The obituaries were already written for Andrea Pirlo’s brief tenure as Juventus manager. With less than ten minutes to play, a stubborn Udinese had held Juventus off with a resolute defensive performance to protect their early lead. If anything, the hosts looked more likely to increase their lead than Juve to pull one back.
Meanwhile, questions have been rightly asked about Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent form, questions which the Portuguese superstar was happy to answer late on. First he stepped up to take a freekick from a promising distance that was blocked by Udinese captain Rodrigo De Paul using his arm. The ref had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and Ronaldo delivered with aplomb to tie the game.
That goal sparked Juventus as they pressed forward for the three points that would keep them in the race for the Champions League, and with just minutes to play Ronaldo grabbed the winner.
Speaking after the game, Pirlo praised his side for not giving up.
“This victory arrived with determination and fight. We once again made life complicated for ourselves, but we wanted to bring home the result right to the end and that’s what is important.
“It was particularly crucial considering the results from this afternoon. This is a group, it’s strong, it wants to fight for its targets and we never lacked that. Sometimes the attitude during games was not worthy of Juventus, but the final embrace was a show of our unity. Now we need to continue with this spirit.”
The coach is usually quite reserved in his pitchside demeanour, but ran onto the pitch to celebrate Ronaldo’s winner. Have the job’s pressures been getting to Pirlo?
“I thought it’d be a bit less stressful and emotional, but when you win games like this at the end, it gives you the energy to keep going.”
Both Napoli and Atalanta drew this weekend while AC Milan and Lazio picked up wins, further adding to the congestion in the Serie A table behind champions Inter Milan.
“There’s fatigue, both physical and mental, so when you’re used to challenging for the Scudetto and not the Champions League, something changes. We have adapted, it’s a struggle, but we need to get there.”
Pirlo added the obligatory congratulations for former Juve player and coach Antonio Conte and his Inter side who sealed the Scudetto today.
“I congratulate Inter and the boss for this deserved title. Now we need to change, because we want to be the champions again. One era ends after nine consecutive Scudetti, another will now begin and we aim to be back there.”