As the 2020-21 season comes to an end, Juventus continues to do everything it can to make an already painful season even more unbearable. Even though the club is near and dear to my heart, the last 12 months have really been a case of “oh how the mighty have fallen.”
The month of April was another example of this. Six games played, three wins, two draws, one loss, and zero clean sheets. Will such a run of form be enough for Juventus to secure a top 4 position at the end of the season?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Race for the Top Four
The first game of the month was the illustrious Derby Della Mole against relegation-battling Torino. (Note: I don’t really care about Torino, but the shallow part of me would enjoy seeing them drop to the Serie B.) Juventus took the lead thanks to a nice passing move that ended in a great finish by the phenomenal Federico Chiesa. But Torino equalized thanks to
a gift from Wojciech Szczęsny Antonio Sanabria in the 27th minute.
Juventus continued its utterly obnoxious habit of conceding within seconds of the first and/or second half kickoff (often through backpass errors) as Sanabria grabbed his second of the game after capitalizing on yet another woeful backpass from Dejan Kulusevski and Szczesny’s second goalkeeping error of the day. The Bianconeri equalized 10 minutes from time through Cristiano Ronaldo, who VAR deemed to be marginally onside as he headed in Juve’s crucial second goal. Final score: 2-2.
Andrea Pirlo’s side then welcomed Napoli to the Allianz Stadium in a must-win game in the race for the top 4. Thankfully, Juventus were up to the task. Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring early in the game after Chiesa embarked on a dazzling run that left two Napoli defenders chasing shadows before squaring the ball for the Portuguese striker to finish. The home side controlled the game remarkably well and even doubled the scoreline in the 73rd minute thanks to Paulo Dybala’s precise left-footed strike.
Giorgio Chiellini gave away a penalty in the 90th minute after forgetting that you’re not allowed to walk through people, both in football and in life. Lorenzo Insigne scored the penalty but thankfully Juventus held on to secure a crucial 2-1 victory!
Juventus played Genoa in the next game and started it with a real fire in their bellies. The Bianconeri was 2-0 ahead within the first 22 minutes thanks to goals from Kulusevski (finally!) and Álvaro Morata. But Genoa refused to give up and scored a goal soon after half-time through Gianluca Scamacca. This made things a little nervy for Juventus (when aren’t they?) as Genoa sensed that they had a chance to steal an unlikely result. Weston McKennie swiftly quashed these hopes though with Juve’s third goal in the 70th minute. That calmed everyone’s nerves as the Bianconeri controlled the rest of the game and secured a 3-1 victory.
Next on the schedule was the second blockbuster game of the month, this time against Serie A darlings Atalanta. It was a surprisingly cagey match with few opportunities for either side and it looked like the game was heading for a goalless draw (which basically suited neither side) until Atalanta got the lucky breakthrough in the 87th minute. Ruslan Malinovskiy’s deflected shot wrongfooted Szczesny and condemned Juventus to a 1-0 loss.
As the cliché goes, every game is a final for Juventus as it enters a crucial stage in its battle to secure a Champions League spot. In the home game against Parma, though, it felt like it was going to be yet another losing final when Gastón Brugman capitalized on a Ronaldo-sized hole in the wall to score a direct free kick in the 25th minute.
Juventus then turned defense into attack in devastating fashion as Alex Sandro scored his first-ever brace in Bianconeri colors with a cracking half volley strike for his first goal and a powerful header for his second. Matthijs de Ligt made sure of the result with a header in the 68th minute as Juve won by a 3-1 scoreline for the second time in 10 days.
As always, Pirlo’s side saved the worst for the final game of the month against our dear friend Tito’s team Fiorentina. Juve might as well not have showed up for the first half, that’s how diabolically bad they played in Pirlo’s failed 3-5-2 experiment (it’s not such an easy formation to play after all!). Fiorentina superstar Dusan Vlahovic scored a penalty in the 29th minute after Adrien Rabiot handled the ball in the area, but Juve were lightyears better in the second half and reaped the rewards when Morata scored a cracking equalizer a mere 20 seconds after the restart. Final score: 1-1.
Although Juventus only played two games in April, they were both massive fixtures. They first had a tough league game away from home against third-placed Sassuolo. Two goals from Valentina Cernoia (one was a penalty) and a goal by Maria Alves sealed a comfortable 3-0 victory and extended Juventus winning streak to a remarkable 19 consecutive league victories!
The Bianconere then tried to overturn a 2-1 deficit in the crucial second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals at home against AS Roma. Juventus came out all guns blazing as Sofie Pedersen quickly scored the first goal in the 17th minute. Remember, a 1-0 victory would be enough to secure a spot in the final. The scoreline stayed this way for a large part of the game as Rita Guarino’s side slowly started to believe that the much-coveted spot in the final would be theirs.
Alas, it wasn’t to be.
Out of nowhere, Roma scored two goals in five minutes through Lindsey Thomas and Paloma Lázaro. This meant that Juventus needed three additional goals to go through. Remarkably, Cristiana Girelli and Sara Gama scored two of the required three in the last minute of the game, but the team just couldn’t get that one extra goal needed to get them over the finish line. Juventus won the game 3-2 on the day but the tie ended 4-4 on aggregate. Roma progressed thanks to the away goal rule.
“It’s a funny thing, ambition. It can take one to sublime heights or harrowing depths. And sometimes they are one and the same.”
— Emily Kaldwin, from the game Dishonored
I know, I know. You’re sick and tired of hearing about the Super League, so I’ll mark the end of this rollercoaster month by sharing my final thoughts on this extraordinary fiasco.
Firstly, we are all responsible for the creation of the Super League. Every time we demand the latest shiny toy in football that might not necessarily fit into the collective — Haaland, Mbappe, Ronaldo, Neymar, etc. — we incentivize our clubs to prioritize expensive individuals over the collective. And when we do that, we are part of the reason that transfer prices and wages continue to spiral out of control and that, as a result, clubs have to keep increasing their revenues.
Every time we demand that a manager be sacked after a few months rather than give him more time, we are part of the short-termism problem, similar to how CEOs are incentivized to prioritize quarterly results over long-term business success. There are no heroes or villains in this story, there are simply people that are slightly better or slightly worse than others.
Second, while I admit that UEFA and FIFA are deeply flawed organizations, I think it would help if we all got off our moral high-ground and adopt a more nuanced perspective. Despite their huge imperfections and clear corruption, UEFA and FIFA help “the little guys” in football survive. They’re the ones sending money to the Liechtensteins, the Maltas, the Ghanas, and the Guams of the world. They invest (although nowhere near enough) in women’s football, football for disadvantaged populations, and football for people with disabilities.
Yes, they are mad about the Super League because they’re getting cut out of the financial bonanza. But I would caution people on getting too smug about that, because less revenue for UEFA means that many smaller and less developed nations are losing out as well.
Thirdly, this entire saga was a good reminder of the fact that statistically and emotionally speaking, football isn’t the big five leagues, it’s the little guys. As FIFPros’ 2016 Global Employment Report reminds us, “the median net monthly salary worldwide ranged between $1000 and $2000 (USD)” during the period studied. In other words, most football players in the world earn less than you and I do. The superstars we see on TV are the exception to the rule and do not represent the majority.
And finally, as I mentioned in my book, football truly is the mirror of society. The problems of society clearly manifest themselves in football, and this Super League debacle is another example of that. The rich want to become richer while the poor have to settle with the scraps. Income inequality is growing within countries and is making the poor feel increasingly left behind and disgruntled, just as it is in football.
The Super League has been averted for now, but what does the future of football look like?
I have no idea.