Meetings. Meetings. Meetings.
The last month and a half was filled with a dizzying number of meetings, so much so that it has become a running joke on this website. I’m surprised we haven’t come up with some kind of knock-knock joke about meetings*.
But after drowning in an endless number of meetings in which we successfully secured a long-coveted transfer target and are still working on a seemingly never-ending contract negotiation, we finally turned to the real fun: the start of the new season!
But ... was it actually any fun? Let’s see!
*I’ll go first. “Knock knock!” “Who’s there?” “Meeting” “Meeting who?” “I don’t know, you tell me!”
That’s all I got folks. I’ll show myself out.
New season, new me?
Juventus played three friendly and two competitive matches in August. The two friendly games had wildly contrasting results: the first was a thumping 3-0 loss against Barcelona in the
probably imaginary and completely meaningless Joan Gamper Trophy. Memphis Depay, Martin Braithwaite, and Riqui Puig scored the goals for the Catalans.
The next friendly was much, much better. Juventus played some of its best football in a long time when it beat Atalanta 3-1 at home. Paulo Dybala put Juve ahead early on after a blistering counterattack that involved Federico Chiesa and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Luis Muriel equalized from the penalty spot just 10 minutes later, but a stunning goal from Federico Bernardeschi and a tidy counterattacking goal by Álvaro Morata in the 94th minute completed a solid 3-1 victory for the Bianconeri. The final friendly of the pre-season was the customary Juventus v Juventus U23 game: Dybala, Alvaro Morata, and Aaron Ramsey scored the goals to give Max Allegri’s side a comfortable 3-0 victory.
But enough of the friendly stuff.
On Aug. 22, it was finally time for the serious business. In the first Serie A game of the new season, Juventus faced Udinese away from home. The game was off to a terrible start before it even started due to some off-the-pitch shenanigans (more on that later). Thankfully, Juve regained its composure and played a marvelous first half: goals from Dybala and Juan Cuadrado (after a fantastic assist from Dybala) put the Bianconeri 2-0 ahead after a cracking first half performance.
As it often does, however, things fell apart in the second half. The cause of this implosion was, surprisingly, one individual: Wojciech Szczęsny, The Polish keeper had arguably his worst ever game in Juventus colors as his two errors (his second one a particularly embarrassing one) gifted Udinese two goals. Despite Ronaldo’s best attempts, his headed goal in the dying seconds of the game was disallowed by VAR because a subatomic particle in his toenail was offside. Final score: 2-2.
If you thought that that was a depressing way to start the new campaign, don’t worry because it gets worse!
In the first home game of the season, Juve was so diabolically bad that I’ve run out of adjectives to describe what has become an embarrassment of a club and team. The Bianconeri deservedly lost 1-0 against Empoli in a game that, frankly, was purely Allegri’s fault. So many players were played out of position and had no clue as to what their responsibilities were, that you can almost understand why they played so poorly.
So here we are in September with an international break upon us (already!?) and it’s looking like it’s going to be another unpleasant season for Juventini. Joy!
At least the Champions League group stage draw wasn’t too bad. But who knows, we might just find a way to screw that up, too ...
Juventus Women also spent roughly half the month playing friendlies and the other half in competitive fixtures. Joe Montemurro started his reign as Juventus coach with two very contrasting friendly games: a tight 2-1 victory over Montpellier and a chastening 6-0 loss against Barcelona.
But the team brushed aside its demoralizing loss against the Catalans with a thumping 12-0 (!) home victory over Kamenica Sasa of Macedonia and a 4-1 victory over St. Polten of Austria in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Women’s Champions League. (Sidenote: I don’t really understand how the qualification stage of the Women’s Champions League works, so forgive me for being brief in this section.)
Arianna Caruso (3x), Martina Rosucci (1x), Cristiana Girelli (2x), Barbara Bonansea (1x), Annahita Zamanian (1x), Andrea Staskova (3x), and Agnese Bonfantini (1x) scored the goals during the embarrassingly easy game against Kamenica, while Bonansea (2x), Girelli (1x), and Hurtig (1x) — fresh from the penalty shootout heartbreak in the final of the Olympics against Canada — were the goal scorers against St. Polten.
In the last piece of action for the month, Juve started life after Rita Guarino in the Serie A with the season opener against Pomigliano. Montemurro’s first taste of Serie A football started with a banger as Rosucci put the team ahead in the fifth minute of the game. Caruso put the game beyond any doubt with a second half brace, with her first coming in the 54th minute and the second in the 83rd minute. Final score: 3-0.
Not a bad start to the new season!
There was a little more action in the transfer window last month as Juventus finally wrapped up the long-awaited Manuel Locatelli signing and surprisingly signed the young Brazilian starlet Kaio Jorge. (We’re still trying to figure out how to pronounce his name, although that probably won’t matter for a while because he’s injured anyway.) In other transfer news for the month:
- Giorgio Chiellini renewed his contract until 2023, while Merih Demiral joined Atalanta on loan to replace Cristian Romero, who’s off to play for Tottenham Hotspur.
- Speaking of contracts, Juventus is still negotiating a contract extension with Dybala. This has gone on for so long that, frankly, I’ve run out of jokes to make on the issue. Meetings and meetings and meetings!
- Somewhat out of nowhere, Juventus apparently received offers for American midfielder Weston McKennie. This is particularly strange given that we converted his loan into a permanent deal a mere six months ago. Clubs like Spurs and Everton pushed hard to sign him from Juve, but thankfully the American remains a Juventus player for the foreseeable future.
- Another homecoming! Moise Kean returned to Juventus on a €7 million, two-year loan deal with an obligation to buy for €28 million. Funny enough, it seems like this two-year-loan with an obligation to buy is rapidly becoming the new “loan with option to buy” deal that Beppe Marotta was so famous for.
- The highly-rated Dutch midfielder Mohamed Ihattaren has joined Juventus from PSV Eindhoven. He was immediately loaned out to Sampdoria and will remain there for one season.
- Juve youngsters Radu Dragusin and Nicolo Fagioli have joined Sampdoria and Cremonese, respectively, on season-long loan deals.
- Last but not least, we have the Cristiano Ronaldo saga, which ended in the Portuguese superstar leaving the club at the 11th hour of the summer transfer window and becoming the second Juve player in five years to return to Manchester United. There’s a lot to say about this, so I think it deserves a section of its own in this month’s review.
Going going, back back, to ManU ManU
Ronaldo has divided opinion since the day that Juventus completed his unexpected blockbuster transfer from Real Madrid in 2018. While he has been an undoubted success on a personal level for the Bianconeri after scoring a stunning 101 goals in 134 games — no other player in Juventus history scored 100 goals for the club as quickly as he did — there has always been the nagging question of whether his contributions to Juventus were worth spending all that money and destabilizing the tactical balance of the team.
And then there is, of course, how he left the club. He had the entire summer to tell the management about his intentions to leave the club or, at the very least, his doubts about staying.
And yet, he chose to leave it until eight days before the close of the transfer window to tell us about his plans. Not only that, but he waited until a couple of hours before the first game of the new season to throw us this curveball.
There was absolutely no need for that at all, but such is life.
Just like with his arrival, Ronaldo’s departure doesn’t change the fact that this team is still seriously deficient. Our backline has been crumbling for years (with only Matthijs de Ligt’s transfer partially addressing this problem), we’re still sorely lacking in the fullback position, and, while Locatelli’s transfer has improved the situation, our midfield is still a collection of individuals that don’t fit together as a unit. (How long have we said that Rodrigo Bentancur-Adrien Rabiot in central midfield DOES NOT work?)
We’re absolutely going to miss Ronaldo. He was by far the most talented player on the team and frequently bailed us out with his truckload of goals.
With or without Ronaldo, though, Juventus remains a subpar team. Unfortunately, I don’t know when that will change.
Heir to the throne
So who will succeed Ronaldo now that he’s gone? It’s likely that the weight of the crown will be divided between two players: Dybala and Chiesa.
Why? Because they are the only two players on the team with anywhere near the level of talent necessary to fill Ronaldo’s shoes. Chiesa showed that he can be (and is) the absolute superstar of the team, both by himself and with a good team around him. Dybala, on the other hand, is a player who has seemingly been waiting for years for a coach to build a side around him so that he can play to his full potential.
Now that all the big, flashy superstars have left the team, could this finally be the time that Dybala can take center stage (along with Chiesa) and finally, finally make this Juventus squad his?
If it is, this will likely be his last, and some would argue only chance ever to do so.
The return of Max Allegri to Juventus will likely see important tactical changes in the squad, one experimental and the other quite normal.
First, we have the most ambitious experiment of them all: resurrecting the much-maligned
Juventus reject Ramsey by playing him in the regista position. To the surprise of many, I argued in the season preview podcast episode that this could turn out to be a masterstroke, akin to Christian Eriksen’s remarkable turnaround in form when Conte moved him to regista.
Unfortunately, though, it seems like this was a case of the ol’ commentators curse because just as I made this bold prediction, Ramsey injured himself yet again and will miss “several weeks” of action. This is why I only make my predictions after an event.
The second experiment is a far more conservative one. Namely, moving Bentancur away from the regista position and into the mezzala position, which is clearly his best position. It should help the Uruguayan put a difficult season (or two) behind him and use this season to finally transition from the “great potential” to the “realized potential” category.
We know what Bentancur is capable of, we’ve just been unable to see it because he’s been ping-ponged around different midfield positions for too long.
It’s time to draw Excalibur from the stone, Rodrigo, and take your place as king. You got this.
Racism in football: The Other Side
I’m famous! Sort of.
I was recently a guest on the podcast The Other Side by Scot Kirk of the Columbus Dispatch. We talked about racism in football and the problems that black players face in the sport. It was fun explaining the situation to someone who doesn’t follow football and it definitely made for a great discussion. Check it out here!