As the cliché goes, we’re reaching the business end of the season. Just a handful of games remain on the calendar before everyone goes off to their respective summer breaks and we can review what has been a largely disappointing season.
But before everybody goes off to Ibiza to join Sami Khedira and Co. and watch 50 Shades of Dusan in the theaters, we’ve still got business on the pitch to take care of.
The Battle for Top Four
Juventus started the month with a little game called the Derby d’Italia versus bitter rivals Inter. No big deal, it’s just a game where one team was fighting for a place in the Champions League and the other for the league title.
It was arguably one of the most controversial games of the season in which, unfortunately, the referee was at the center of the action. Despite the fact that Juventus thoroughly dominated the game and displayed one of its most positive attacking performances of the season, Inter managed to eek out a scarcely deserved 1-0 victory thanks to a Hakan Calhanoglu penalty in the fourth minute of first-half stoppage time.
Somehow, the referee judged that Álvaro Morata’s step on Inter wingback Denzel Dumfries’ foot was worthy of a penalty kick. This is where things really kicked off, though. When penalty-killer Wojciech Szczesny saved Calhanoglu’s penalty, the Turkish midfielder scrambled the rebound over the line in an almighty-goalmouth scramble but the referee canceled the goal due to an alleged foul that Calhanoglu made during the scramble.
The referee (with “help” from VAR) then reversed the decision because Matthijs de Ligt supposedly ran into the penalty area too early as Hakan was taking the penalty. Despite furious protest from the Juventus players, the referee stood with his decision, Hakan retook and scored the penalty, and Inter eventually won the game 1-0.
The Bianconeri hit the woodwork twice, registered 22 shots (5 on target) to Inter’s 5 (1 on target; the goal), and had more possession than the visitors but just weren’t able to create enough clear-cut opportunities to take advantage of their dominance.
The Bianconeri then traveled to Sardinia to face relegation-battlers Cagliari. For the second consecutive league game, Allegri’s men conceded first as Joao Pedro fired Cagliari into a shock lead in the tenth minute. Juventus equalized on the stroke of halftime after Juan Cuadrado shook those hips one too many times for the defender to handle and placed an inch-perfect cross on Matthijs de Ligt’s head to knock it into the back of the net.
Dusan Vlahovic then scored his sixth goal in thirteen appearances for his new employer, although I’m not sure how much he knew about this goal. In the process of intercepting Paulo Dybala’s through ball, Cagliari defender Giorgio Altare deflected the pass perfectly onto the stumbling Vlahovic’s foot who poked the ball into goal. A scrappy but invaluable 2-1 victory for Juventus!
The team’s unpredictable form continued with a shockingly poor performance at home to Bologna. Sporting their, ehm, interesting fourth kit jerseys, Juve started brightly but quickly descended into a performance that was lacking in almost every facet. In fairness, Allegri was dealing with an injury crisis in the center of midfield, with Arthur, Manuel Locatelli, and Weston McKennie all out action. Danilo, Adrien Rabiot, and, inexplicably and bizarrely, Cuadrado formed the makeshift central midfield trio.
After a quiet first half, Bologna took the lead in the 52nd minute after Marko Arnautovic timed his run perfectly to beat the offside trap, run past Szczesny, and slot the ball into an open goal. But everything changed in the 84th minute when Morata was through on goal and was fouled by Adama Soumaoro, who was harshly judged to be the last man and received a red card.
Gary Medel was so furious with the referee that he received two yellow cards within ten seconds and, just like that, Bologna were down to nine men. All of this would have been irrelevant had Cuadrado scored from the loose ball that fell to him when Morata was fouled, but instead he hit the crossbar despite the completely open goal staring at him.
In spite of all that madness, we still had to wait all the way until the fifth minute of stoppage time for the equalizer after Dusan Vlahovic headed in Morata’s spectacular overhead kick assist: 1-1.
Juventus then welcomed Fiorentina to the Allianz Stadium for the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final. La Viola was looking to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg and it certainly looked that way as they brought the game to Juve and played intense, attacking football. Unfortunately for them, this played right into Juve’s hands as Max Allegri was able to play his favorite counter-attacking style of play.
Juve’s first goal was a direct result of this plan. A good tackle from Rabiot resulted in a lightning-fast counterattack and the ball found its way to Morata on the left wing. He launched an ambitious cross into the box that Fiorentina goalkeeper Bartlomiej Dragowski made an absolute mess of. The ball fell to Federico Bernardeschi who, with a lot still to do, chested the ball and blasted an impressive volley into the top corner.
To the visitors’ credit, they didn’t change a thing to their initial tactics and continued to pour forward in search of the two goals they now needed to progress to the final. But Juventus remained resolute in defense and had goalkeeper Mattia Perin made for some quality saves that he made to maintain the clean sheet.
Danilo delivered the killer blow in stoppage time after Cuadrado danced and shook his hips past a few Fiorentina defenders (again!) and squared the ball to the Brazilian for the easy tap-in: 2-0! A Coppa Italia final versus Inter on May 11th awaits us...
If you thought we weathered a storm against Fiorentina, then you were in for a real battle in the next game against Sassuolo. Alessio Dionisi’s side comprehensively outplayed Juventus and overpowered the visitors on almost every metric. They had more shots (22-10), more shots on target (7-5), more passes (666-372), and almost twice as much possession (64%) as the Bianconeri did. And yet, Allegri’s men emerged victorious in the most important stat in the game of football: goals.
Giacomo Raspadori picked up Domenico Berardi’s clever backheel and fired a powerful shot into the back of the net at Szczesny’s near post to open the scoring. As Danny would say, it’s a cardinal sin for a goalkeeper to be beat at the near post, but such is life.
The outgoing Dybala scored on the cusp of half-time after his ferocious, rising shot surprised Andrea Consigli (also!) at his near post. Despite Sassuolo’s continuous attacks and attempts on goal and Juve’s lack of attacking contributions, Allegri’s men somehow managed to keep the scores level and score a goal of their own a few minutes before the end.
He’s had an underwhelming season, but Moise Kean picked the perfect time to turn up for the big occasion. He picked up a pass from Alex Sandro, spun past the static Vlad Chiriches, and slammed home a stinging shot through Consigli’s legs to give his team a crucial 2-1 victory!
In one of the most monumental games in team’s short history, Juventus Women traveled to France to face Lyon in the second leg of the Champions League quarter final to defend their slim 2-1 lead from the first leg. Alas, it wasn’t to be as Lyon, who remain one of the best teams in women’s football, won the game and the tie with two quick-fire goals in as many minutes. Goals from Ada Hegerberg and Melvine Malard in the 33rd and 35th minute stunned Joe Montemurro’s team and forced them to chase a goal to at least push the game to extra time.
The game remained on a knife’s edge until Lyon finally got the breakthrough with their third game of the night: U.S. international Catarina Macario showed some tidy footwork to turn past defender Sara Gama and finish with a great shot past keeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin.
Although Andrea Staskova pulled a goal back for Juve to ensure it would be a nervy finish to the game for Lyon, the French giants held on to secure a 3-1 win on the night and 4-3 win on aggregate. Overall, it was an incredible display and a fantastic Champions League campaign that shows that the Juventus project is most certainly headed in the right direction.
The Bianconere returned to the welcoming embrace of the Serie A for a home game against Sampdoria. The team breezed past their opponents thanks to goals from Cristiana Girelli, Barbara Bonansea, and a penalty from Arianna Caruso. Unfortunately, Juventus couldn’t maintain a clean sheet as Caterina Bargi scored late in the second half to grab a consolation goal for the visitors. Final score: 3-1.
In the last game of the month, Juventus traveled to the capital to face relegation-threatened Lazio. The game was tougher than expected as the hosts canceled out Sofie Junge Pedersen’s 11th-minute opener with a 28th-minute equalizer from Noemi Visentin. The scores remained level until Montemurro’s team sprung to life in the second half and scored three goals in twelve minutes. Caruso scored two quick-fire goals and Pedersen got her second of the game soon afterwards. Staskova put the cherry on top with Juve’s fifth and final goal of the game a few minutes before the end: 5-1!
Unfortunately, the Scudetto celebrations were put on hold for another two weeks as Roma narrowly beat Fiorentina 3-2 the day before to keep their slim hopes of winning the title alive.
After deciding to retire from international football, it seems likely that Juventus defender and club legend Giorgio Chiellini will also leave Juventus at the end of the season. Rumor has it that he might have a last hurrah in Major League Soccer, but we haven’t heard any official confirmation on that yet.
It’s always sad to read about the retirement of such a marvelous player, but in fairness, it was very much expected. The news marks the end of the career of one of Juve’s best and most loyal servants in its long history. Chiellini started suffering from injuries more frequently the last few seasons, so it’s probably best for his health to quit before his body forces him to do so.
Who knows if he will indeed go to MLS or just call it a day with his career. Given that he has an economics degree, he has a lot of options for the next phase of his life. He could become a director at Juventus, leave the industry altogether and try his hand at a different line of work, or, as most celebrities and former athletes often do, go into venture capital.
Whatever he does, one thing will never change: the undying gratitude and love that Juventini have for this incredible gentleman, player, and all-round fantastic human being.
Grazie mille, Giorgio.
I know it when I see it
We end this month’s recap with a discussion about some action off the pitch. In the highly controversial “Operation Prisma” — a case in which Juventus President Andrea Agnelli, former Juventus Director of Football Fabio Paratici, and other members of the Juventus front office are being accused of false accounting in player valuations — the Italian football federation abruptly acquitted all of Juve’s defendants.
Juve’s lawyers successfully argued that given that there’s no objective way to determine a player’s value, the claim that they inflated these values is invalid. Apparently, it was enough to convince the FIGC and the charges were dropped.
As I mentioned in a recent podcast episode, this situation reminds me of that famous quote by former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when ruling on a case regarding the definition of pornography. After all parties had struggled to come up with an objective definition that they could agree on, Justice Stewart said the following:
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”
In other words, it’s too difficult to agree on an objective definition of pornography, but every adult knows it when they see it.
I think the same is the case with Operation Prisma. In my many years of following football, I have never come across an objective, bulletproof method for determining a player’s value. We can get a good idea of it based on experience, but there’s simply no mathematical law that determines what a player is worth.
That said, we know when a player is obscenely overvalued. If, for example, Nicolò Fagioli were suddenly sold for €300 million to Real Madrid, we would know that it was ridiculous.
But besides such ludicrously extreme cases, how can you objectively argue that a player is or is not worth a certain amount of money? While I don’t think this absolves us from any wrongdoing, I think it proves the inherently subjective nature of football.
Because beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.