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January’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: Pleasant Surprises

Not a lot happened in January until ... well, a lot happened.

AC Milan vs Juventus - Serie A Photo by Piero Cruciatti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Three wins, two draws, and a stoppage-time extra-time loss in the Supercoppa Italiana.

All things considered, Juventus came out of a grueling series of matches in January in pretty good shape. With only one point (and an additional game played) separating the Bianconeri from fourth-placed Atalanta, it seems like the team is still on track to achieve its (lowly?) target of a top 4 position in the league table.

But there’s still much work to be done and many games to be played. Let’s start by looking back at the ones from the first month of 2022.

And don’t worry, we’ll review what was the real talking point of January: Juve’s remarkable transfer market dealings in the last week of the month.

Football, bloody hell

Juventus welcomed a depleted Napoli side to the Juventus Stadium in what ended up being a pulsating encounter in the battle for a spot in the top 4. Napoli striker Dries Mertens opened the scoring as he fired past Wojciech Szczesny in goal and Matthijs de Ligt on the goal line.

Napoli defended resolutely as Juventus struggled to create clear-cut chances. But the Bianconeri were rewarded for their perseverance when Federico Chiesa pounced on Rrahmani’s headed clearance and saw his deflected shot go into the back of the net. Although Juve pushed hard for the winner, the final score was 1-1, a result that does little to help either team.

Juventus v Napoli - Serie A Photo by Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Then came arguably the game of the month: the rollercoaster match at the Olimpico against AS Roma. Tammy Abraham, completely unmarked in the box, opened the scoring for Jose Mourinho’s side in the 11th minute through a simple header from a corner. Paulo Dybala equalized less than 10 minutes later through a cracking left-footed strike after receiving a pass from Chiesa. Unfortunately, that was the last we’ll see of Chiesa for at least seven months as the Italian winger suffered a torn ACL in his left knee.

While the first half was relatively muted, the second half was an absolute spectacle. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s deflected shot looped over Szczesny to give the Romans a 2-1 lead in the 48th minute. Then, Lorenzo Pellegrini scored one of the best free kicks I’ve seen in a long time to double his side’s lead.

It looked like it was going to be another sorry evening and another demoralizing result for Max Allegri’s side until, well, things changed. Coming off the bench, Álvaro Morata turned the game on its head first thanks to a perfectly-weighted cross for Manuel Locatelli’s headed goal and then by lashing a fierce shot at goal that Rui Patricio saved but then Dejan Kulusevski pounced on the rebound to score the equalizer.

The most surprising event of the day came in the 77th minute of the game: a fantastic Mattia De Sciglio goal from the half volley! I still can’t believe I wrote that sentence but it really happened people, it really did.

But wait, there’s more! The referee gave Roma a penalty kick after he judged that de Ligt handled the ball in the box. The Dutch defender received his second yellow card and was sent off, but thankfully Szczesny came to the rescue and saved Pellegrini’s poor penalty kick. It was a breathless encounter ended in a 4-3 victory for Juventus and a remarkable seven-minute capitulation by Mourinho’s team.

Juve then traveled to the Giuseppe Meazza to face Inter in the Supercoppa. Weston McKennie continued his impressive run of form by scoring a headed goal midway through the first half, but Lautaro Martínez equalized from the spot after the referee judged that De Sciglio’s (soft?) foul on Edin Dzeko in the box warranted a penalty kick.

The score remained that way for the remainder of the game and well into extra time until, in the last seconds of stoppage time of extra time, Alex Sandro committed a catastrophic error that allowed Alexis Sánchez to score the winner and gave Simone Inzaghi’s men their first silverware of the season: 2-1 loss.

FC Internazionale v Juventus - Italian SuperCup
How the mighty have fallen...
Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Given that the first three games of the new year were so eventful, it was perhaps a nice change of pace when the Bianconeri faced Udinese in a much less intense league match. Dybala put Juventus ahead through a goal in the 19th minute (that he chose not to celebrate) and the team took its sweet time to seal the deal in the 79th minute through another McKennie headed goal: 2-0 victory.

Allegri’s side then played a comfortable exhibition match Coppa Italia Round of 16 game against Sampdoria at the Juventus Stadium. Juan Cuadrado and Daniele Rugani (yes, really!) scored two excellent goals to put the team 2-0 ahead, although Andrea Conti scored through a brilliantly executed volley to bring Samp back into the game with 63 minutes played.

Dybala and Morata (penalty) made sure the visitors didn’t complete an annoying comeback with a goal apiece in the 67th and 77th minute respectively to secure what was eventually a comfortable 4-1 victory. And yes, Dybala did celebrate this time.

Last and, arguably the least of the bunch, came the top of the table clash with Milan at the San Siro that ended in a goalless draw. It was, quite frankly, one of the worst attacking displays that the Bianconeri have shown in a long time. The team had a grand total of, wait for it ... zero shots on target. Milan played well and put Juve under pressure for periods of the game but Allegri’s side were solid defensively and did well to keep a clean sheet.

Juventus Women

Juventus Women kicked off the new year with a semi-final of the Supercoppa against Sassuolo. (What is it with all these Super Cup games being turned into mini-tournaments?)

There was nothing to separate the two sides after 120 minutes as the scores were level at 1-1. Lana Clelland of Sassuolo equalized for her team a minute after Amanda Nilden scored to put Juventus ahead in the 10th minute, so off to penalties we went. Despite Lisa Boattin’s penalty miss, Juventus won the shootout 4-3 and progressed to the final against AC Milan.

The final was certainly no easier than the semi-final. Joe Montemurro’s side fell behind seconds before halftime through a deflected Christy Grimshaw header. Juventus equalized soon after the break as Barbara Bonansea’s cross was deflected into her own goal by Valentina Bergamaschi.

Just when we thought the game was heading for extra time, Cristiana Girelli looped a header into goal from a corner in the 88th minute to give Juventus the 2-1 victory and a third consecutive Super Cup victory!

Arianna Caruso of Juventus FC raises the trophy while she... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Bianconere traveled to Pomigliano d’Arco to face Pomigliano in the Serie A. This was by far their easiest game of the month as they trashed their opponents 5-0: the goals came from Lina Hurtig, Valentina Cernoia, Barbara Bonansea, Sara Gama, and a Sara Cetinja own goal.

From the easiest game of the month to arguably the toughest one: a battling 2-2 home draw with Fiorentina that ended the Bianoncere’s record-breaking, extraordinary 36-game winning streak in the Serie A. Juventus fell not one, but two goals behind before halftime as a Valentina Giacinti lobbed goal after a turnover by backup goalkeeper Roberta Aprile and an own goal by Sara Gama put the team in a situation it has rarely, if ever, been in during a league match.

But Montemurro’s side battled back valiantly. Cernoia blasted the team back into the contest with a cracking strike just before half time and Arianna Caruso’s goal completed the comeback to ensure that Juventus took a point from a tough game.

For the last game of the month, Juventus faced Inter in the first leg of the Coppa Italia quarterfinal. A tightly contested first half ended goalless and it seemed like the second half was going to end the same until Njoya Ajara scored for Inter with a low shot that went past Pauline Peyraud-Magnin in the Juve goal.

Just when it looked like Juve were going to experience its first loss in all competitions since October, Boattin scored a remarkable equalizer when her corner kick flew straight into the back of the net in the 93rd minute: 1-1. The second leg in two weeks’ time promises to be a cracker!

Renaissance

In last month’s recap, I talked about the good run of form that Federico Bernardeschi (surprisingly) and Luca Pellegrini (a little less surprisingly) were experiencing recently. Two additional players have joined this famed category of “Hmm, guess they’re not so bad after all.”

Daniele Rugani and, most remarkably, Mattia De Sciglio have had extremely impressive performances in January and provided much needed backup for the injured duo of Danilo and Leonardo Bonucci.

In Rugani’s case, you have to wonder whether either:

  1. It’s a situation where he always was a good player but Juventus simply never gave him a chance (possible, but unlikely)
  2. Not having the weight of expectation of being “the future of Italy’s defense” helped him play better (more likely)
  3. He’s one of those defenders (which happens quite often) that only peaks late in his career (likely), or
  4. All of the above (isn’t that always the right answer in multiple choice exams? Worked quite well for me in uni).
AC Milan v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

As for the much-criticized De Sciglio, I frankly have no idea what caused his return from the darkness of Middle Earth uptick in form. I don’t have a logical reason to explain it, so I’m not even going to try. I’m just going to be grateful, not jinx it, and ask Mattia to keep doing what he’s doing.

If Rugani and De Sciglio of them keep up the good work, might we see them play for Italy in the World Cup playoff match against North Macedonia in March? Who knows. Crazier things have happened.

No friends in the industry

Juventus completed the most expensive January transfer in Serie A history when the Bianconeri signed the much-coveted Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina for a whopping €70 million, although the total cost of the transfer is upwards of €100 million.

I’m quite torn about this transfer.

On one hand, I’m against it because I believe that Juve’s problem seems to be chance creation rather than chance conversion, which would suggest that we need either a creative midfielder or someone that can anchor the midfield so that Locatelli can play higher up the pitch. Moreover, if the rumors of Juve failing to extend the contracts of the likes of Bernardeschi, Cuadrado, and, especially, Dybala because the club is broke, it’s quite bizarre to see this avalanche of cash appear out of nowhere to pay for Vlahovic. That said, I’m not an expert in Juve’s finances so, as the great Kevin Hart once said, I’ll stay in my lane.

On the other hand, fellow writer of the website Calvin shared data with me that showed that Fiorentina create roughly the same amount of big chances per game as Juventus does, meaning that Vlahovic is clearly no stranger to being starved of chances. But he sure knows how to make something out of nothing. Given this data, I’ve changed my mind and am tentatively in favor of the move.

That said, who knows what the financial and sporting ramifications of this move will be. But what I do know is that this transfer, in which the big, bad Juve continues to plunder Fiorentina for its talent, doesn’t earn us any new friends in Florence or Italy in general.

Oh, and I don’t think Dusan is welcome there anymore, either.

A very hot winter

This has to be the most eventful and remarkable January transfer window that I’ve experienced in my almost two decades of being a Juventino. In addition to the aforementioned Vlahovic transfer, here’s what you might have missed in what was an absolute whirlwind of an ending to the winter mercato:

Footballers are human beings

I hate to end this month’s recap on a downer, but I felt obliged to talk about the sad case of Mohamed Ihattaren in order to remind you all that footballers are human beings, too.

The youngster very quietly joined Ajax on loan after the club failed to sign Steven Bergwijn, who rescued his Spurs career in spectacular fashion after an electrifying two minutes of play against Leicester City. But the story of Ihattaren’s brief and sad career in Italy is another reminder of what happens when we forget that footballers are human beings and not commodities.

The 19-year old midfielder suddenly left Sampdoria in October without letting a soul at the club know about his departure. In a very sad but insightful interview with the prominent Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, he described the personal challenges he faced when he joined Samp and claims that there was completely no support system for him to help him settle into his new environment:

“There I was, a 19-year-old sitting in a hotel room. Alone, abandoned, and left to my own devices. All kinds of appointments and promises weren’t fulfilled. It was as if I didn’t even exist. I wasn’t paid and nothing was organized for me, not even a bank account or insurance.

All signs seemed to point to the fact that I was undesired. I become emotional on the pitch [during training] and after training I called a friend of mine who was at the hotel and asked him what time we could fly back [to the Netherlands].

I departed at 1:30pm and never returned to [the city of] Genoa. I lost all faith.”

[Translated from this article]

However, Sampdoria President Marco Lanna blasted Ihattaren for his statements, claiming that the Dutchman was “telling lies”, “speaking nonsense”, and that “everyone at Sampdoria says that not a letter of this is true”. Lanna was so outraged that he suggested that the club will sue Ihattaren for tarnishing Sampdoria’s reputation with his supposedly false statements.

Mohamed Ihattaren Signs A Contract With Juventus Photo by Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Lanna didn’t dispute the claims that the club failed to pay the Dutch midfielder any wages, but claimed that Samp fulfilled all their obligations and that “the player decided by himself to leave the club without notice.”

Samp coach Marco Lanna backed his president up and had some strong words to share about the Ihattaren saga:

“I think that [Sampdoria] reacted correctly to what that boy [Ihattaren] said. From a sporting perspective I can say that what he said was all nonsense and lies. If it were up to me, we wouldn’t waste a single page in the newspaper on a player who was never here.”

Whoever you decide to believe, one thing is clear to me. When football clubs are so desperate to find the next Neymar, the next Messi, and the next Cristiano Ronaldo, they’ll do anything to pluck these kids out of their home environments at younger and younger ages.

We think we can move these kids from one county to another country (or, as is often the case with South American youngsters, to an entirely different continent) in the same way we move our assets from one bank account to another.

But these are children, for God’s sake. 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds that are still mentally and emotionally undeveloped.

The younger that we pull these kids out of their home environments and plunge them into a foreign country and a new environment without a social support system, the more we risk destroying their social, mental, emotional, and even physical development.

The more we do this, the more sad cases of Mohamed Ihattaren we’ll have in the football world. And that would be a terrible, terrible shame.