Coming into the last game of the season without having Champions League qualification — hell, having the Scudetto — sewn up was a weird feeling. Even weirder was the fact that Juventus’ destiny was not in their own hands. They needed to win, and they needed either AC Milan or Napoli to drop points against Atalanta or Hellas Verona, respectively. As they headed into an away game against a Bologna team that had nothing to lose — precisely the kind of team Juve had struggled with all year — there was some real anxiety that hadn’t been felt on the last day of the season for a very long time.
But, lo and behold, the cards that Juve needed to come up actually came up.
An early goal turned into an onslaught the likes of which we haven’t seen all season. It was perhaps the most complete game the Bianconeri have played all season, scoring within the first five minutes and dominating wire to wire. By the time two minutes were gone in the second half, the only thing in question was whether or not Juve would get the help they needed, ratcheting up the blood pressure in a way that could never happen otherwise in a 4-1 game. But the right result from Naples trickled in, and at the end of the game Juve had snuck into fourth place against all the odds.
Apart from the Champions League situation, the big news of the day came an hour before kickoff, when the lineups were released and it became clear that Cristiano Ronaldo would be starting on the bench. Pick the explanation that you want for the decision, but it was certainly a ballsy decision for Andrea Pirlo to make on the decisive day of the season with his job potentially hanging in the balance. Pirlo trotted out a 4-4-2 setup, with Wojciech Szczesny at its base. Giorgio Chiellini played perhaps his final game in Juventus colors, joining Matthijs de Ligt in the middle of the back line, flanked by Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro. Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa played wide in midfield, while Danilo was pushed forward into midfield in place of the suspended Rodrigo Bentancur to pair with Adrien Rabiot. In Ronaldo’s absence, Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala joined forces up top.
Sinisa Mihajlovic amused much of the media when he ended up correctly predicting which referee would be assigning to the game (Paolo Valeri). He had vowed to make a run of this game to finish in the top half of the table, and sent out a 4-2-3-1 setup to try to do it. Lukasz Skorupski played in goal, behind the defensive screen of Takehiro Tomiyasu, Gary Medel, Adama Soumaoro, and Lorenzo De Silvestri. Jerdy Schouten and Mattias Svanberg played the double pivot, with Andreas Skov Olsen, Emanuel Vignato, and Musa Barrow arrayed behind
Padawan learner striker Rodrigo Palacio.
The first few minutes looked like Bologna was going to come out strong, but Juve turned that around very quickly and put a stamp on things very early. The opener wouldn’t have happened without a great hustle play from Morata, who charged down a long ball that had been meant for Kulusevski but had run long. He beat De Silvestri to the ball, flicking it off him and into the path of the Swede, who pulled the ball back into the box. It found Rabiot in the left channel and he stabbed at it. A charging Skorupski managed to deflect it onto the bar, but it was a reprieve that only lasted seconds as the rebound bounced to Chiesa, who slammed the ball into the net two seconds into the sixth minute.
Juve kept up the pressure, not letting Bologna settle to try to equalize. Kulusevski was put through on the run several times, only to peter out when he tried to force the ball onto his left foot rather than use his right. The closest he came was in the 23rd minute when he was blocked by Medel. Bologna, meanwhile, were reduced to producing half-chances, only troubling Szczesny with a speculative long-range shot from Schouten that was right at him.
Juve started asserting real dominance just short of the half hour mark thanks to a wonderful piece of play by Dybala. He took a pass from Cuadrado, moved into the box, and spun Schouten around like a top before dinking it over the keeper with the outside of his left foot. It was probably going into the net anyway, but Morata made sure with a header into an empty net. Bologna looked vainly for an offside call, but the Spaniard was clearly behind the ball when Dybala played it, and it was 2-0.
The game’s flow remained similar, and Juve continued to look for the third goal that would put things away and pile the pressure on Milan and Napoli. Just before the end of the half, news filtered through that Franck Kessie had scored a penalty for Milan to give them the lead. Juve responded to this news by putting an exclamation point on the first half, adding the third with a fantastic sequence of one-touch passing from Dybala to Chiesa to Kulusevski, the latter of whom slipped the ball down the middle to put Rabiot one-on-one with Skorupski. Rabiot easily beat the Pole and putting Juve into the locker room up 3-0 at halftime and still in position to get to the Champions League.
Leonardo Bonucci came on to start the second half for a banged-up de Ligt, and he was nearly caught out within 17 seconds of the restart when Palacio strolled past him and put the ball into the net, but he had broken just early and the goal was called back for offside. The Bianconeri took the warning, and within 60 seconds the game was on all doubt. It came from an unlikely supplier: Wojciech Szczesny. Slowing things down and without any real pressure, he walked the ball to the penalty arc and then hit a bolt of a pass for Morata, who took it brilliantly on the turn, surged past Soumaoro, and hit a powerful shot across goal that squirmed past the hand of Skorupski and into the net.
The rest of the second half was relatively routine. Bologna got in some better positions than they did in the first half, but Juve also pushed forward and were regularly threatening for a fifth goal. Dybala certainly deserved one, hitting the post with one shot and having another parried one-handed by Skorupski after some more magic dribbling in the box. Bologna did eventually pick up a consolation in the 85th minute through Riccardo Orsolini, running Juve’s streak without a clean sheet to 14 league games and 16 in all competitions, but the focus by that point had shifted away from the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara. Amir Rrahmani had put Napoli up on the hour at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, but eight-and-a-half minutes later Marco Faraoni went coast-to-coast with a long ball from Koray Gunter, tying the score and putting Juve back in fourth. Napoli looked ineffective for most of the game, living up to their reputation of mental weakness in critical moments. Still, there were nervy moments at the end, and with the last kick of the game Andrea Petagna headed a ball just over the crossbar and off the stanchion behind the net.
The Juve players, who by that point were done and watching as their European fate was decided, finally got to celebrate, and—pending the fallout from UEFA for the Super League shenanigans — could rest easy with the knowledge that they had scraped their way into Europe’s premier competition once more.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Kept the defense in good order and made the saves he needed to make. Gets a bump up for a rare goalkeeper assist on a great outlet ball to Morata.
JUAN CUADRADO - 7. Made four key passes and was a constant threat on Bologna’s flank. A final high-quality outing in a season full of them.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 6. Solid in defense during the first half, but a knock to his ankle had him on the turf repeatedly late in the period and he eventually came off.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 6.5. Also solid in the middle but didn’t have a whole lot to do. If this was his last game with the team it would be sad, because he deserves to leave this club the way Alessandro Del Piero, Gianluigi Buffon, and Andrea Barzagli did, with a lap of honor around a frenzied Allianz Stadium. At the very least he would put an improbable comeback into Juve lore with his last contributions.
ALEX SANDRO - 6.5. Easily the most active Juve defenders when it comes to counting stats, racking up three interceptions and three clearances, although he didn’t have much chance to contribute to the attack with the ball going up the right the majority of the time. He’s another one that may have played his last game in black and white.
DEJAN KULUSEVSKI - 7. It’s a testament to how well he played that he gets a grade this high even though his biggest weakness — his lack of a right foot — was on full display quite a bit. But his running up the right repeatedly pulled the Bologna defense apart, allowing runners to come in and take advantage of his balls into the middle. The result was four key passes and a strong finish to the year.
DANILO - 6. Played essentially as the holding midfielder while Rabiot bombed forward to join in the attack. He did that role well enough before being bumped back into the center-back spot when Chiellini left the game, eventually being relieved himself.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 7. Excellently taken goal, and he was only denied the opener by a good Skorupski save. Constantly buzzing around applying pressure and supporting the attack.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 7.5. Added a key pass to his johnny-on-the-spot goal, finishing an excellent first season with Juve. He’s going to be a building block for years.
PAULO DYBALA - 7.5. This was one of those old-school Dybala performances where he did everything to deserve a goal that didn’t come. He was confident, he was moving all over the place, his close control and dribbling in the box were at times breathtaking, as seen on his assist to Morata and when he nearly beat Skorupski late for a fifth.
ALVARO MORATA - 8.5. The two goals are obvious. What weren’t if you weren’t paying attention were the constant motor and hustle plays, particularly the one that keyed the opening goal. A huge reason why this game was as straightforward as it was.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 5.5. Nearly let Bologna right back into the game within seconds of coming on for de Ligt, but he came back to put together a decent second half, although he could maybe have cleared the ball better when Bologna scored their goal late.
ARTHUR - 6. Made a pair of key passes and had a shot blocked late. Hopefully he can rebound after something of a lost year.
WESTON McKENNIE - 6. Helped lock the game down in midfield and marauded forward on occasion as well, putting a shot on frame and picking up a key pass.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 5.5. Could’ve been better on Bologna’s goal, and he was a little shaky in possession when backed up in his own half. If this was a haircut rating, it probably would’ve been a 2. Fede ... let’s forget that happened.
CARLO PINSOGLIO - 6. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Pinso actually get called into action like he was today. Made a smart save against Barrow, although there was nothing he could do about Orsolini’s goal.
Another day of wondering where this was in the beginning of the year. Maybe the Milan loss was a wakeup call, maybe Pirlo finally managed to instill his ideas, maybe it’s all of the above, but since that day in Turin Juve has picked up their pace, and today, with its relentless pressing and quick passes into the box, was what Pirlo has always wanted to see out of this team.
Pirlo looked dead and buried after losing to Milan, but the way the team has responded has given me pause as to what his future might end up being, because there was a definite uptick in form and attitude after that, and at the end of the day two trophies and a Champions League place isn’t a bad haul for a complete rookie who didn’t have an offseason to install his ideas and had to deal with a ton of injuries and COVID absences. We’ll see what the board decides—or if the board will still be the board by the middle of the week—but this was a strong finish to the season for Pirlo and he may yet deserve a second year.
On behalf of Danny, Chucks, Sergio, Hunter, Calvin, and Caleb, I’d like to thank you all for journeying through another season with us. Your support, as always, is deeply appreciated by the entire BWRAO team. Stay tuned as we follow Juve’s course through what’s bound to be one of the more unpredictable summers the team has had in a long, long time. We can’t wait to share it with you.
That’s all there is. There isn’t any more.