Chance after chance after chance.
I don’t care who the competition was or is or has been — I struggle to remember a game in recent Juventus history when so many legitimate goal-scoring opportunities accrued in the same 90 minutes like they did against Hellas Verona. The Old Lady finished with 30 shots Saturday night, and before you go holding up your finger to note that just six of those were in target, in addition to the two egregiously disallowed goals the Bianconeri were within a millimeter of several other balls hitting the back of the net.
Dušan Vlahović’s missed header from point-blank range, Moise Kean’s side-footed pass from a Filip Kostić cross that skimmed just side of the post, Kean’s missed header in the second half, and Kenan Yıldız’s potential game-winner that will haunt him for some time to come.
In other words, those 30 shots on target weren’t just a collective long-range peppering of the Hellas Verona goal; there was a high number of high-value chances. And while plenty of the naysayers will call the lack of conversions wasteful, I call the number of opportunities progress.
This was Juventus’ best 90-minute performance in Max Allegri’s return tenure.
Without key pieces
Let’s first get all the disclaimers out of the way: Hellas Verona are not a good team, and it’s the type of team that Juventus should beat 10 out of 10 times. But these are exactly the types of games and opponents we’ve seen Juventus lose in years, and even when Juventus have won these types of games those victories have often seemed to be the product of a miraculous stroke of fortune. This win was willed. This win was deserved.
This win was not only willed; it was willed weathering key absences. Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli are known and long-term absences, but the team has continued to perform well without Danilo as well; its best offensive player Federico Chiesa was coming off the bench, to boot.
Enduring the absence of the Brazilian in particular has been impressive. On the defensive side of things, Juventus and stand-in Daniele Rugani continue to remain stout. They haven’t missed a beat, continuing the shutout streak (five in a row!) that started after the Sassuolo debacle; Rugani has started the last two and he’s looked damn good doing so. If the oft-maligned Italian can continue his run of success at the center back spot, Allegri might have some options about where exactly to use Danilo when he returns.
Hellas Verona really had only one legitimate opportunity, saved nicely by Wojciech Szczęsny on the cusp of halftime. Even that one chance was kind of a blip on the radar after Bremer had the opportunity to clear the ball but failed to do so connivingly enough, the ball landing right at an attacker’s feet.
All things considered, in attack and defense the lads fared well while not at full strength.
Focus and intensity across 90 minutes
But Danilo, as we know, is more than just a defender. He’s the captain and emotional leader of the Bianconeri, and in his absence Juventus just gave their best display of mental toughness all season, and maybe over the last two seasons.
After one disallowed goal because of Kean’s heal, they kept pressing. After a second disallowed goal on an absolutely trash call for a foul, they kept pressing. After coming with a hair’s breadth repeatedly on both sides of halftime, they kept pressing. Not only did they keep pressing on the offensive side of the ball, but they remained structured and compact enough defensively to not allow any meaningful chances.
The Old Lady was locked in for 90 minutes in every phase of the game.
Most importantly, this was the first time in a long time I truly, viscerally felt the words fino alla fine coming to life on the pitch. Two goals disallowed, chance after chance after chance gone to the wayside, the prospect of a goalless draw to a bottom-table team at home looming just moments away — all of this must’ve provided a hell of a temptation to take the foot off the gas pedal just a little bit, to throw up the team’s collective arms and say, “Just not our day, maybe tomorrow.”
That’s not what happened. Instead, they said what I said on my best days when needing to tackle something urgent: “To hell with tomorrow.”
Juventus did not let the battering ram down until they’d busted through the door. If this is the attitude the players are going to play with, the dedication to each other and to the club regardless of the absurd extenuating circumstances from referees or officials or magistrates, I don’t give a damn how aesthetically pleasing things look. Give me more.