It isn’t often that the scoreline is considered a secondary concern at a Juventus game. This is a club that has the phrase “Winning is not important, it is the only thing that matters” etched into their lore.
But there are times, every once in a while, even at a club like Juventus, that the score becomes a footnote.
Monday was one of those days.
The fact that Juve hocked up a lead with the last kick of the match will not be what this game is remembered for. Maybe Lazio fans will point to it next year as it’s what made their Europa League campaign possible, but in Turin, this game — which ended 2-2, by the way — will forever be remembered as the day Juventus said a tearful goodbye to two of the greatest and most loyal servants the club has had.
Those two men, Giorgio Chiellini and Paolo Dybala, are now the fourth and fifth men to have received a Lap of Honor around the Allianz Stadium since the practice was first inaugurated 10 years ago almost to the day during Alessandro Del Piero’s last game. (A sixth deserved it, but was never given the chance. Love you, Claudio.) Their farewells, both during the game and after it was over, were far and away the most memorable parts of this night at the Allianz.
Massimiliano Allegri sent out a 4-2-3-1 formation for this match. With Juve locked into fourth place, Mattia Perin was given a rare league start. Chiellini started one last game with his longtime partner in crime Leonardo Bonucci, the pair of them flanked by Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro. Manuel Locatelli made his first start in almost six weeks, forming the double pivot with Fabio Miretti. Dybala was joined in the support line by two men who were also potentially seeing their last home game in Juve colors, Federico Bernardeschi and Alvaro Morata. The trio backed up Dusan Vlahovic up front.
Facing them was the familiar, cigarette-chomping visage of Maurizio Sarri, the man who last won the scudetto with Juventus. He deployed his men in his typical 4-3-3 setup, with Thomas Strakosha at the base. Manuel Lazzari, Francesco Acerbi, Patric, and Adam Marusic formed the back line, with the midfield of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Danilo Cataldi, and Luis Alberto ranging ahead of them. The front line was a bit more of a problem, as Ciro Immobile didn’t make the trip with an ankle injury. That left Felipe Anderson and Mattia Zaccagni to flank the false nine of Jovane Cabral.
Before the match, a ceremony was held for the Juventus Women, who held up their fifth straight Serie A trophy aloft for the Allianz Stadium faithful.
When the match started, the visitors quickly looked to control possession and begin the typical Sarri passing moves, and one almost broke the scoring within five minutes when Zaccagni cut past Cuadrado far too easily and then exchanged a series of passes with Cataldi, who finished the move with an incredible 22-yard snap shot that cracked off the crossbar and over.
Lazio were clearly the aggressor but Juve were still getting a few swings in. Two minutes after Cataldi’s close call Morata headed a beautiful ball down for Vlahovic, but it bounced a little too much for him to get it under control and he couldn’t get a shot away. But there were no such issues in the 10th minute, when Sandro and Morata exchanged passes after a throw-in and Morata whipped in a gorgeous cross that Vlahovic met with a diving header into the goal. He then celebrated in a way that was both heartwarming and heartbreaking, pointing at Dybala before throwing up the Argentine’s trademark Dybala Mask as his teammate leapt onto his back.
Two minutes later, one of the other farewell men came close to doubling the lead, as Bernardeschi rode the challenge of Marusic and aimed a curler for the top far corner, only just missing. Lazio reminded everyone of the threat they posed a few minutes later when Anderson latched onto a poor defensive header by Cuadrado but could only push it wide.
It was just after this that the first wave of tears began to flow. Matthijs de Ligt made his way to the center line, and in the 17th minute — one for each of the 17 years he has spent battling for the team — Chiellini left the field at the Allianz Stadium one final time, hugging each and every one of his teammates and giving de Ligt, his natural successor, a bear hug at the touch line. A round of hugs on the bench followed before he embarked on his Lap of Honor, inundated by scarves and autograph requests.
Over the next 20 minutes, Juve dropped deep to defend while Lazio moved the ball around the field, trying to find the opening that would get them back into the match. Perin had to make a couple of saves and Zaccagni and Alberto both took good shots that went over the bar. It was looking like Sarri’s men would find a way to get back into things when Juve broke downfield in the 36th minute. A delightful back-heel by Dybala sent Cuadrado through the middle, and the Colombian then slotted Morata into the left channel. It looked like the Spanish striker would be stopped by a pair of Lazio defenders, but a little hesitation found an opening and he steered a beautiful curler past a leaping Strakosha and into the net to double the lead, marking what could well be his own last game at the Allianz with a goal to go along with his earlier assist.
By the half, Juve had only taken three shots, but two of them had found paydirt. Lazio, by contrast, had controlled 59 percent of possession and taken six corners, but had only troubled Perin twice for all their dominance on the ball.
Juve came a whisker from sealing things as the second half began when Miretti charged a ball down at the byline and pulled it back, nearly leaving it in the perfect spot for Dybala, but it was a little bit short of him and the defense beat him there, depriving La Joya of what was probably his best chance to sign off with a goal of his own. Unfortunately, Juve let their opponents back in not long after when Lazio finally beat the first man with a corner. Patric rose up to head the ball, and Sandro stuck out a leg to try to clear it, only to redirect it past a despairing Perin into his own net.
Sarri added to the pressure by sending Pedro Rodriguez on for Cabral not long after, and the evergreen Spaniard flew one narrowly over the bar only four minutes after his introduction. Fatigue from Wednesday’s extra-time effort in the Coppa Italia final may have finally begun to take hold, and Perin had to be smart to a couple more shots before Allegri decided to shake things up and made a triple change, oddly removing both Vlahovic and Morata along with Locatelli, and replacing them with Marley Ake, Moise Kean, and Luca Pellegrini. This resulted in an odd-looking 4-5-1 formation with Dybala at its head and with Bernardeschi and Sandro playing midfield alongside Miretti.
Kean came ever-so-close to restoring the advantage with 20 minutes to go, chesting down from Bernardeschi and half-volleying it just wide of the far post. Juve continued to defend their lead from deep, and then in the 77th minute, the last player up for a substitution moved over to the center line. It was 20-year-old debutant Martin Palumbo, and it signaled the end for Dybala. The teary-eyed No. 10 disappeared into a many-armed group hug before making his way to the sidelines to a tremendous ovation. He was met at the sideline by both coaches, one who had brought him up at Juve and one who had overseen him in some of his best form, before a grinning Chiellini appeared for another lengthy embrace. His own Lap of Honor commenced shortly thereafter, with him signing absolutely everything he could reach.
Lazio were desperate for an equalizer that would solidify their position in the Europa League race. They thought they had it just as normal time expired when Anderson stroked the ball home, but Milinkovic-Savic had fouled Bernardeschi in the buildup and referee Giovanni Ayroldi rightly blew his whistle. The Serb made up for it, however, as the last seconds ticked down. A misguided attempt at drawing a foul from Cuadrado triggered a final desperate counter. Toma Basic fired from just outside the area and was denied by a diving Perin, but he could only parry it, and Milinkovic-Savic beat Pellegrini to the ball and flipped it into the roof of the net from a tight angle to tie the game and send Lazio home with a point and a spot in Europe’s second competition.
But by that point no one was looking at the result. In a post-match ceremony, both the men’s and women’s teams formed a guard of honor, and Chiellini walked to the center of the pitch, accompanied by his daughters. Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, his partners in the BBC, soon joined him, as did team president Andrea Agnelli to present him with a memento. After a rousing tribute video, Chiellini went off with his family to salute the crowd. The rest of the team, meanwhile, had other plans.
As the club had highlighted Chiellini’s farewell in the run-up to the game, they had studiously ignored Dybala. The fans had made their feelings about that quite clear when they roundly booed Agnelli upon his introduction during Chiellini’s ceremony, giving the same treatment to any of the team’s front office that showed up on the big screens. Dybala’s teammates took matters into their own hands, swarming him and lifting him into the air before sending him to the Curva Sud to say a final goodbye, at which point Paulo, whose emotions are never far from the surface, broke. Clearly not ready to go, Dybala began sobbing uncontrollably as he gave the fans that he had served for seven years one final goodbye.
And so Juventus bade farewell to two of their most storied performers, one a generational stalwart who enters the pantheon of legend, the other a high-level performer and top 10 all-time goalscorer who gave his all to the club.
No, man, it’s just the pollen in New York. It’s murder this time of year.
MATTIA PERIN - 7. Perin made some really good stops in this game. Cataldi tested him several times with powerful shots from range and not only did he save those shots he caught them. His save on Basic’s initial shot at the end of the game was also a top-class stop with one hand, but Milinkovic-Savic’s follow-up was just unstoppable, and there aren’t many things keepers can do about own goals.
JUAN CUADRADO - 5.5. Registered the assist for Morata’s goal and completed 94.6 percent of his passes, but the assist was his only key pass and he was beaten far too easily defensively on several occasions. He’s been run ragged the last two years and could probably use a real break. It might be a blessing from Juve’s standpoint that Colombia didn’t manage to qualify for the World Cup.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 5.5. Relatively uneventful night from a counting stats standpoint, but he was far too passive in the run up to Basic’s last-ditch shot. He did connect on eight of 13 long balls, some of which were real beauties. He’ll have to tighten up his game next year in order to live up to the captain’s armband he’s inheriting.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 10. For 17 years you showed the world what it meant to play for Juventus. There will truly never be another defender like him. I can’t wait to see him in the directors’ box in a few years. Grazie mille, Giorgio.
ALEX SANDRO - 5. Actually had more in the way of counting stats than any other defensive player on the night — two tackles, three interceptions, and two blocked shots were all team highs — but the own goal was so ugly. This may have been his last game at the Allianz as well, and it unfortunately wasn’t a great capper.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. This was a major step in the right direction for Locatelli. He played this game the way he did for Roberto De Zerbi in his 4-2-3-1 at Sassuolo, dropping deep to orchestrate passes and then moving forward as the play reached the opposing box. He completed 92.7 percent of his passes, including all five long balls, one of which was an absolutely beautiful diagonal switch. If Allegri were to decide to stick with this plan — and this midfield partner — we could see some great things.
FABIO MIRETTI - 6. He continues to impress in his late-season cameo. The minute he receives the ball he’s looking to move it forward with purpose. Sometimes it’s to a fault — his attempt at keeping the ball in along the sideline led to a shot on target by Felipe Anderson in the first half, but his attitude earned a mention from Allegri in his post-match press conference, and his combo with Locatelli produced some of the team’s best collective midfield play all year — and against one of the league’s better midfield units at that.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 6. Had a key pass, led the team in dribbles, and co-led the team in clearances. Asked to play a weird mezz’ala hybrid for much of the second half, he put in a hell of an effort, sticking his foot in for all kinds of challenges. He never met the expectations of his signing, but he worked hard for the club and that Atletico Madrid game will live on in memory for a long time.
PAULO DYBALA - 10. You were poorly treated by a club you gave everything to — perhaps even the prime of your career when you tried to go against Lyon two years ago when it was clearly too soon. Through all of it, you still managed to tie for ninth all-time in goals for the club, and you had some truly fantastic seasons. Your love for and commitment to this shirt are not overlooked. I wish we had more time with you. Be well wherever you go, Paulo.
ALVARO MORATA - 8. Speaking of another man who deeply and truly loves Juventus, if this was Morata’s sign-off it was one hell of an effort, putting in a pinpoint cross for the assist on the first goal before scoring an absolute peach on his own for his second that could very well end up on my top goals list in a few weeks. There’s still a chance he may stay, but it’s slim, and I wish him well wherever he may go.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6.5. Scored one heck of a header, and added a key pass beyond. His relationship with Dybala is clearly a strong one, and it really is a shame that they won’t be able to see them work together long-term.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 6. The usual for him, defending well in the center of the pitch as he was ceremoniously handed the keys to the Juventus defense upon his introduction.
MARLEY AKÉ - 5. Wasn’t able to make any real runs into the opposing half, and was either a passenger defensively or throwing himself all over the place. Only got to attempt five passes in half an hour of game time.
MOISE KEAN - 5.5. Very nearly put the game away with a sweet chest-and-volley with 20 minutes left, but wasn’t seen much beyond that.
LUCA PELLEGRINI - 5.5. Made some really good defensive moves late in the game to shield off opponents and shepherd the ball out for either a goal or a throw, but he made the wrong read on the Basic rebound and couldn’t stop Milinkovic-Savic from scoring.
MARTIN PALUMBO - NR. Hell of a way to make your debut coming on for a guy like Dybala in that situation. Great hair, though.
In a game like this there’s only so much to get worked up about, but that weird jumble of a formation that Max had the team in for the last half-hour...what the flap was that? You had Bernardeschi and SANDRO playing as midfielders along with Miretti and Dybala up as a lone striker ... I don’t know, my head hurts. I guess it almost succeeded in keeping the team ahead, but it all just looked so strange and disjointed. I dunno.
One positive thing did pop up though, and that was the midfield. The Locatelli-Miretti double pivot was an absolute joy to watch, especially in the first half. Locatelli did what he did best at Sassuolo, dropping deeper and then raking the opposition with an array of passes, while Miretti took the fruits of that labor and tried to deliver it to the forwards. Miretti is looking more and more like he’s giving Max something to think about, and if he can force him to keep him around and keep putting him into a situation like this, it would be VERY interesting to watch.
Only one more game remains on the schedule, in the Saturday prime time slot against Fiorentina in Florence. It remains to be seen whether Chiellini or Dybala will play in that game, which still means something in terms of European qualification for the Viola.