Well, that was a bit of a bummer.
In Juventus’ glorious return to the bright lights of Thursday Night Football in the Europa League, the home side came away with a disappointing 1-1 draw in the first leg of their playoff round matchup against Nantes.
It was a match that, by all intents and purposes, should have been won by the Bianconeri. But like we have seen too many times recently for Juventus between mistakes, baffling ref calls and just sheer poor luck they come away with a result that perhaps doesn’t really reflect their overall performance.
Offensive Player of the Game: Angel Di Maria
I’m fully aboard the “Pay Di Maria a ton of money next year and make him say no” train.
Against Nantes, Di Maria showed exactly why he was signed last summer for a non-insignificant amount of money. He is just a different type of player and in these types of competitions, you need players with his skillset and vision. Probably not a coincidence the guy was starting in the World Cup final, I guess.
While he didn’t get any counting stats on Juve’s lone goal of the evening, his perfectly placed passed to a streaking Federico Chiesa is worth 65% of the goal. (It’s 65% Di Maria’s pass, 30% Chiesa’s great header and 5% for Dusan Vlahovic, who honestly only had to be there to push it over the line. This was all a very scientific analysis.)
And look, I love this team as much as the next guy, but how many guys could have made that pass last night? Maybe Chiesa? Maybe Manuel Locatelli if we are being generous? This speaks broadly about the flaws inherent in this team, but also about the incredible skill of a guy like El Fideo.
VAR Controversy of the Week/Conspiracy Corner
A big part of why I’m not big on conspiracy theories is that, by and large, it’s a lot easier to explain something shady happening because the person in charge is just incompetent rather than some large, puppet master figure pulling all the strings.
And there is plenty of evidence around to suggest that refereeing in the VAR era is at an all-time low. We could just simply chalk up last night’s controversial call to not award a PK to Juventus for a blatant handball on Nantes defender Fabien Centonze to bad refereeing. It’s not the first time a ref misses a call and it sure as hell won’t be the last.
Then again, isn’t it so much more fun to imply that this is Aleksander Ceferin’s long overdue payback over Juve for the failed European Super League? Isn’t it so thrilling, so titillating to imagine Ceferin in a dark room with a hairless cat on his lap with a direct line to the VAR headset that Joao Pinheiro put on Thursday night and instructing him to knife Juve in the back? OR ELSE.
Of course they are not going to let Juve win the Europa League and squeak through the backdoor to next year’s Champions League. UEFA already secretly kneecapped Juve by docking them 15 points in Serie A, and they are damn sure not going to let them lift any sort of UEFA supported silverware this year, you can count on that.
How else do you explain that call going the way it did? It’s the only logical explanation. PINHEIRO, BLINK TWICE IF UEFA HAS YOUR FAMILY HOSTAGE IN SWITZERLAND RIGHT NOW!
Then again, maybe it was the ref getting cold feet about making a potentially deciding call in the dying seconds and taking advantage of Bremer sort of making contact with Centonze during the two jumping to take the easy way out, calling the soft foul and letting the game end in a draw. In all honesty, that’s the most logical explanation.
It’s less fun, though, so I will continue pushing the Ceferin Supervillain angle, thank you very much. I heard he is like 35% cyborg and owns at least three (3) hairless cat underground kitten mills. Some truly evil stuff right there.
Max Allegri is a defensive coach. He has been passive and too eager to cede the initiative far too often during his second stint as Juventus’ manager and that has definitely cost his team more than once. He could definitely stand to be more proactive and offensively minded, there is no question about that.
However, I do think that his reputation is speaking a lot more loudly than what actually happened on the field when it comes to the game against Nantes.
On paper, it feels easy look at what has happened a bunch of times this season — Juve getting a 1-0 lead and then defending to save their lives for however minutes are left of the game — and say that it happened again. But in practice against Nantes, I just didn’t see it going down that way.
Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.
Juventus out possessed, outshot and simply outplayed Nantes on Thursday night. They hit the woodwork twice in the second half and got a PK taken away in the last minute of the game. The French side’s goal came from an ill-advised Nicolo Fagioli pass when the entire team is on Nantes’ side of the field in a counterattack. Even then, Juve makes a decent defensive recovery only for Bremer to slide in pursuit and give a wide open lane to goal for Ludovic Blas who finished it beautifully. That’s a textbook against-the-run-of-play goal if I’ve ever seen one.
Did Nantes touch the ball for a few minutes here and there? Yes! They are a professional football team not a Sunday league squad. If the bar for success is to completely and totally smother teams for 90 minutes while scoring three to four goals against any team you are better than, well, that’s a pretty damn high bar and I doubt that any team in the world manages that consistently.
This wasn’t like the previous game against Fiorentina where the team hunkered down for most of the second half and tried to build a wall. This wasn’t like some games we’ve seen this year where the team struggles to get a shot on goal.
There’s a lot of matches that you can blame on the coach for the bad result. There’s a lot of moments in which this team does play defensively, conservative and regrets it. Thursday night against Nantes wasn’t one of those cases.
Parting Shot of the Week
Despite the bad result, the tie is far from over.
I stand by my take that Juventus was the better team and saw very little from Nantes that makes me think it’s impossible that they go to France and get a win to continue their Europa League adventure.
Then again, football is dumb and who knows what might happen. I’d sure feel a lot better if a couple breaks went our way and we could be talking about Juventus returning to winning ways in Europe for a change.
See you Sunday.