As Serie A returned to our lives, there were two potentially scenarios for Juventus as they faced their first challenge of 2023. Juve could either author a dominant performance reminiscent of the form they had in late 2022, or they could struggle against a relegation battler as they had done for most of the aforementioned 2022.
And a struggle was had indeed, as Juventus huffed and puffed and grinded to a miraculous escape in Lombardy by barely defeating Cremonese 1-0 on Arek Milik stoppage-time free kick.
A lot of the trademark telltale signs for a bad Juve games were there from the start — sloppy midfield possession, poor offensive efforts, a defensive mentality against a team that had all of 11 goals this season. It was, in a lot of ways, the Bianconeri that we had come to know and dread in the initial months of the season.
With one key difference, though. They won the football match.
Despite their poor performance — and thanks to Napoli losing to Inter later in the day — Juventus manages to find itself in a better position today than after thrashing Lazio on the cusp of the World Cup break.
What a time to be alive.
MVP: Federico Gatti
It really is hard for me to give MVP points in these types of games.
Everyone was mostly average to bad and it was a slugfest of a match that had very few remarkable performances. Usually I default to the player who scored the goal, but Arek Milik was kinda poor throughout until his miracle free kick late, so, who gets it?
Well, Federico Gatti, step right up my friend. Best of the rest indeed.
To his credit, Gatti played fairly decent football as he continues to steady himself in the position. We all knew it was going to take a bit of time for him to acclimate to Serie A, but it seems like recently he’s finally starting to round into shape.
Runner Up: Arek Milik - OK, fine, I do have to give some credit to Milik. That was a well taken goal to rescue the win from what had all the look of a bummer of a draw. Milik has been more often good than not, so this performance was a bit of a shock. I don’t expect him to play this bad too often.
Young and Wild and Free
Look at that starting lineup:
It’s like it was born from the depths of Juve Twitter just to get everyone excited. Nicolo Fagioli, Fabio Miretti and — for the first time ever as a starter — Matia Soule all lined up from the jump in the first game back from the World Cup break. And, sure, a lot of it had to do with Adrien Rabiot — a Max Allegri favorite — being barely back from his World Cup participation, but still, it’s not nothing that so early in their careers Allegri is trusting them to get meaningful minutes.
(Even best young player in the universe Samuel Iling-Junior got a cameo late as he geared back to return from injury.)
Did they all play great? Not really! Miretti was played out of position for most of the game, Fagioli was largely ineffective and while Soule had some flashes and good dribbles his performance overall was up and down in a makeshift wingback role. And it’s not to blame them, those games are normal — even expected — for young guys finding their footing. It’s nevertheless encouraging that Allegri — and perhaps the higher-ups? — are willing to find out if their investment in young players is going to pan out.
(It’s better than the never ending carousel of barely played primavera kids getting immediately flipped for profit, no?)
Defense Wins Championships
By far the most impressive stat of the year for the Bianconeri is a simple one: 16 matches, 7 goals allowed. Best defense in the league.
And they are the best by not an insignificant margin, with the second best mark belonging to Inter and Napoli with 13 goals allowed, a six-goal difference in the same amount of games played. It’s almost a running gag among Juve faithful how defensive (to a fault) Allegri-led squads can play, but if you are going to be that good defensively, it’s hard for to complain all that much.
This is not to say that Juventus shouldn't play better or that we can’t demand more from the team but as much as we criticize it feels fair to also commend them when they get something right.
Between the shift to a three-man backline, the renaissance of Danilo, the continued good play of Bremer and Gatti finding his footing, Allegri is going to defend his way to a title charge. Give the man all the crap you want, but the guy can coach defense and sometimes you can’t argue with clean sheets.
Parting Shot of the Week
SEVEN WINS IN A ROW FOR THE HOTTEST TEAM IN ITALY.
It was far from a satisfying performance aesthetically speaking, but Juventus did what they had to do and remain the most in form team in league play and gained ground on the league leading Napoli side.
From a results standpoint there’s not a whole lot more that you could have asked for. Then again, it’s going to pretty hard to keep winning games if performances like these keep up. There’s only so many miraculous free kicks they are going to find in aggregate.
But, hey, if you are inclined to be a glass half full person — and given that we are barely starting 2023 I’m inclined to be one — Juventus was losing these games earlier in the season.
At least we are winning ugly instead of losing ugly. That’s not nothing.
See you next week.