At the start of the season, many Italian pundits labeled Juventus as Serie A title contenders despite a quiet summer transfer window and never really being in the title race last year. But here we are, in the final month of the year and 14 games into the season, and the Bianconeri are, remarkably, in second place just two points behind league leaders Inter.
While I doubt that we’ll win it, the team’s performances so far has convinced even me that Juventus are indeed, for the first time in many years, genuine contenders for the Scudetto.
It sure has been a long time since I wrote a sentence like that.
Closer to the top
Juventus started with a difficult away game against Fiorentina, a club that hates us arguably more than any other in the world. Fabio Miretti scored his first senior goal for the club after a lovely flowing passing move that ended in Filip Kostic sending a low cross into the box for Miretti to squeeze past goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano at the near post.
The rest of the game was either the most boring display of negative football or a brilliant defensive masterclass, depending on what type of football you enjoy and who you ask. Regardless, Allegri’s men defended for their lives and secured a hard-fought 1-0 win in a game that featured a remarkable 50 crosses by Fiorentina.
The Bianconeri had a slightly easier evening in the next match at home against Cagliari. While the first half was cagey and ended goalless with neither side looking particularly threatening in attack, Juventus woke up in the second half. First, Gleison Bremer headed a Kostic corner into the goal to open the scoring after an hour of play. Daniele Rugani, who has seemingly resurrected his career and is playing some of the best football he ever has (more on this later), then used his private parts to score the second goal after his first effort, again assisted by Kostic from a corner, hit the crossbar.
Cagliari then ended Juve’s run of six games with a clean sheet when Alberto Dossena lost Gatti’s attentions at a corner and scored through a well-placed header. The visitors certainly made Allegri’s team sweat and work hard for the win but, despite a few nervy moments at the end, Juventus protected their lead till the end and secured a deserved 2-1 victory.
The best (and most challenging) was saved for last: a Derby D’Italia at home versus league leaders Inter. Arguably the biggest game of the season, this was an opportunity for the team to take first place outright. The Bianconeri started the game with positivity, pressing, and a real intent to take the game to Inter. They received their reward for their positive start when Dusan Vlahovic scored the opening goal after 27 minutes of play. Vlahovic, who played a marvelous game, capitalized on a Denzel Dumfries error in midfield and played the ball to his striking partner Federico Chiesa.
Inter’s defense allowed Chiesa to do what he loves the most: dribble with the ball towards goal. He progressed far enough that he was able to play a perfect low pass back to Vlahovic, who stroked the ball past Yann Sommer into goal with his first touch: 1-0.
Unfortunately, Inter grew into the game as time went on and equalized through a lightning fast (counter?) attack. Marcus Thuram carried the ball forward after receiving a great pass from Nicolo Barella and powered a low cross to Lautaro Martínez who drilled a low shot into goal: 1-1.
The second half was essentially a non-event as both managers seemingly decided during half-time that a draw was enough for them. The second half statistics are proof of this: there was only one shot in all of the second half (a Thuram shot on target in the 51st minute). Final score: 1-1.
We started the month with a top-of-the-table clash at home against Roma. Unfortunately, Roma came away with three goals and three points as Manuela Giugliano, Emilie Haavi, and Évelyne Viens scored for the visitors. Julia Grosso scored a consolation goal for Juventus in the second half but it was too little too late: 3-1.
The Bianconere returned to winning ways with a 3-0 away win versus Como in the next match. Goals from Cecilia Salvai, Arianna Caruso, and Lindsey Thomas secured an easy victory for the team and ensured that they didn’t fall further behind in the title race.
A week before the men played in their own Derby d’Italia, Joe Montemurro’s team demolished Inter Women 5-0 at home in their Derby. Quickfire goals from Caruso and Grosso put the team 2-0 ahead after less than ten minutes played. Thomas then scored two goals in eight minutes in the second half to stretch Juve’s lead even further. Cristiana Girelli put the icing on the cake with a penalty late in the second half.
The team then traveled to Naples for the final game of the month versus Napoli. The hosts took a shock lead in the 12th minute when Valentina Gallazzi took advantage of a loose ball in the area to finish past Pauline Peyraud-Magnin in goal. But the in-form Caruso put the team ahead by scoring two goals before half-time, with the second coming from the penalty spot after Alice Pellinghelli fouled Thomas in the box. The aforementioned Thomas then finished the comeback with a goal in the last minute of the game: 3-1!
Two Juventus players have proven that despite how bad your performances might be at one point, it’s never too late to get a second chance to revive your career.
When Juventus loaned Weston McKennie to Leeds United, many assumed not only that Leeds would avoid relegation (they didn’t) but also that McKennie would never return to the club again. He had his chance, failed to convince fans of his quality (injuries didn’t help his form though), and was deemed to be of no use to the club. It was a matter of when, not if, he would get sold for enough money to break-even.
But the Harry Potter-loving midfielder from Texas never gave up and, as a reward, has managed to revive his career in admirable fashion. While he has benefited from the doping and gambling suspensions to Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli respectively, which has created a sudden shortage of central midfielders at least until Fagioli returns in May 2024, he has been entirely deserving of a spot in the starting eleven.
Sure, he’s not a flair player and doesn’t
have the irresistible hair of Adrien Rabiot score/assist goals in double digits, but he has proven to be a very useful and reliable player. He has shown great professionalism and versatility to play (quite well) as a right-wing back when Allegri needed him and fantastic workrate, positioning, tactical awareness, and consistency when playing in his natural central midfield position.
He’ll never be the superstar midfielder that will take this team to the next level, but he has become the type of consistently solid player that every team needs when (re)building its foundation.
Elsewhere, in a galaxy not far away, Daniele “yes-he’s-still-in-his-twenties” Rugani has also been a success story for Juventus so far this season. Once labeled as the future rock of Italy’s defense, things went a little wayward for him for the +/- 2 years from 2020 onwards. When he gradually lost his place in the team and became less than a backup player, he disappeared on loan to clubs like Stade Rennais in Ligue 1 and Cagliari in Serie A.
But as we all know, Juventus is broke, which means that besides buying Gleison Bremer for roughly €50 million (which only happened because we sold Matthijs de Ligt to Bayern Munchen for over €80 million), the club was basically forced to make do with whatever players were currently on its roster.
Nevertheless, Rugani isn’t playing just because Allegri has nobody else he can play; he’s playing because he has genuinely played outstanding football (with some commentators even saying that he’s playing some of the best football of his career). He has proven to be a more than capable backup to Danilo when he was injured and is probably more deserving of a spot in the team ahead of the slowly-declining Alex Sandro.
Rugani and McKennie show us that in the ruthless world of football, where many fans are quick to write off players who have a few bad games and equally quick to label players who had a few great games as the next [insert legendary player name], it’s worth giving players a second chance from time to time.
In the unforgiving, fast-paced world of football, it can pay to be slow to judge.