I’m still trying to figure out what was going on in Alex Sandro’s head.
As Federico Di Marco’s cross came into the box, Sandro had all the time in the world to either head the ball back to his keeper or to blast it out of the penalty area himself. Either option would have certainly brought the Supercoppa Italiana against Inter Milan to where it looked like it was headed for pretty much the entirety of extra time: penalty kicks, and the chance to add yet another Supercoppa to the trophy case at the J Museum.
Instead, Sandro somehow decided to aim a chested pass across the box for Giorgio Chiellini. This decision ignored the fact that Matteo Darmian was right behind him ready to chase such a pass. That’s exactly what Darmian did, and he beat Chiellini to the ball, tapping it across to Alexis Sanchez, who controlled with his chest and tapped home past a completely stranded Mattia Perin with the last kick of the game Wednesday night to give Inter the 2-1 win.
It was a blunder of colossal proportions, coming as it did in the 120th minute of a game with a trophy on the line and options to avoid such an occurrence so obvious they were practically dancing on a table in the nude wearing signs around their necks saying “we are options to avoid this occurrence!”
It often isn’t really fair to point at a single player in a soccer game and say “this person lost his team the game.” Even when it comes to Sandro’s predecessor, Patrice Evra, and his late blunder against Bayern Munich five years ago, I am more lenient than most because I personally believe Massimiliano Allegri made a serious strategic blunder earlier in the game that, had it not been made, would’ve likely avoided putting him in that situation to begin with. But in this case, Sandro fits that criticism. His mistake straight-up lost the game when Juventus were literal seconds from going into a shootout, where they would’ve had the chance to win the game.
Instead, in one moment of brainlessness, Sandro wasted an effort that, while certainly not inch-perfect, had been good enough to prevent the best team in the league from scoring from open play and pushed them to the brink of a shootout — all without three of their best players. They even had the lead for 10 minutes in the first half.
But there are no moral victories in a final, and Sandro’s bone-headed decision saw them fall before they had the chance to take this game and win it in dramatic fashion.
Allegri had numerous issues coming into this game. Matthijs de Ligt and Juan Cuadrado were suspended, Federico Chiesa was ruled out for the rest of the season, and Leonardo Bonucci and Luca Pellegrini were only fit for the bench. Additionally, Wojciech Szczesny wasn’t available until right before kickoff because he hadn’t had his COVID-19 vaccine early enough to qualify for a Green Pass. He would technically become eligible literally moments before kickoff, but Allegri opted to go with backup Perin rather than rush the Poland international straight onto the field. Perin started behind a 4-3-3 setup, with Mattia De Sciglio, Daniele Rugani, Chiellini, and Sandro protecting him in defense. Weston McKennie, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot started in midfield, with Dejan Kulusevski, Alvaro Morata, and Federico Bernardeschi making up the attack.
Inter coach Simone Insaghi countered with his usual 3-5-2 setup. Samir Handanovic anchored the typical defense of Milan Skriniar, Stefan De Vrij, and Alessandro Bastoni. Denzel Dumfries and Ivan Peresic manned the wing-back spots, bookending the midfield of Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic, and Hakan Calhanoglu. Edin Dzeko returned from a bout with COVID to start alongside Lautaro Martinez.
Juve were always likely to be playing on the counter, and for the first 10 to 20 minutes of the game they were pretty well boxed into their own end. Inter had their first shot within two minutes, and on eight Martinez really should have scored, instead pushing his shot across goal wide after he was teed up in all kinds of space. In the 11th minute the entire Inter bench was up in arms when Chiellini and Barella came together in the box, with the latter popping up from the ground screaming for a penalty. A VAR check was made before the corner was taken, but it was clear that while Chiellini didn’t get the ball, Barella had actually stepped on Chiellini as they were stride for stride, and referee Daniele Doveri’s decision was upheld. Inzaghi was so incensed by the decision that he was still screaming at Doveri about it two or three minutes later, to the point where it was frankly a surprise that the referee didn’t pull out a card for the angry coach.
Juve finally got to themselves into the act on 20 minutes, when they got the first of a couple of chances in succession. The first saw Bernardeschi get himself to the byline and send in a low cross toward McKennie, only to be thwarted at the last minute by the intervention of Skriniar. Two minutes later, Kulusevski forced a turnover from Brozovic at the edge of the Inter box. Bernardeschi latched on to it and had a runner to his left, but instead chose to go looking for contact and came up with a sheepish grin on his face after Doveri told him to get up.
But just two minutes later Juve picked up a surprising lead against the run of play. The move started at the feet of Kulusevski, who did some good work to keep the ball in play before playing it to Locatelli. The cross in was defended by Skriniar but only as far as Morata, who quickly picked the ball up, faced the Slovakian up, and got himself enough space to loft in a cross. McKennie was the only Juventus shirt near the six-yard box when the cross was played, but De Vrij completely lost him and he went up to nod the free header past Handanovic to open the scoring.
At first, it looked like Juve were about to take the bit between their teeth and really lean into the momentum they’d generated over the prior five minutes. Kulusevski fired a shot on target after latching on to a loose ball just two minutes after the goal, but it went right at Handanovic, and Dumfries was able to get position to keep Morata from heading in not long after that. But soon that momentum petered out, and Inter swung the pendulum back the other way, forcing Perin into a relatively easy save and managing to get the ball into some really dangerous positions before the ball carrier was swarmed by the defense.
But the equalizer wasn’t long in coming, but it came on a questionable call when De Sciglio and Dzeko went charging after a loose ball in the box. Dzeko got to it first and there was some contact, resulting in Doveri immediately pointing to the spot. It was an unfortunate call, because replay showed the incident to be similar to the one that the referee had rightly waved away between Chiellini and Barella 20 minutes earlier — Dzeko stepped on De Sciglio and then threw himself forward, duping Doveri. He may have done the same to VAR official Paolo Mazzoleni, or Mazzoleni decided not to intervene with Doveri looking right at the play. With no recourse from VAR, Martinez stepped forward to take the penalty kick and sent Perin the wrong way, finishing with a flourish into the top right corner.
The teams went into halftime even, but both teams had chances to break that tie within five minutes of the restart. Bastoni had a shot blocked just 90 seconds in, then Bernardeschi had two chances that really should have put Juventus back ahead, the first when Rabiot put the ball all the way across the box and the No. 20 somehow managed to pull his shot wide, then he cut inside on a great arun nd ripped the ball just over the bar.
Just before the hour mark Sandro made his first big mistake of the game, losing Dumfires and only being spared the blushes of doing so after Perin put his hand up and deflected the ball onto the bar. Perisic also took a shot at the Italian goalkeeper, but it was right at Perin without ever really challenging him.
Sandro nearly made amends for his mistake earlier when he flashed wide from a loose ball, but he dragged it just wide. By this time both managers were dipping into their bench. Allegri introduced Paulo Dybala for Kulusevski and and, more curiously, Arthur for Bernardeschi, giving Juve four central midfielders on the pitch at one time. Inzaghi countered by swapping his entire strike pair in one go, installing Joaquin Correa and Sanchez in one go.
The late stages of the game didn’t see much in the way of chances, although it did see some more curious officiating in stoppage time when both Doveri and Mazzoleni chose to ignore McKennie getting cracked across the face off the ball by Bastoni as a cross came in in from the left. It quickly became clear that 90 minutes wouldn’t separate the sides, and extra time would indeed be needed to find a winner between these two.
Inter had general control of both overtime periods, with Juve looking to hit out on the counterattack. Sanchez had a fantastic shooting opportunity seven minutes into the extra period when Rugani and De Sciglio collided during a corner kick and left him alone, but his header flashed wide. But beyond that, neither team had any truly eye-opening chances, often simply trading attacks as they tired and were unable to press in the same way. It looked for all the world like penalties would have to decide the contest.
Until a ball headed toward Sandro, and his brain went through a process only he will know, and the blue half of the San Siro celebrated.
MATTIA PERIN - 7. Was solid in the back and made a fantastic save against Dumfries in the second half. Given the last-minute nature of the news of his starting and the way Inter controlled most of the game, it was an impressive performance.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6. Solid defensively with two tackles and four clearances, and also provided a pair of key passes going forward. I’m not dinging him much for the penalty, because I really don’t agree with the call at all.
DANIELE RUGANI - 6.5. Made a whopping 10 clearances, adding two interceptions and a tackle. He actually had a really nice game all told.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 6. Yes, he’s getting a lower rating than Rugani, mostly because he started the game looking really out of sorts and rusty after his COVID layoff. He eventually recovered to record five tackles and nine clearances, and is far less to blame for the winning goal than his teammate. Hopefully him playing himself into form by the end of the game is a harbinger of good to come.
ALEX SANDRO - 3. Sandro gets the dubious distinction of equalling the lowest rating I’ve ever given to a player on this site. His counting numbers weren’t actually bad, tallying four interceptions and five clearances, but he had numerous serious lapses — the Dumfries play in the second half and, of course, the game-winning goal. That move may have just marked the effective end of his Juve career.
WESTON McKENNIE - 7. He was absolutely everywhere on the pitch, from pushing forward to attack to tracking back to hold up an Inter counter. His goal was excellently taken, and he added three tackles and two interceptions. He’s starting to stake his place in Allegri’s setup.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. Made three tackles and added a key pass as he competently led the midfield in their rearguard setup. Got to play a little further forward when Arthur came on, but was only there for 12 minutes before being subbed off at the beginning of extra time.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 4.5. Adrien Rabiot played all 120 minutes of this game. You could have told me that multiple times and it would’ve taken a minute to sink in. He simply made no impact going forward, although he did rack up some impressive defensive numbers (two tackles, four clearances, two interceptions, and a blocked shot). He’s far more talented than the performances he’s put up this season, but he simply isn’t showing it.
DEJAN KULUSEVSKI - 6. As he’s been asked to do several times by multiple coaches, Kulusevski’s main task Wednesday night was to man-mark the opposing playmaker, in this case Brozovic. He did that pretty well, preventing the Croatian from really getting himself into his role. The responsibility did make his offense suffer, although he did help start the move for the opening goal with a nifty move to keep the ball in play.
ALVARO MORATA - 6.5. Wasn’t actually credited with an assist because his cross took a tiny deflection, which is a stupid rule issue that should be changed. He was lively up top and attacked well when he had the chance to run at Inter’s defense.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 5. Got himself into good positions on multiple occasions only to yeet the chances into a lake. The most egregious was the one on 48 minutes when he had half the goal to aim at but contrived to miss the target entirely. With Chiesa gone, he needs to do far better with chances like this.
PAULO DYBALA - 5.5. Was often reduced to fighting with defenders twice his size for long clearances upfield. Had one sight of goal in extra time but only put it over.
ARTHUR - 5.5. He actually managed to get a key pass in, which must have been the only time he put it forward because most of the time I remember him charging forward with theball, pulling up, and then passing back to his center backs. If he ever manages to move the ball forward he’d be a force.
MOISE KEAN - 5. Only touched the ball six times. Had to try to hold the ball up with little support and simply never got anything in the way of service.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 6. One of the more surprising performances, in a positive way, was Bentancur in extra time. He ran all over the place, making five tackles in only 30 minutes, and was a key part of any buildup for Juve managed in the extra periods.
Where do we go with Max here?
He clearly came into the game looking to defend and counter, and once again, once the team scored a goal he started to turtle up, rather than pressing the initiative after a 10-minute period where Juve really had Inter on the ropes. While Inter are certainly good enough to simply take the initiative back, especially against a team that didn’t have the likes of Cuadrado or de Ligt available, the team also visibly fell back to defend deep as the game went along, and once again it ended up biting the team in the ass when it came down to it. On the positive side, tasking Kulusevski to man-mark Brozovic was relatively successful, as the Croatian didn’t really start working his magic until after he left the field.
I also seriously question the ideas behind having four central midfielders on the field at a time for 41 minutes of game time. By the end of the game it was hard to discern how Juventus was actually lining up, and the team’s problems going forward were compounded by the fact that three of the four mids on the field basically do the same thing, so they were all getting in each other’s way and weren’t complimenting each other in any way. Instead of shoehorning four midfielders onto the field, the likes of Kaio Jorge and Matias Soule need to be considered options going forward.
Overall, Allegri was pragmatic to the point of fault, and especially with a trophy on the line needed to be a little bit more adventurous.
Juve welcome Udinese to the Allianz on Saturday, looking for revenge after the 2-0 lead they blew on opening day. Then Sampdoria comes to town for a Coppa Italia round of 16 showdown. Then Juve heads to Milan to face AC Milan in another huge top of the table match.