With one more game on the slate for the 2023 calendar year, approaching the halfway mark of the Serie A campaign, it’s time to hand out some hardware to the lads.
I admit I find myself a little hesitant to award the negative trophies — you’ll see that I did anyways — simply because this team has, in my eyes, overachieved so much in terms of expectation. I am therefore of the mind that we should spend a good deal of our time and energy enjoying things as they are rather than wallowing in consternation. Alas, it is perhaps, then, a sign that we might be able to pose a serious Scudetto threat given the simultaneous fact of the place on the table and the serious deficiencies that still exist. Or it might just mean we’re living in a knife’s edge and Max Allegri is getting the very best out of this squad.
Either way, as the year closes, I beg you: enjoy this team.
Ivrea Orange Festival Award
For the player who takes something crappy and makes it beautiful.
I will never forget the way Daniele Rugani stepped up this year in the injury absence of Danilo. The Italian has probably failed overall to live up to the expectations that were unfairly assigned to him years ago, but quietly and consistently he had developed into a hell of a safety blanket from the bench. For a team that plays three central defenders at the back and relies heavily on its defense to keep them in games, Rugani’s value is massively underrated. It’s a great story flying a bit under the radar for this team.
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
We’ve talked a fair amount about Weston McKennie, and while I still don’t know whether there’s a long-term place for the American on this squad he has undoubtedly been a critical piece to making the midfield and right flank decent enough to win a few games. He’s done the things we’d hoped he’d do from the first day he joined: run a million miles all over the field and defend with an extra helping of grinta. He’s tireless up and down on the right flank and has doubtless snuffed out many attacks with his end-to-end backtracking. His versatility to step into the right wingback position is no small thing.
Sidewalk of Turin Award
For a weak(ish) performance masked by other factors.
This has not been a great year for Dusan Vlahovic. The Serbian has not only struggled to tally great goal numbers, but he is seemingly deeply affected by the criticism that has come his way from fans, bouncing between sulking and complaining and visibly relieved when he does score. As I said in my last piece, I think the solution for him is to embrace the role he’s been given, to do the little things, the dirty things, that many great strikers have done before him in similar tactical setups. I am not of the mind that Allegri’s approach is doing him any disservice; we’ve seen DV9 miss penalties and miss sitters this year; if he wants to be better, he needs to be better.
Italian Teenager Gaggle Award
For the unit embodying the following descriptors: incoherent, waste of space, frustrating.
A big surprise: it’s the midfield. For what feels like the 60th year in a row this is a midfield that is nowhere near good enough. I actually credit the players for holding things together just enough in the absence of two in their ranks to stay competitive, but the reality of the situation is that this unit needs to be meaningfully addressed by Cristiano Giuntoli for Juventus to have higher aspirations.
Italian Cuisine Award
For the best collective unit, given different strengths.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the midfield is the back line. I’ve already talked a little about Rugani, but every center back on this team deserves immense credit. Bremer is a legitimate MVP candidate for the team and the league. Federico Gatti has gotten things done on both ends of the field. And Danilo remains the captain who is helping Juventus navigate some of the toughest waters she has ever sailed. While some are complaining about the knife’s edge and the incessant defending, I’m out here loving every minute of these three.
After Roma, Juventus play eight league games in January and February with only one traditionally top-seven opponent in Inter. This is the time to put more and more distance between fifth place, time to figure out if we’re a contender or just a feel-good Champions League spot.