There’s a part of me that wants my only reaction to the Coppa Italia final between Juventus and Inter Milan to be the desire to rip the walls down. To go full Chiitan on things and start beating the crap out of whatever unfortunate inanimate object happens to be in my way.
But despite the dire performance of Paolo Valeri in the middle of the pitch, I can’t completely give myself over to righteous anger. For as terrible as the penalty call in the 78th minute was, and as bad as it was that Valeri didn’t give Marcelo Brozovic his marching orders moments after Juve had pulled into the lead when he committed a pair of bookable offenses in a matter of seconds, the fact of the matter is Juventus — and specifically Massimiliano Allegri — bear a large segment of the blame for their 4-2 extra-time loss against their hated rivals on Wednesday.
After Juve’s quick-strike turnaround put them into the lead early in the second half, Allegri had Inter at his mercy. They were completely on their heels, and just a little bit more pushing could well have produced the third goal that would have put the game away.
Instead, Allegri, as he has done so many times before, took his foot off the gas. He sent in an extra center-back with 24 minutes left to play, and from that point on Juventus didn’t register a shot until stoppage time — of the first half of extra time. Instead of killing the game off, he let it come to him, and it bit him in the ass when Valeri’s terrible call came to roost and sent the game into the extra period.
Was Valeri bad? Yes, yes he was. Was Allegri — who was also sniping at the Inter bench all game long and eventually had to be pulled away from a physical confrontation by his own players after he was sent off — at his absolute worst in this game, too? Yes, yes he was. Both are true, and both were the key factors in this loss.
Allegri was still without key long-term absences, but got a boost when Manuel Locatelli was fit enough to start on the bench, his first game since injuring his knee against this same Inter team in April. Like in that game, Allegri set the team up with a slightly more attacking look in a 4-2-3-1. Mattia Perin took his usual spot as the Coppa keeper, behind the back four of Danilo, Matthijs De Ligt, Giorgio Chiellini, and Alex Sandro. Denis Zakaria and Adrien Rabiot formed the double pivot in midfield. Allegri kept Alvaro Morata back as an impact sub, instead starting Federico Bernardeschi on the left side of the attacking line, along with Juan Cuardado on the right and Paulo Dybala in the hole. Dusan Vlahovic started as the lone striker.
Simone Inzaghi had a full compliment of players beside Matias Vecino and Alessandro Bastoni, who was only suited for the bench after failing a late fitness test. His 3-5-2 was the strongest lineup he could put out. Samir Handanovic was in goal, behind the defensive line of Danilo D’Ambrosio, Milan Skriniar, and Stefan De Vrij. Matteo Darmian and Ivan Perisic were the wing-backs, bookending Nicolo Barella, Brozovic, and Hakan Calhanoglu in midfield. Lautaro Martinez partnered with Edin Dzeko up top.
Unlike their last meeting, Juve couldn’t muster up much to start the game. Inter were on the front foot from the off, and Juve were barely able to string more than two passes together to get themselves out of their own half. The Nerazzurri opened the scoring early when the Juve defense completely shut down after clearing a corner. No one was in the direction the ball went, allowing Brozovic to collect it and pass it off to Barella on the left. He jinked his way around Cuadrado while Brozovic made a dummy run into the box — a run that Bernardeschi bit on hard. Suddenly afforded a good 3 yards of space, Barella had all the time in the world to load up and fire a stunning shot to the far post. All Perin could do was accost his defenders and wonder what on earth they had been doing.
Inter continued to dominate the next phase of the game, though without any more major shooting opportunities. But Juve were still flat and couldn’t string together any possession. That started to change when they finally took their first shot on 23 minutes, after a smart pass from Cuadrado found Dybala in the right channel, only for him to shoot right at Handanovic. Two minutes later Dybala turned provider and found Vlahovic on the left side, only for the Serbian to be denied in stunning fashion by Handanvoic, who rolled back the years with a brilliant one-handed parry on the dive.
Those shots marked a turning point in the match, and Juve slowly began to pick up their pace. Their press became more like the one that had flummoxed Inter for long stretches at the Allianz last month, and suddenly it was they who couldn’t get out of their own half. On the half hour Handanovic clawed a De Ligt header over the bar and then breathed a sigh of relief when the ensuing corner fell perfectly for Dybala, only for him to slash it wide of the target. Inter came close when Brozovic one-timed a blocked shot over, but Juve couldn’t quite make their pressure pay, and the teams went into the locker room at the half with Inter in the lead.
That lead didn’t last long. Less than five minutes into the half, Vlahovic tried to turn on De Vrij only to see his shot blocked. Sandro ran onto the ball at the edge of the area and hammered it toward goal. Morata gave it the barest of flicks on its way in, altering its path ever so slightly from where Handanovic expected it to be. It bounced off his midsection and into the net to tie the game.
Barely two minutes later, the game had been completely turned on its head on a textbook counterattack.
All four of Juve’s attacking players contributed to the move. Morata had the initial run out of defensive third before chipping it forward. Bernardeschi made a neat chest pass into the path of Dybala, who fired an inch-perfect through ball to Vlahovic with his first touch. Vlahovic charged into the box, hesitated just long enough to put D’Ambrosio on his rear end, and fired on goal. His shot hit Handanovic in the face, but the rebound came right back to him and he calmly stroked it home past a despairing Skriniar to give Juve a stunning lead.
Inter mounted an instant response when Darmian volleyed Calhanoglu’s cross, but Perin made a good save. Seconds later, the ball headed back upfield and Dybala made a couple of nice moves to get past Brozovic, forcing the Croatian to yank him back. It was a clear tactical foul and Valeri instantly produced a yellow card, prompting Brozovic, either to waste time or to protest the decision, picked up the ball and punted it back toward the Juve half. It was a move that would’ve seen a lot of referees rightly raise their card right back into the air again and send him off, but for some reason Valeri declined to do so.
Juve remained in the ascendency for the next 10 minutes, not allowing Inter a sniff and forcing Handanovic into two more saves through Morata and Dybala. It looked like a third goal to seal the game was in the offing — so of course Allegri decided at that moment to pack things in. In the 65th minute, he sent in Leonardo Bonucci for Bernardeschi and transitioned to a back three.
The mistake here can’t be overstated.
Inter was against the ropes, and Allegri, of his own volition, chose to allow them back into the center of the ring where they could regroup and start throwing punches again. Twenty-five minutes is entirely too long to reasonably expect to hold out against sustained pressure from a team as good as Inter without running the risk of something bad happening. The fact that Something Bad turned out to be a ridiculous penalty call doesn’t absolve him of the fact that he made a bad decision.
It was the 78th minute when substitute Denzel Dumfries floated a good cross in to the back post. Perisic headed it down beautifully to Martinez, who was confronted with de Ligt and Bonucci between himself and the goal. As he tried to get free, he hooked his foot into the crook of Bonucci’s knee on his backswing and tumbled to the ground. In real time, it looked like a stone-cold penalty, and Valeri pointed to the spot almost immediately. But the fact that VAR official Aleandro Di Pardo didn’t look at the footage staring him in the face and realize that it was Martinez that initiated the contact is unconscionable. It wasn’t the first time a call like this has gone against Juve, either — Dries Mertens earned a penalty in last year’s Supercoppa in a similar incident involving Weston McKennie — so it’s possible that referees are actually being told to call plays this way, which violates all forms of logic.
Regardless, for the second straight game, Hakan Calhanoglu stepped up to an extremely dodgy penalty in a game-changing situation. The Turkey international hit one of the sweetest penalties you’ll ever see in your life, kissing the ball into the roof of the net off the inside of the post. It was the kind of shot that makes the keeper — who, for the record, actually dove the right way — completely irrelevant.
Shortly after the equalizer a fracas broke out in the technical area, causing yellow cards to be shown to various coaches, including Allegri. When not focused on yelling at people, Allegri scrambled to undo his defensive posture, taking advantage of a cramping Chiellini to introduce Arthur to try and re-balance the side. Sandro also made way as extra time began for a fresh Luca Pellegrini, but before any of the subs could make a difference the officials poked their heads in again when de Ligt and De Vrij went for a ball in the box and the latter Dutchman ended up on the ground. Valeri initially waved play on, but Di Pardo called him over to look at the screen. This time the penalty was a deserved one, and with Calhanoglu back on the bench it was Perisic who stepped up, sending Perin the wrong way and roofing it much the same way his teammate had. Three minutes later, the wingback took a cutback from Federico Dimarco and hit a left-footed laser that Perin had no chance at stopping to put Inter ahead by two.
Tensions, at this point, boiled over completely.
Allegri went absolutely bonkers, attempting to fight Inter assistant Massimiliano Farris — he later claimed someone from the Inter touchline kicked him — and being shown a straight red by Valeri before being physically hauled away from the fracas by Bernardeschi.
Any pie-in-the-sky hopes that Marco Landucci taking over on the touchline would lead to some goals from out of nowhere were, unfortunately, dashed rather quickly. Juve had a few shots blocked in the second period of extra time but never seriously threatened apart from a loopy header that Vlahovic missed wide with in stoppages. With the final whistle, this wacky, crazy game — one that was unfortunately undone by the officiating — gave Inter their first Coppa triumph since Jose Mourinho’s tenure at the club, while Juve were left wondering what could have been as their first trophy-less season in 11 years became a reality.
MATTIA PERIN - 7. Made a couple of good saves, but ultimate the game was decided by things largely out of his control
DANILO - 5.5. Had trouble with Perisic from the off, and eventually needed replacing just before halftime.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 5. If one penalty was dodgy, the other wasn’t and it was a real surprise that de Ligt was the man at the other end. The challenge wasn’t particularly necessary either, as it looks like De Vrij was about to pass the ball away. He also sagged far too much off of Perisic on Inter’s fourth. Did make seven clearances, though.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 7. Cleared the ball seven times along with four interceptions. He worked his tail off in what he later acknowledged was his last meaningful game in a Juventus shirt.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. Made a couple of mistakes in the first half but more than made up for it in the second. He’s been given credit for the goal by night’s end, and he also made two tackles, three interceptions, and three clearances.
DENIS ZAKARIA - 5.5. Made five interceptions but was a passenger going forward, only touching the ball 29 times. That’s not good enough for a midfielder, especially one in a double pivot. That being said, he’s not used to this formation and is too similar to Rabiot to make things really work.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. Led the team with four tackles but was inconsistent going forward. Yeah he had a key pass, he also gave up possession six times.
JUAN CUADRADO - 5. Made a pair of key passes, but he was dribbled around far too easily for Barella’s opener and lost possession a lot. He could simply be wearing down after a long season.
PAULO DYBALA - 6. Worked his tail off to pick up one last trophy for Juve. Could have done better with his finishing, as he sent two balls right at Handanovic, but he was a creative outlet upfield and his pass to release Vlahovic was gorgeous and it’s a shame he didn’t get an assist because of the initial save.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 5. Made two key passes but needed to do more given his position on the pitch, especially after Cuadrado had to drop deep to cover for Danilo. Far too often he flunked with the ball at his feet. Did make that neat little chest pass in the buildup to Vlahovic’s goal.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6. Could well have had two goals, but Handanovic denied him brilliantly in the first half. Still had trouble dealing with the physicality of Skriniar, but he was given enough service in this game that he was able to make himself felt.
ALVARO MORATA - 6. Worked really freakin’ hard, and was instrumental in the equalizing goal, either as the last touch or as the screen for Handanovic, and he came incredibly close to icing the game with a cross that missed Bonucci by inches. You know how much getting this win meant to him, as he was in tears at the end.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 6. I’m not docking him for the penalty because of how nonsensical the call was. Adequate defensively otherwise, and hit on eight of 11 long balls. Almost sealed the game in normal time if the cross was four inches closer to him.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5. Perhaps a little too much to expect him to be sterling after a five-week layoff. He was never really in position to try to use his passing array as he was installed right as Allegri took his foot off the gas.
ARTHUR - 4. Did absolutely nothing to move the ball forward, and the picture of him looking totally gassed after playing only 36 minutes will linger for a long time.
LUCA PELLEGRINI - 6. Pulled some really nifty moves as he tried to attack and was one of the only guys pushing it with any sense of purpose in extra time.
MOISE KEAN - 4. Rarely in a position to create a threat, only touching the ball five times.
I’ve already made it clear how I feel about how Allegri performed in this game. Yes, Valeri and that nonsensical penalty call was bad, but Allegri’s decision to slam on the brakes and retreat into a shell with so much time left was simply asking for something to happen. It was a mistake, pure and simple. Had the penalty incident not occurred and Juve had won, it would still have been a mistake, just one he would’ve gotten away with.
Earlier this season, when Juve was in the throes of its worst stretch, I said on The Old Lady Speaks that I no longer considered Max Allegri a winning football coach. That was harsh at the time, but damn if I’m still not in that boat for the moment. Inter was right there for the taking on Wednesday, and with that staring him in the face, he chose not to deliver the coup de grace. You can say all you want about the defense being far more effective than years past, or the supposed improvement in the mentality of the team, but frankly I’m not buying it. Allegri will finish this season with fewer points and fewer trophies than Andrea Pirlo picked up last year, and with a far worse record against the league’s top three teams. The problem is Allegri’s insipid approach to the game, refusing to go for the kill and instead just hold on to whatver one-goal lead he bumbles his way into. That is holding this team back, badly.
There will be no change of coach this season. Allegri is making far too much money for him to be sacked. But there needs to be a serious change in how the current coach approaches the game if Juventus is going to take a step forward and start getting themselves up to where we’re used to seeing them. Another season of one goal and then dropping into a shell is not going to cut it;
Two more games remain until the summertime.
First, Juve faces off against Lazio at home on Monday night. It will be the last home game as Juventus players for both Chiellini and Dybala. After that, they finish the season with a trip to Fiorentina, although the time for the game has not been finalized until a clearer idea of the various races still going on presents itself.