reactions they showed were even better. Kulusevski shushed the crowd; Chiesa put his hand up to his ear. Neither player was smiling. These two players have battled all season long. They’ve seen wins and losses. They’ve read things in the media. They’ve seen the Scudetto lost. And they’re not happy about it.
Matthijs de Light & the passing of the guard
I know Matthijs de Ligt and Giorgio Chiellini weren’t technically perfect against Inter last weekend, but when the Dutchman and Il Capitano were warding off the opposition’s final attacks with the Old Lady down a man, I felt and saw something that I don’t think I’ve felt and seen since Max Allegri was stalking the sidelines — Juventus were suffering willfully and they were loving it.
In some ways, the fact that the statistics don’t feel right makes me all the more impressed with how the two center backs played in the dying embers of that game. WhoScored tells me that de Ligt finished with two tackles, two interceptions, two clearances, and zero blocked shots, while Chiellini finished with zero tackles, five interceptions, one clearance, and two blocked shots. My heart tells me that each warrior finished with double-digit tallies in all of those categories, because that’s the way it felt.
I enjoyed those final moments of the Inter game more than the win against Atalanta. There was something so quintessentially vintage about it, even with all the referee mayhem.
I don’t have all the answers to rebuilding Juventus — nor, apparently, does Andrea Agnelli or Pavel Nedvěd or Fabio Paratici or Andrea Pirlo. Part of me fears that rebuilding to what we collectively think this club should be is a much larger task than many of us are thinking it will be. But no matter what the future holds, this summer and over the next few summers, there are reasons to think the Bianconeri will be lifting more trophies sooner rather than later, and those reasons are in their early 20s.