It’s that time of the year again in which an absurd number of games is packed into the shortest period of time possible. At this point, repeated complaints from players and player unions fall on deaf ears because UEFA and FIFA want more football, more competitions, and more ways to earn money.
The result of this relentless hunger for more is a month of April in which Juventus played nine games in 30 days, which is almost a game every three days. That means that we have a lot to review this month, so let’s get to it.
Juventus welcomed Hellas Verona to the Juventus Stadium on April Fools’ Day. And you would surely be a fool for thinking that it would be an entertaining game because, well, it wasn’t. Little happened except for Moise Kean’s winning goal early in the second half. Verona were probably the better team in the first half but lost that intensity after the break as Juventus did the bare minimum to get the 1-0 victory.
The next game on the calendar was equally boring until the final 10 minutes. Inter traveled to Turin for the first leg of the Coppa Italia semi-finals and while neither team was able to create many chances, the game came to life at the end.
First, Arek Milik should have opened the scoring in the 77th minute when he somehow failed to make contact with Juan Cuadrado’s low, driven cross. The Colombian then took control of matters himself when he popped up at the far post to collect a loose ball in the box and place a precise shot into goal: 1-0.
Unfortunately, Inter equalized with a penalty deep, deep into stoppage time.
Gleison Bremer made a rare mistake at the back with a clumsy handball that led to a penalty that Romelu Lukaku, who has done little this season except for score a few penalties here and there, scored. The game then ended with a nasty fight between players from both teams that resulted in Lukaku getting sent off (a punishment that the FIGC President himself later overturned in a rare display of executive power), Samir Handanovic getting a red card, and Cuadrado getting two yellow cards in a minute. Final score: 1-1 and no love lost between either team.
The Bianconeri traveled to the capital to face in-form Lazio a few days later. Lazio took the lead shortly before half-time when Sergej Milinkovic-Savic collected Mattia Zaccagni’s cross — rumor has it that Alex Sandro is still working on his ridiculous dive to try and buy a foul when the cross came in — and finished past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. But Juventus equalized surprisingly quickly through Adrien “Why Isn’t Every Year Contract Year” Rabiot. Lazio keeper Ivan Provedel made a fantastic save to stop Bremer’s fierce header but Rabiot was there to shoot/push/shove the ball over the line.
Lazio coach Maurizio Sarri has done a phenomenal job building this very impressive Lazio team and it showed as they continued to play positive, attacking football. Man-of-the-match Zaccagni scored the winning goal after a world-class backheel assist from Luis Alberto gave the Lazio winger an easy chance to score. Despite Juve coming to life at the end of the game, Lazio defended their lead without too much trouble and were deserved winners: 2-1.
Allegri and Co. then welcomed Sporting CP to town, who impressively eliminated Premier League leaders Arsenal from the competition, for the first leg of the Europa League quarter final. As expected, Sporting pushed Juventus to the limit through a disciplined defense and lively attack. Szczesny kept his team in the game with a few excellent saves in the first half before being substituted for a medical issue (which was later cleared up). Former Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid goalkeeper Antonio Adán then made a crucial save early in the game to prevent Federico Chiesa from scoring in his second consecutive Europa League.
The game’s only goal came from a very unlikely source: Federico Gatti. The Italian defender, who is enjoying a fantastic calendar year after starting the season with some shaky performances, blasted the ball into the net from close range after Vlahovic’s header created chaos in the opponents’ box. But the real hero of the game was, without a doubt, goalkeeper Mattia Perin.
In stoppage time of the second half, the backup goalie who came in and replaced Szczesny after he had a brief heart issue made an incredible double save to ensure that Juventus would travel to Portugal with a slender 1-0 lead. Better yet, he proved again how the club somehow always manages to have the best backup goalkeepers in the league.
I’ve never been a fan of an away game against Sassuolo because they tend to be painfully difficult. And it was no different this season. Like in the game against Hellas Verona, the Bianconeri put in another poor performance. Unlike in that game, though, we were punished for it this time. A critical error by the usually perfect Nicolo Fagioli put the ball on a platter for Sassuolo striker Gregoire Defrel, whose powerful shot flew past Perin in goal for the game’s winning goal: a 1-0 loss with the only positive of the game being Juventus youngster Tommaso Barbieri making his (impressive!) debut.
Then came the second leg of the Europa League quarter final away against Sporting. The man, the myth, the legend that is Rabiot opened the scoring in the 9th minute. It was almost a carbon copy of his goal versus Lazio: Bremer contested a cross from a corner, the loose ball fell to Rabiot, and the rest is history.
But Rabiot turned from hero to zero just ten minutes later when he clumsily fouled midfielder Manuel Ugarte in the box. Marcus Edwards converted the penalty to restore Sporting’s hope as they needed just one more goal to force the game to extra time.
And that goal was dangerously close to becoming a reality on three occasions: once when Ousmane Diomande’s header went just wide of the goal, another time when Ricardo Esgaio volleyed over the bar from just inside the box, and finally when former Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates misplaced his volley after a fantastic dribble and cross from the dangerous Marcus Edwards.
But other than those scary moments, Juventus were generally comfortable defending their aggregate lead as Sporting only managed two shots on target all game: 1-1 final score and a semi-final against Europa League kings Sevilla is next on the schedule.
After their grueling match against Sporting, Allegri’s team had another tough game on the agenda: at home against runaway league leaders Napoli. The first half was a relatively even contest. As expected, Napoli dominated possession and played more positive football while Juventus hoped for a chance on the counter. But the home side probably had the better of the play as Luciano Spalletti’s team failed to get a shot on target in the opening period.
Unfortunately, in the second half the Bianconeri essentially gave up the will to attack as it failed to register a single shot for over an hour. Despite this lack of desire to attack, Juventus scored two goals, which were unfortunately both (somewhat controversially) disallowed.
First, Ángel Di María scored from a lightning counterattack that was started by Manuel Locatelli’s world class long ball. Unfortunately, the referee thought that Milik’s contact with Napoli’s Stanislav Lobotka in the buildup to the goal was worthy of foul, although it seemed like a harsh decision. Then, the much-maligned Dusan Vlahovic thought that he had broken his scoring drought when he tapped the ball into goal from close range just seconds after coming on, but the referee judged that the ball had gone out of play before Chiesa passed it to the big Serbian striker for the goal (I wonder if it was this close as well).
Substitute Giacomo Raspadori punished Juventus for its lack of attacking ambition and bad luck with referees (although Gatti was lucky not to be sent off after his right hook Hulk Smash in Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s face) with a goal in the 93rd minute. It was a ferocious volley from Eljif Elmas’s cross after Nicolo Fagioli fell asleep and forgot to mark Raspadori (and Cuadrado was too busy trying to buy penalties to go back to defend). A bitterly painful and third consecutive league loss: 1-0.
Another game, another loss in the nightmare month that was April. This time, it was a 1-0 loss against Inter in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final that saw Simone Inzaghi’s team progress to the final 2-1 on aggregate. The first half of the game, in particular, was an absolute nightmare and I struggle to remember a first half in which Juventus was so bad and so comprehensively dominated (ironically, the last time was probably the loss to Inter a few years ago).
Federico Dimarco deservedly put Inter ahead for the first time in the tie after a nice passing move by his team and a lovely assist from Nicolo Barella. All Dimarco had to do was toepoke the ball past the wrong-footed Perin in goal. Besides a surprising half-volley from Filip Kostic that forced Andre Onana into a good save, the Bianconeri created nothing in attack in the first half.
In the second half, Allegri ditched the striker-less formation in which Chiesa and Di Maria played as “false nines” and introduced Milik to be a real number nine. Juventus was significantly better as a result but nowhere near good enough to progress to the final: yet another 1-0 loss.
The team traveled to Bologna on the last day of the month to face Thiago Motta’s impressive team in the league. The match started off disastrously as Riccardo Orsolini got the better of Alex Sandro (who again tried to buy a foul in almost identical fashion as against Lazio) and won a penalty after Danilo fouled him. The Bologna attacker confidently scored the penalty to give his team the early lead.
Despite the setback, Juventus dominated the first half and created many chances that it somehow failed to score. The standout moment came from Polish goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski when he made a stunning double save to deny Fagioli. Then, Milik won a penalty after VAR judged that Jhon Lucumi’s foul on him was inside the box, but Skorupski easily saved Milik’s foolish attempt at a hop-skip-and-a-jump penalty.
The Juventus striker redeemed himself in the second half with an excellent (and far more difficult) finish in the 60th minute to equalize for his team. Unfortunately, that was all that the Old Lady wrote for the remainder of the game as it ended 1-1 and Allegri’s men ended the month with a meager 1 win in the last 8 games.
Juventus Women started the month with a historic comeback win against Fiorentina. For what must be the first time in its short history, Juventus were down not one, not two, but were three goals behind at home before half time. Goals from Michela Catena, former Juventus midfielder Annahita Zamanian, and Stephanie Breitner gave the visitors a comfortable lead before the break and left coach Joe Montemurro wondering whether this would be the end to its attempt to defend the league title.
But Cristiana Girelli gave Juventus a lifeline with a header in first half stoppage time. Lineth Beerensteyn then continued her impressive debut season at Juventus with an accurate right-footed finish in the 58th minute.
Just five minutes later, Barbara Bonansea completed the historic comeback with a precise finish from just outside the box. But Juventus didn’t settle with a draw; they completed the turnaround with a somewhat lucky winner in the 83rd minute. Julia Grosso’s shot took a heavy deflection that wrongfooted goalkeeper Rachele Baldi and landed in the back of the net: 4-3 and what a victory for Juventus!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t such a happy outing when the team traveled to the capital to face AS Roma. Bonansea put Montemurro’s team in the lead early in the game but Andressa Alves scored the equalizer almost immediately from the kickoff. Arianna Caruso then scored a penalty after the in-form Beerensteyn was fouled. The Bianconere successfully defended its lead until Roma equalized on the hour mark through Valentina Giacinti.
Sophie Román Haug delivered the killer blow four minutes from time when she headed in a cross from just a few yards out. Alas, Juventus suffered a 3-2 defeat against Roma who went on to win their first-ever league title the following week with a 2-1 victory over Fiorentina. Just like last season, though, the Coppa Italia final on June 4 will be between Juventus and Roma, which means that the Bianconere will have the chance to avenge their lost league title.
If they are to win the Coppa Italia, however, they’ll have to significantly improve their defense. In the league match against AC Milan, Montemurro’s team conceded three goals, which is unusually high for the team. Paulina Nystrom scored the fastest goal in Juventus Women history after a deflected cross fell nicely for her to head past goalkeeper Laura Giuliani. Just before half-time, Martina Lenzini doubled the team’s lead after a fantastic first-time effort from Caruso’s pass.
But things quickly fell apart in the second half. Milan equalized after two goals in two minutes from Martina Piemonte and Valery Vigilucci, but Nystrom put Juventus back in the lead with her second goal of the game (first time she’s scored a brace for the team) in the 64th minute. Unfortunately, Milan responded almost immediately when goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin failed to deal with a cross into the box, which allowed Chante Dompig to head in the equalizer. Final score: 3-3.