As the minutes ticked down at the end of Juventus’ season-ending clash with Udinese at the Dacia Arena on Sunday, it looked like it might actually happen. With Spezia clinging to a 1-1 scoreline in Rome, it looked like, for the second time in three years, Juve would get the help it needed from elsewhere to vault up the table and improve their European position on the season’s final day.
Then, the universe decided to throw in some poetic justice.
As Juve clung to their own 1-0 lead in Udine, Spezia gave away a 90th-minute penalty, which was converted by, of all people, Paulo Dybala, the man the club had so unceremoniously drummed out of Turin a year ago. That result led to Juve, who held on to that 1-0 lead, remaining in seventh place in the table, qualifying only for the Conference League — and even that is tenuous at best as UEFA sanctions loom in the last sporting hurdle of the investigation into the club’s financial malfeasance arrives.
Whether Juve will be playing European football in the third-tier competition or not at all, the season has come to an end with something of a thud — a far cry from the hopes of of all in the beginning of the year. Now, the club heads into a highly uncertain summer, hoping that the worst is finally behind them.
Massimiliano Allegri led Juve into the season finale down several important players. Nicolò Fagioli, Bremer, and Dusan Vlahovic all missed out with injuries, as did long-term absentees Paul Pogba, Mattia De Sciglio and Kaio Jorge. With something there to play for, Allegri put out a starting XI that was as full-strength as he could muster. Wojciech Szczesny started behind a 3-4-2-1 formation. Federico Gatti, Leonardo Bonucci, and Danilo protected Szczesny. Juan Cuadrado and Filip Kostic started on the wings, sandwiching Manuel Locatelli and Adrien Rabiot in midfield. Fabio Miretti was pushed higher up the pitch to join Federico Chiesa in supporting the lone striker, Arkadiusz Milik.
Udinese manager Riccardo Sottil was also missing some important players, namely Gerard Delofeu, who has been out since January with a major knee injury. Issac Success, Kingsley Ehizibue, and Simone Pafundi were also out, while Marvin Zeegelaar sat out a suspension. Sottil too deployed a 3-4-2-1. Marco Silvestri was in goal. Injuries and suspensions having withered his choices in defense, Sottil sent out a back three whose average age was 19.6 years old. Axel Guessand made his Serie A debut, while James Abankwah was given his first league start. The joined Nehuén Perez, who at 22 was the elder statesman of the group. Former Juventino Roberto Pereyra joined Destiny Udogie as wing-backs, while Walace and Lazar Samardzic made up the double pivot in midfield. Sandi Lovric and Florian Thauvin supported the dangerous Beto in attack.
Juve were gifted an early opportunity by Silvestri when a horrific clearance plopped to the feet of Miretti, but he was dispossessed in the box before he could shoot. Udinese responded within a minute when Thauvin took a pass from Udogie down the left side of the box and lifted a cross in for Beto, who couldn’t get over it and popped his header over the bar.
After that early exchange, Juve controlled much of the rest of the half, although the nature of that control was ... kinda weird. The Bianconeri threatened the Udinese goal, but that threat came mostly in the form of their ability to create set pieces as opposed to anything they managed to do in open play. The first real action for Silvestri came in the 24th minute, when Cuadrado went for goal on a free kick from the left wing, forcing him to tip the ball around the post.
Juve finally got some juice in open play on the half-hour when Milik fed Chiesa into the channel, but the Euro 2020(1) hero was blocked by a last-second lunge from Perez. The ensuing corner was flicked on by Milik, only to see Bonucci’s header bounce off the crossbar, the 18th time Juventus had struck the woodwork this season.
By the end of the half, Juve had racked up nine corner kicks but had only that crossbar strike to show for it, Allegri shook things up immediately out of the break, sending on Samuel Iling-Junior for a relatively anonymous Kostic. The teenage Englishman immediately added a jolt of energy on the left side, and five minutes into the second half he flipped a nice cross in to Chiesa at the near corner of the 6-yard box, but he could only flash it wide of the far post.
Sottil’s ability to alter the game with his already-short bench was further hampered when he had to replace two injured players in the space of the first 15 minutes of the half. One of those changes was 19-year-old Nicolò Cocetta, who made his Serie A debut replacing an injured Abankwah just before the half hour. As the new defender was getting settled, Rabiot was fed into right channel by Milik. He had all the time in the world to set up his shot, but opted for his weaker foot and hit the ball into the side netting instead of challenging a stranded Silvestri.
Angel Di Maria came on for what was likely his last appearance in a Juve shirt just after that miss, and he helped pick up the attack a little bit, but for the most part the Juve attack was a litany of blocks and misses — until the 68th minute, when one of their opportunities finally paid off.
The goal came on a rather nifty passing move on the left side of the box. Chiesa, Danilo, Iling-Junior, and Loctelli didn’t exactly create passing triangles as much as an amorphous polygon, but when Locatelli finally laid the ball square for Chiesa, all he needed to do was take one touch inside to clear his shooting lane before curling it into the net at the far post. It was a sliver of the old Chiesa, and an encouraging moment to take into next season.
Udinese nearly responded immediately with their first truly dangerous shot of the match, a long-range hit from Lovric that bounce just in front of Szczesny, adding a degree of difficulty as he parried the ball on its way up. Juve had the opportunity to put the game away as well. Cuadrado’s attempt at an Olimpico from a corner had to be tipped over the bar, while Di Maria’s effort to keep the ball in as the ensuing corner was recycled saw his cross get met by a side-kick flick from Locatelli, but the shot was met with a fantastic one-handed parry by Silvestri.
As the game entered its end phase Juve dropped deeper, allowing Udinese more of the ball than they’d had all day as they quested for an equalizer. Perez loaded up for a surprise shot with six minutes to go, forcing Szczesny, who may have been slightly unsighted, to get down quickly and parry it around the post. A cross from Pereyra bounced off the head of substitute Vivaldo Semedo before it got to Udogie, putting the young Italian’s header off and pitching it over the bar. One final chance came in stoppages when Ilija Nesterovski, guided a last-ditch corner wide after which referee Marco Guida called a halt to proceedings.
By then, Dybala had already given Roma the lead, but the game ended up going DEEP into stoppages before the score there was finally confirmed, keeping Juve wedged firmly where they were when they started.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Made two excellent saves in the second half after a relatively uneventful first period. He kept the team ahead.
FEDERICO GATTI - 7.5. Won a game-high four aerials and had four clearances, which was also a joint game high along with ... Beto, who he helped keep completely bottled up for the entire match. He also bombed forward a few times to trigger some interesting attacks. It took him some time to find his feet, but now that he has he’s proving worthy of the number he inherited from Andrea Barzagli.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 6. Unlucky not to score with his first-half header, he was fine in the back. He stood his ground well with the ball in front of him and, crucially, the ball didn’t often get behind him. His departure from the pitch was somewhat emotional, and is likely going to engender speculation about whether or not he’s going to retire a year early.
DANILO - 8. Made five tackles on the day, including several excellent challenges on Beto in the box that stopped the striker from doing much of anything. He also racked up two interceptions and three clearances, and was 11 for 14 attempting long balls, completing 94.7 percent of his total passes. The clear leader of this team going forward.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6. This may be the last time I type Juan’s name in this section, and if it is, he has my gratitude for his years of excellent service to the team. It’s also fortunate that he played a decent game, racking up two tackles, two clearances, and a key pass to go along with completing 91.1 percent of his passes. If this is goodbye, I wish F#$&in’ Juan all the best.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 7. He played closer to the goal than we’ve been used to seeing him, and that brought out some things in him that we haven’t often seen. His assist was simple, but the perfect cap to a nice attacking move. Overall, he had three key passes and frankly should’ve had a goal, but his excellent flick of a shot was met by an even more excellent save.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. The potential final game for Rabiot was pretty much fine, but that missed sitter drags his ranking down half a point. He had plenty of time to set that shot up but went weak foot and hit it wide when, with enough power, he probably had Silvestri at his mercy.
FILIP KOSTIC - 5.5. He somehow pumped 11 crosses into the box in only 45 minutes of game time, including a pair of key passes. However, only three of those crosses found their targets, and when he was pulled at halftime his side of the field got a lot more dynamic. He was pretty much whipped to death this year — only Danilo, Rabiot, and Bremer played more minutes than he did — so the offseason will be good for him. A lot of questions will come about how he’s used depending on who is manager next year.
FABIO MIRETTI - 5.5. Had a pair of tackles and worked hard, but he’s still got a little developing to do—although playing out of position didn’t help him in this game either. He needs a chance to develop, but I’m still torn over whether the best way to do that is to keep him in-house or send him on a loan similar to the one Fagioli had last year.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 7. Playing out of position again did him no favors, but he still looked dangerous enough in this game. He led the team with four shots, and his goal was an absolute peach that reminded us what a healthy Chiesa can do. If he’s handled properly next year, I expect a big return to form.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 6. Didn’t do a ton of shooting himself, but he tied for the team lead with three key passes, serving as a fulcrum at the top of the formation and creating some of Juve’s better chances until the goal flew in. There’s no guarantee Juve will exercise his option, but I frankly would. He works hard, the number isn’t huge, and when he gets hot he can score in bunches, as we saw in the beginning of the year. His midseason injury really harshed his mojo, as did playing for a manager under whose care strikers go to die.
SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - 7. Made the attack more dynamic the instant he came on. Ended up racking up three key passes in just 45 minutes, and also played well from a defensive standpoint, positioning himself very well and keeping Pereyra relatively quiet on his side.
ANGEL DI MARIA - 6.5. Did a good job trying to link the attack and the midfield, notching two key passes, forcing a save out of Silvestri, and just missing one of his trademark far-post curlers late in the second half.
MOISE KEAN - NR. Part of a couple of dangerous counterattacks but never got the ball in the right spot to try to finish them.
LEANDRO PAREDES - NR. Only attempted one pass in the 13 minutes he was on the pitch, and got himself booked as a final time. Bye Felicia.
DANIELE RUGANI - NR. On for the last couple of seconds to give Bonucci a grand exit that we weren’t exactly expecting.
The most unforgivable part of this game came when the last sub went on the board and the number 23 wasn’t on it.
We did not get Pinso Time.
Why did we not get Pinso Time?? PINSO TIME IS THE BEST TIME!!!
All joking aside, Allegri put together the best starting XI he could given who he had available. I was a little surprised to see Miretti so far forward, but Allegri playing guys out of position is so cliché at this point that it’s almost pointless to point it out. The introductions of Iling-Junior and Di Maria were appropriate and well-timed, and the rest of the changes were simply to keep the team tight and rest some of the more tired legs. All in all, there’s not that much to get upset with Max over about this game (ASIDE FROM PINSO TIME).
The same can’t be said about the year as a whole. Allegri was brought back to reestablish the Juventus identity that was fostered during The Streak. That has not happened — if anything, it has bled away more. He was brought back to re-assert the team as a defensive force after Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo pushed for more goals and let things through a little bit at the back. That was only partially successful — while Juve were third defensively this season, they had some high profile blowups, and last year they conceded just as many goals as Pirlo’s side did.
But most importantly, he was brought back to develop this team. That simply hasn’t happened. While the emergence of young players like Fagioli, Iling-Junior, and Matias Soule are certainly positives, the team as a whole has stagnated, and some of its biggest names — and biggest talents — have actively regressed under Allegri’s leadership, to the point of multiple reports coming out indicating a rift between the manager and his players.
The coach spent a lot of his post-match press conference insisting that, if you remove the off-field shenanigans and point penalty, this was a good season and an improvement on last year. That simply isn’t true. Without the point penalty, Juve would’ve had 72 points — only two more than last year’s team. After an offseason in which it was stressed that the team needed to score more, Allegri somehow managed to contrive to score one fewer goal than last season in Serie A play, and in all competitions they were bang-on even. A significant amount of attacking talent was wasted in the process. The Champions League group stage was an unmitigated disaster. And Juventus lost more games this season (17) than it had since the horrific 2010-11 season under Luigi Delneri.
That is not a good season. That is not an improvement over last year. That is a team that is spinning its wheels, and based on everything we’ve seen the last two years it doesn’t look like Allegri has the kitty litter in the trunk.
Had there been an improvement this season, I could have forgiven a second consecutive trophyless season. But while it is indeed true that Juve would’ve been in third place without the point penalty, that’s only the case because the rest of the league (barring Napoli) took a step back to us, not because we took a step forward.
Regardless of the financial cost, it is best for the club to go forward with a new coach. To do otherwise would likely end up costing far more.
On behalf of Calvin, Hunter, Chucks, Sergio, and Danny, I would like to thank you all for being with us for anther year. An exhausting one, for sure, but we came through it together. We all do this for you—without your support, and the time you spend reading our words here and listening The Old Lady Speaks, we’re just calling out into empty space.
We hope you stay with us throughout what promises to be a strange but eventful summer, as we cover all the news, the transfer rumors, the changes in the front office, transfer rumors, pre-season friendlies, and transfer rumors.
That’s all there is. There isn’t any more.