Although we still have roughly two months left in the season, after the
Ides events of March, it feels like the season is emotionally over and we’re just trudging along to the finish line.
But while Juventus has impressively solidified its grip on fourth place in the league, there are still some difficult games on the horizon that can threaten the team’s efforts to secure a place in next year’s Champions League competition. Speaking of which, Juventus embarrassingly crashed out of this year’s competition (yet again) in the Round of 16.
Oh, and Paulo Dybala is leaving the club as a free agent in the summer.
Juventus first traveled to the Artemio Franchi to face Fiorentina in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals. Due to Fiorentina’s incessant and somewhat bizarre hatred for the Bianconeri, the Franchi is never a particularly welcoming environment for Juventus. However, it was even more hostile this time around as former Fiorentina revelation Dusan Vlahovic returned to his old home to play the club he left only a few months ago.
Unsurprisingly, the Serbian had a difficult game and underwhelming performance as Fiorentina thoroughly dominated proceedings throughout the 90 minutes. The home side outshot Juventus by a staggering 22-6 margin, with six of their shots on target compared to a solitary shot on target from Max Allegri’s side. But as we all know, football is often a cruel, cruel game. In the 91st minute of the game, Fiorentina defender Lorenzo Venuti deflected Juan Cuadrado’s low cross into his own net to give the visitors a (scarcely deserved) 1-0 victory.
Juventus, decimated by injuries and barely able to name enough players for the bench, faced Spezia at home as the home side continued its push for a top 4 spot. While the first half was extremely impressive — Álvaro Morata continued his good form with a nice goal in the 21st minute — the Bianconeri rapidly fizzled out in the second half and threatened to drop points again as Spezia pushed hard for the equalizer. Thankfully, Allegri’s men held on to the lead and secured another victory and another clean sheet: 1-0.
Juventus then faced Sampdoria at the Luigi Ferraris, which is a place where the Bianconeri have frequently struggled to come away with a good result. Thankfully, there were no such problems this time around as a Morata-inspired Juventus beat Sampdoria 3-1. Morata and an own goal by Maya Yoshida (yet another!) gave Juventus a 2-0 lead, although a heavily deflected Abdelhamid Sabiri free kick goal gave Sampdoria the hope to grab a late equalizer. Morata quickly extinguished that glimmer of hope and put the result beyond doubt with a strong headed goal in the 88th minute: 3-1.
Then came the most disastrous game of the month: the 3-0 home loss against Villarreal in the second leg of the Champions League Round of 16. The irony is that the first half was one of the better first half performances we’ve seen of the team this season. And yet, at the same time, we also saw one of the most spectacular 12-minute collapses of the entire season.
Things grew stale in the second half and Villarreal, who looked scarcely bothered to even want to score a goal, somehow won a penalty in the 78th minute due to a somewhat clumsy foul by Daniele Rugani. Although Szczesny was agonizingly close to saving the spot kick, Gerard Moreno got enough power on it to put his team 1-0 ahead.
Pau Torres then added a second after heading home Serge Aurier’s flick-on from a corner. Matthijs de Ligt summed up the night’s misery when he was so desperate to save his compatriot Arnaut Danjuma’s shot in the penalty area that he used his hand to do so. Danjuma scored the subsequent penalty to place Juve out of its horrific misery and send it crashing out of Europe yet again: 3-0 (4-1 on aggregate).
The final game of the month saw Juve sleepwalk its way into a routine 2-0 victory over Salernitana. Juventus opened the scoring in the fifth minute thanks to a Paulo Dybala goal after some tidy passes between him, Cuadrado, and Vlahovic. His strike partner Vlahovic then doubled the team’s lead on the half hour mark thanks to a thumping header from a great De Sciglio cross.
Juventus failed to bounce back from its shock 2-1 loss to Empoli in February after only managing a 1-1 draw with AS Roma at the start of March. An own goal — Juve + own goals = a match made in heaven — by Angelica Soffia put Juve ahead in the 11th minute but Paloma Lázaro equalized on the hour mark.
Thankfully, the Bianconere roared back to winning ways with a thumping 6-1 away victory against AC Milan in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals. Two goals each from Cristiana Girelli and Agnese Bonfantini in addition to goals from Amanda Nilden and Martina Rosucci put Juve 6-0 ahead, although Lindsey Thomas’s goal in stoppage time “soiled” the clean sheet for Joe Montemurro’s side. Nevertheless, it should be a formality for his team to reach the final of the competition.
Back to the league we go, and Juve put in a dominant performance to beat Napoli 2-0 away from home. Goals from Lina Hurtig and Arianna Caruso sealed the deal for the Bianconere.
Then came one of the most monumental games of Juventus season: the first leg of the UEFA Women’s Champions League quarterfinals against European powerhouse Olympique Lyonnais. As expected, the French side dominated the game and took the lead early in the game through Catarina Macário's header. Juve regained their composure in the second half though, and the game turned on its head when Ellie Carpenter pulled Valentina Cernoia down and received a red card for her efforts.
After Montemurro’s inspired substitutions, the team overwhelmed Lyon and got a deserved equalizer through Cristiana Girelli. Then, the super sub Agnese Bonfantini put Juve in the lead after finishing from a marvelous through ball from the other inspired substitute Arianna Caruso. A stunning 2-1 comeback victory against one of Europe’s best sides! But the job is only half done, with the second leg in France this Thursday night, so we can’t get carried away yet.
From one massive game to the next: the Derby D’Italia at home against Inter. Lisa Boattin fired the Bianconere into the lead halfway the first half, but Tatiana Bonetti equalized less than 10 minutes later. Boattin then scored her — an absolute stunner, too — and Juve’s second soon after the break before Bonfantini sealed the victory with her second goal in as many games in the 69th minute: a tidy 3-1 win!
Negotiations: Positions vs. Interests
After all those meetings, agreements, and half-agreements, Juve’s mercurial number 10 Paulo Dybala will officially leave the club at the end of the season as a free agent. He’s rumored to be joined by Federico Bernardeschi and Alex Sandro as the club continues the curious trend across Europe of allowing players to run down their contracts and walk away on free transfers (although Sandro’s contract expires in the summer of next year, rather than this year, which means that we’ll get a nominal transfer fee for the Brazilian).
I’ve stated most of my thoughts on the Dybala ordeal in a previous podcast episode, but I did forget to add one line of thought that day.
You see, negotiations fascinate me. Such a delicate dance between two parties that have to find the most creative ways to both get what they want while never being completely sure of what the other wants. How much do you tell? How much do you conceal? When should you negotiate and when should you walk away?
One of the most interesting things about negotiation is the distinction between positions and interests. For example, one of Dybala’s positions was that he wanted more money in his new contract. However, the interest underlying that position may be that the increased salary was a way for him to feel more appreciated by the club and the focal club of Juventus going forward. Interests are fluid — there are multiple ways to satisfy an interest — while positions are rigid.
The point here is that a negotiation is almost never about the parties’ positions and almost always about their interests. Specific to the Dybala case, most reports seem to suggest that the main problem during the negotiations was the Argentine’s excessive salary demands. However, I perceive that to be Dybala’s position rather than his true interests.
But what were his true interests? Alas, only Dybala knows. Or does he? Because one thing I’ve learned as I’ve read more about negotiation is that people often don’t even know what their true interests are. They’re so stuck on their positions that they don’t know the true reason why they feel so strongly about them.
Another issue in negotiations is the delicate balance between asserting your interests while still maintaining the empathy to understand the other party’s interests. Given the copious amounts of meetings that Dybala and his agent had with the club, you would hope that both parties spent more time trying to figure out the other’s interests. That said, when you look at how unceremoniously the negotiations collapsed, you have to wonder if that was the case.
Which begs the question, what on Earth did they spend all that time talking about in all those meetings? Were they too busy discussing positions that they never bothered learning about each other’s interests? Or was it the archaic zero-sum game style of negotiating where one side tells the other to “give me xyz or else”?
Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
“Why they always act like we can fix it with a meeting?
All that linking up, man, I’ma see ya when I see ya.”
— Drake, “No Friends In The Industry”
Although March usually ends on a happy note because my birthday is on the last day of the month (note: I’m honestly not really a birthday person; I just go about my day like it’s any other), Juventus made sure that March will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Because the Bianconeri’s spectacular collapse in the Champions League was yet another indication of the fact that Juventus is no longer a big team in Europe and probably hasn’t been for a while.
It’s a damning indictment and painfully ironic given that it comes at a time that the club has spent the most money and dedicated most resources to pursuing the trophy that it so desperately wants. But if Juve isn’t a big club in Europe anymore, what on Earth are we?
We spend far too much on salaries and transfers to be a small club but don’t have anywhere near the sporting results in the Champions League to justify the label of “big club.” This leaves us in a painfully confusing no-man’s-land in which we have no identity and, worse yet, face something of an identity crisis.
It leaves me wondering what my expectations should be for the club, particularly in the Champions League. A club of this stature, history, and financial resources shouldn’t be languishing in the Group Stages/Round of 16. But you know what? To hell with all that romance, history, and inspiring club mottos because all that matters is the here and now.
And the here and now tells us that we aren’t and shouldn’t be considered a top club in Europe.