As you probably remember, January was a tough and mostly unpleasant month. The points deduction, embarrassing losses, and overall negative mood around the club made it seem like 2023 was going to be a bad year.
But things were much more positive in February.
Besides a minor hiccup against Nantes in the Europa League — an error which the magical Ángel Di María quickly fixed with his fantastic hat trick in the second leg of the playoff round — Juventus won every game in February. It wasn’t always pretty to watch — frankly, it was often unbearable — but it was extremely effective as Juventus scored 15 and conceded just three goals last month.
Technology & Luddites
Juventus continued its journey in the Coppa Italia — the only real chance we have at winning silverware this season — with a home game against Lazio, who were fresh off a massive 4-0 win over Milan. Remarkably, Allegri’s men restricted Maurizio Sarri’s team to just one shot on target all game. Shortly before halftime, Bremer impressively headed Filip Kostic’s cross into goal to score what turned out to be the game’s only goal: 1-0 and on to the semifinal to face bitter rivals Inter over two legs.
Next up was a trip to Salerno to face relegation-threatened Salernitana. Dusan Vlahovic, who was finally 100% fit after on-and-off injury problems, was the star of the show as he scored two goals (one of which was a penalty) and gave an
accidental assist to his countryman Kostic for another goal. Vlahovic probably could/should have had more goals as he constantly threatened the Salernitana defense and looked every bit like the player who broke all kinds of scoring records for Fiorentina last season.
The score remained 3-0, but for the first time in a while, Juventus had a comfortable victory and a great performance to go with it.
Juventus welcomed Fiorentina to the Juventus Stadium a few days later. In a game of few chances, the main talking point was the good and bad sides of technology. First, the good, as Fiorentina keeper Pietro Terracciano saved Adrien Rabiot’s powerful header from Di María’s cross, but goal-line technology alerted the referee to signal that the ball had just crossed the line before the keeper saved it. It was an incident that was nearly impossible to spot with the naked eye and showed how technology can be helpful in football.
But then came the negative side of technology, specifically Video Assistant Referee (VAR). After roughly an hour of play, VAR ruled out Vlahovic’s chipped goal because the striker was judged to be micrometers offside. Then, in second-half stoppage time, the referee canceled Gaetano Castrovilli’s equalizer after consulting with VAR because Fiorentina defender Luca Ranieri was offside (and interfering with play) by even fewer micrometers than Vlahovic was for Juve’s disallowed goal. The Bianconeri eventually won the game 1-0, but we’re left wondering how much VAR is really helping football when it focuses on such absurdly close offside calls.
No time to complain though because a home game against French side Nantes in
Sergio’s favorite competition the Europa League was next on the agenda. Juventus (unsurprisingly) dominated the team currently in 13th-place in Ligue 1 and scored an early goal through Vlahovic. It seemed like it would be a comfortable victory for Allegri’s men until, as is often the case, the team played worse as the game progressed and eventually allowed the visitors to get back into the game.
Nantes scored the equalizer through Ludovic Blas as he finished off one of the finest and fastest counterattacking goals I’ve seen in a while. The Bianconeri pushed and pushed for the winner and came close when Federico Chiesa struck the crossbar and post with the same shot but failed to score.
Just like in the game against Fiorentina, there was some late VAR controversy as Juventus appealed for a late, late penalty due to a handball by Nantes defender Fabien Centonze. The incident went to a VAR review and even though the ball clearly hit his arm, the referee judged that Bremer had fouled him first. A frustrating end to a frustrating game: 1-1.
For everything that went wrong against Nantes, everything went right in the subsequent game against Spezia. It was, by all means, a terrible performance and a game that Spezia dominated. Yet, somehow, Juventus won the game 2-0. Despite Moise Kean’s first half goal (from yet another Filip Kostic assist!), Spezia relentless attacked but failed to get the equalizer they deserved. They were punished for their wastefulness as Di María scored Juve’s second goal: 2-0.
The Bianconeri then traveled to Nantes for the crucial second leg of the Europa League playoff round. We can summarize this game in three words: Ángel Di María. The Argentine World Cup winner scored a beautiful hattrick to help Juventus qualify for the quarter-finals of the competition.
The first was a stunning, first-time curling shot into the top corner early in the game. The second was a penalty in the 20th minute after his dribble inside the box and improvised backheel led to captain Nicolas Pallois stopping the ball on the line with his hand. A red card, a penalty, and Di María’s second goal: the game was effectively over before half time.
Despite taking the foot off the gas, Juventus continued to create chances. Kostic rattled the post with a shot at the end of the first half, Rabiot’s header in a great position in the box went over the bar, and Cuadrado had a few chances. Di María wrapped up his hattrick with a header that just crossed the line — thank you, once again, goal-line technology for confirming that one. A convincing 3-0 victory and German team Freiburg awaits us in the Round of 16.
By far the most entertaining game of the month (and arguably of the season) came on the last day of February: the Derby Della Mole against Torino. It started off with the quickest derby goal in its history as Yann Karamoh of Torino took advantage of Juve’s poor zonal marking (for the love of God people, zones don’t score goals so why do we mark them?) to score within the first 95 seconds of the game.
Juventus equalized 15 minutes later thanks to a Juan Cuadrado goal after Kostic’s very clever run and (another!) assist. But Torino hit back just before half time after Antonio Sanabria made an equally smart run to flick the ball around Bremer and just under goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny’s hand, who could perhaps have done better to stop the shot. Thankfully, that lead didn’t last for long because there was yet another twist in this crazy first half. Danilo powered a header onto the inside of the post from Di Maria’s corner and even though Torino keeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic pushed the ball away, goal-line technology signaled that it had crossed the line before the save.
And then came the crossbar festival. First Vlahovic hit the bar with a left-footed shot after excellent work and a perfect pass from Nicolo Fagioli. Then Karol Linetty took advantage of Alex Sandro’s sloppy pass, played a one-two with Aleksei Miranchuk, and curled a left-footed shot onto the woodwork.
Juventus finally took the lead for the first time in the game in the 71st minute when ex-Torino player Bremer’s header from Chiesa’s cross went into goal. Last but not least, Rabiot scored by tapping in from a free kick that was crossed in by assist-king Kostic (although Bremer officially got the assist after getting the slightest of touches on the cross). Final score: 4-2. Certainly one of the most memorable derbies in recent history!
Juventus Women started February with a clash at home to Milan. After a tense first half in which Martina Lenzini hit the bar, the incident that changed the match came a few minutes before the break. The referee showed Lisa Boattin a red card for a handball in the box and gave Milan a penalty. Martina Piemonte scored from the spot to give Milan a 1-0 lead as Juventus went into the half-time break both a goal and a player down.
Despite the Bianconere surprisingly controlling the game in the second half, Milan finished the game off with a second goal in the 75th minute from Lindsey Thomas. Although Linda Sembrant gave the team a glimmer of hope with a goal in stoppage time, it wasn’t enough as Milan won the game 2-1.
Juventus had a happier time in the Coppa Italia quarter final match against Chievo Verona. After a goalless and frustrating first half, the Bianconere turned on the style after the break. Goals from Barbara Bonansea, Arianna Caruso (penalty), and Cristiana Girelli (penalty) gave the team a comfortable 3-0 victory. Inter awaits us in the semi-final.
The last game before the international break saw Juventus travel to Florence to face Fiorentina in the league. Montemurro’s team overpowered La Viola and recorded their second consecutive 3-0 victory. Cecilia Salvai flicked on Sembrant’s header to score the first goal and Lineth Beerenstyn doubled the lead after quick thinking and an excellent kick from goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin gave the Dutch winger an easy 1-on-1 opportunity to finish.
The highlight of the game came in the 83rd minute: Girelli scored the third and final goal of the game and with that goal she became the first ever Juventus Women player to score 100 goals!
Last but not least, the Bianconere finished the regular season (Phase 1) by squeaking past Parma 2-1. Juventus stormed out of the gate with a flurry of chances early on, so it was no surprise that Bonansea and Girelli scored early goals in the 17th and 22nd minute of the game. The team controlled the game for the rest of the first half before returning to its original attacking gameplan early in the second half.
Even though a third goal seemed inevitable in the second half as Juventus created chance after chance, they lost concentration for one moment and immediately suffered the consequences. Michela Cambiaghi scored for Parma in the 80th minute to make it a tense end to the game, but Montemurro’s team survived to secure a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
Now that Chiesa and Vlahovic are fit again and Di María is in fantastic form, almost all of Juventus’ offensive firepower is back in action. One of the big questions on our minds this month was how to fit these three world-class players into the same side and still have a tactically balanced/functioning team. The always-brilliant Hunter Sharpless wrote an excellent article a few weeks ago about this challenge; make sure to check it out if you haven’t done so yet!
The only thing I would add to Hunter’s thoughts is that Allegri’s first task is to figure out what Chiesa’s and Di María’s best positions are. Both are originally wingers but have frequently played centrally in a seconda punta-ish position. The Argentine veteran, in particular, has been (surprisingly) successful playing centrally while Chiesa has had mixed results there despite frequently playing in that position when he was a Fiorentina player.
The solution to this challenge will depend on if the players are best when playing out wide (4-3-3?) or centrally (3-5-2?). What if Chiesa prefers to play wide but Di María centrally? How do we handle that tactical jigsaw puzzle? Let’s see how Allegri solves this luxurious problem for the remaining three months of the season.