As technology has advanced, its advantages and disadvantages have become apparent. Social media is a way to keep in touch with old friends, but can also be a way to spread misinformation. Streaming services have infinitely diversified the entertainment content a person can consume, but having to pay for every single one can limit what one can see.
The list one can conceive in this vein is long and varied.
When it comes to sports, the duality of technology is stark. It can ensure that a bad call is corrected, but it can — and often does — make those rulings increasingly pedantic.
That has been on display in Serie A a lot the last two rounds. Last week, in the Derby della Madonnina, the brand-new semi-automated offside technology that was unveiled by the league a few weeks ago disallowed a goal by Lautaro Martinez because his cheek was offside. In Sunday’s game between Juventus and Fiorentina, the system reared its head not once but twice in the second half, disallowing two goals, one for each side, by a combined margin of probably four inches.
Indeed, technology was instrumental all three times the ball crossed the goal line in the game. The one technological system in soccer that is universally accepted without any vitriol, goal-line technology, was the only thing that ensured that Adrien Rabiot’s header midway through the first half was properly credited as having gone over the line.
It proved the difference in an ornery and sloppy game that was poorly played on both sides, with the 1-0 scoreline heavily influenced by the two VAR incidents in the second half, the product of a technology that can catch the barest whisper of an offside combined with a rule that simply hasn’t evolved to account for the new tools officials have at their disposal.
Massimiliano Allegri was still missing some key contributors coming into the game. Paul Pogba’s interminable recovery period continued, while Juan Cuadrado was back on the shelf due to illness. Arkadiusz Milik, Fabio Miretti, Leonardo Bonucci, and Kaio Jorge were all likewise unavailable because of their respective injuries. But Allegri still made waves when lineups were announced when it became clear that he was finally deploying all three of his top-line attackers. Angel Di Maria and Federico Chiesa were deployed behind Dusan Vlahovic at the top of a 3-4-2-1 formation. Wojciech Szczesny was in goal, with Danilo, Bremer, and Alex Sandro in defense. Mattia De Sciglio and Filip Kostic functioned as the wing-backs, sandwiching the double pivot of Rabiot and Manuel Locatelli.
Vincenzo Italiano’s team was unfortunately a far cry from the squad everyone was tabbing as a dark-horse contender for a Champions League place. But the Viola had started the day in the second half of the table, essentially playing as the obverse of Juventus’ coin. Whereas Allegri played tactics that belonged in a natural history museum, creating minimal chances, the Florentines played a beautiful style and were creating chances aplenty, but since the departure of Vlahovic had no reliable goal scorers, and the opportunities they did generate tended to go begging. No one on the team has scored more than three goals in league play, leaving everyone around the club frustrated in the extreme.
Italiano’s quest for a lineup that could reliably score continued on Sunday, when he deployed an unorthodox group in the front four of his 4-2-3-1. Pietro Terracciano was protected by the back line of Dodo, Luca Ranieri, Nikola Milenkovic, and Cristiano Biraghi. Sofyan Amrabat and Alfred Duncan made up the midfield pivot, while Italiano opted to play Christian Kouame as a false nine, supported by the attacking line of Nicolas Gonzalez, Giacomo Bonaventura, and Jonathan Ikone.
The game became chippy from the outset. Just three minutes in, Ranieri shoved Di Maria to the ground while the ball was dead, somehow earning no further sanction from referee Michael Fabbri.
The first big chance of the match came for Juve, when Gonzalez committed a grevious mistake and passed the ball straight to a waiting Vlahovic, who charged the goal and played in Di Maria. His shot was blocked, but Kostic was right there on the rebound and tried to side-foot the ball into the far post, but could only flash it across the face of goal.
The game became a series of giveaways and misplaced passes. Both teams looked entirely out of sync with each other, prompting CBS commentator Dre Cordero to not that it looked like the first game of the season or out of a long scheduled layoff. In the 12th minute, Juve didn’t make that sloppiness pay when Milenkovic slipped as a cross from Chiesa came into the box. A shocked Vlahovic had given up on the play and couldn’t react when the ball came bouncing past his downed countryman, while the ball bounced to Kostic on the far end. Terracciano made the stop on a powerful effort from Kostic at the near post,
One of the unlikely attacking contributors in the game’s early phases was De Sciglio, who repeatedly got himself forward and into threatening positions. In the 34th minute he worked his way to the right wing and tried to cross it. That was blocked, but right to Di Maria, who unfurled an absolutely beautiful cross into empty space on the far post. Rabiot rose for a powerful header that Terracciano desperately punched away from the large, only for Fabbris’ whistle to pierce the air as he pointed to his watch. The goal line technology had buzzed his watch to indicate that the ball had crossed the line, which it had by a couple centimeters, giving Juve the early lead.
Fiorentina very nearly got the goal back immediately but for an excellent double block by Locatelli. Then Chiesa and Di Maria very nearly linked up going the other way, with the former’s pass for the latter being intercepted at the last minute by Biraghi.
Fiorentina came out of the break looking better than they had in the first half. Kouame seemed to have swapped places with Gonzalez and in the opening minutes of the period the Argentine was fed a pair of excellent crosses, just missing him in both cases. The 1-0 lead definitely started looking like it wouldn’t be enough. The Old Lady thought they had doubled their advantage just before the hour, when Locatelli beat a two-on-one situation to feed Kostic, who in turn delivered a beautiful through ball for Vlahovic, who chipped the ball expertly over an onrushing Terracciano. The striker classily refused to celebrate as his teammates mobbed him, but soon the restart was held up for a VAR review, then chalked off. The semi-automated offside had flagged Vlahovic, who had been over the line by perhaps the length of his chin.
Sensing the opportunity in the reprieve, Italiano sent out Gaetano Castrovilli, who had only recently come back from a serious knee injury, to add some attacking punch. Allegri responded by removing a frustrated Vlahovic and sending on Moise Kean in his place. The young Italian immediately had one of the opportunities of the season when the Fiorentina defense gifted him the ball in the box, only for him to fail to beat Terracciano from point blank range. On the ensuing corner the ball was put close him again, only for him to whiff at the ball as it bounced out for a goal kick.
The game settled into a rhythm for about 20 minutes of sterile play from Fiorentina against a resolute Juve defense, but the visitors had the players on the field to change things in a hurry. When Italiano fired his final bolt in the 80th minute, bringing on three new players, Allegri responded by getting more and more defensive, courting with disaster as the clock ticked down on the 1-0 lead. Substitute Aleksa Terzic proved highly effective, hitting a gorgeous cross that Luka Jovic only barely headed wide.
It was turning into the kind of game we’ve seen Juve blow the last few seasons, where a fantastic piece of individual skill or a mistake allowed the opposition to tie the game up. With two minutes left in the game it looked like the former when Castrovilli ran onto a defensive clearance and hit an absolute screamer into the bottom corner, giving Szczesny zero chance to stop it. It was an exquisite goal, but one that courted controversy immediately, as players begged Fabbri to call a foul on Ranieri, who had been wrestling in the box with Locatelli.
A VAR check was instituted, but for he surprising call of offside as opposed to the foul. Fabbri eventually ran to the monitor to have a look, before calling Ranieri as interfering with play from an offside position. While the fans rejoiced at the news, they also had cause for a chuckle, because the offending body part turned out to be less than half of his heel, which he had sticking out of his legs preparing to run.
Apart from a charge downfield by Kean that ended in a shot into the side netting—and an offside call anyways—there was precious little that happened as the game ran in. Juve had preserved a much-needed win—even if it had been perhaps fortuitous.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Only needed to make two saves the entire game, he organized the defense well against a strikerless formation that could have potentially caused confusion.
DANILO - 7. Two tackles, two interceptions, and a great deal of defensive grit, effectively sealing off Ikone and making him look pretty bad for most of the game.
BREMER - 7.5. Yay, Good Bremer! This Bremer had six clearances, a team high, and kept Kouame completely quiet out of the false nine position.
ALEX SANDRO 5.5. Made a couple of mystifying mistakes and decisions that could’ve imperiled the team. Most of the time it was cleaned up, either by himself or a teammate, but so much of it was simple stuff that simply can’t be happening.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6. Our man bombed forward a bunch during the first half, and helped keep Ikone a non-factor on that side of the field.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6.5. His header from a tight angle was excellent, and he added a key pass and an assist, but had his downs, very much including the early yellow that forced him to play on tenterhooks for 88 minutes, or so.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. Had a pair of excellent blocks that kept the lead where it was, and also contributed a couple of nice passes up front. He likes double pivots, so this new form would be different things.
FILIP KOSTIC - 6. Brought into play a lot on cross-field pass attempts. he led the team in key passes and started looking a little better than he has since the season restarted.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 6.5. Came very close to being through on goal or setting up one on numerous occasions. He’s right on the cusp of a purple patch.
ANGEL DI MARIA - 7. Gorgeous ball for the winning goal, and a lot of running and good passing behind, especially early.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6. Once again starved of service — he had only 15 touches in half an hour — Vlahovic still dutily worked on his own,
MOISE KEAN - 5. Missed what has to go down as a sitter immediately after coming on, and had another chance immediately after that he failed to get anything on at all. One of his unfortunately all-too-common games where he’s in all the right positions but fails to do anything with it.
NICOLO FAGIOLI - 6. Defended well and did what attacking he could when Allegri decided to close up shop.
LEANDRO PAREDES - NR. On late to close things out and at least didn’t do anything awful like he’s been doing.
Insert rant about Max Allegri’s tactics here.
Seriously though, against a team that has had as much trouble scoring as Fiorentina, to simply sit back and let them try, especially in the second half, is a bit much. The Viola are the perfect team to loosen the reins a little and let some attackers loose. Instead, Allegri’s subs didn’t exactly have a rhyme or reason, and they simply brought the team back into a defensive posture until there was only one attacker on the field at all. That left a 1-0 lead dangling just a little too long, and it almost bit him if not for the offside call on Castrovilli’s goal. Allegri simply must be more aggressive putting games away, then he can settle into a block for the rest of the match.
One special comment that doesn’t really fit anywhere else so it’s going here: for God’s sake, IFAB needs to do something about the offside rule this summer.
While both disallowed goals were disallowed by the letter of the rule, the fact of the matter is the rule is no longer adequate. With new technology that can identify a player as offside if he hadn’t shaved that morning, the current offside rule as enforced sucks the entertainment and fun out of the game. The point of the rule is to keep an attacking player from having an unfair advantage, not to punish the attacker for not getting his run exactly right. In no way did either Vlahovic or Ranieri gain an unfair advantage over their marker by their positioning on these calls.
This keeps on happening, and as more and more leagues adopt semi-automatic offsides, this is going to keep on happening until it reaches a breaking point. Let’s maybe change the rule before we even get there.
Juve’s Europa League misadventure starts on Thursday with the home leg of their playoff tie with Nantes. After that, it’s a league trip to Spezia before traveling to France for the return leg.