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May’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: Added Value

Juventus’ faint hopes of winning a title and ending the season with a glimmer of positivity ended in May.

Empoli FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

The emotional rollercoaster that was the 2022-23 season has come to an end.

For the first time in nearly two decades, there was arguably more action off the pitch than there was on it. The uncertainty about Juventus’ position in the league table and its potential disqualification (?) from European football was a heavy burden on the players’ (and fans’) minds this season and possibly/probably affected their performance throughout the season. And speaking of historic achievements, Juventus will not compete in the Champions League next season for the first time in 11 years. Oof.

So I think I speak for all Juventini when I say that I hope, pray, and wish that next season will be one that will be about one thing and one thing only: the football on the pitch.

Self destruction

Juventus welcomed Lecce to the Allianz Stadium a day before Star Wars Day, as the hosts looked to solidify a spot in the top four while the visitors were fighting off relegation. The hated much-disliked Leandro Paredes put Juventus in the lead when he scored a free kick early in the game (thanks to a poorly set-up wall). Fabio Miretti thought he had doubled his team’s lead after volleying in a perfectly-weighted lobbed pass from his fellow Next Gen product Nicolo Fagioli, but VAR ruled out the goal-made-in-Juventus-academy because Miretti was marginally offside.

It proved to be a costly decision because Lecce equalized a few minutes later from the penalty spot after Danilo unluckily handled the ball. Assan Ceesay scored the penalty. Thankfully, Dusan Vlahovic restored his team’s lead with an excellent volley from Filip Kostic’s driven cross. It was his first league goal since February. The Bianconeri continued creating lots of chances through the likes of Miretti, Danilo (post), and others but was uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal. Final score: a deserved 2-1 victory.

The team then traveled to Bergamo for the early afternoon kickoff against Atalanta, who were also in the hunt for a spot in the top four. It was an entertaining game that, at risk of sounding like Michael Owen, showed why at the end of the day all that matters is how many goals you score rather than how many chances you create. Atalanta created an absolute truckload of chances — with two of them hitting the woodwork — but out of its staggering 25 shots (includes blocked shots) they only forced goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to make one save.

Atalanta BC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

In his first senior start for the club, Samuel Iling-Junior scored in the second half after starting and finishing a neat attacking move with a powerful shot that went in off the bar. Gianpiero Gasperini’s team continued to pile on the pressure and create plenty of chances — including a Davide Zappacosta shot that hit the post — but failed to put more than one of them on target throughout the 90 minutes. Vlahovic then sealed the victory with a stunning shot from the edge of the box in stoppage time. It was his fifth goal against Atalanta in his career, officially making it his favorite team to play (and score) against. Final score: 2-0.

From one big game to the next: Juventus welcomed Europa League specialists Sevilla to town for first leg of the semi-finals. And based on the Spanish side’s first-half performance, it was very clear that this was their competition. They comprehensively dominated the game as Szczesny made a few fantastic saves to deny Ivan Rakitic, Lucas Ocampos, and others. Sevilla eventually took a deserved lead through Youssef En-Nesyri.

But instead of going for the kill and getting a second goal, they pulled an Allegri in the second half: sit back, soak up the pressure, and protect the one-goal lead. And just like often happens with Allegri, this strategy backfired.

Federico Gatti took his extraordinary debut season to new heights when a corner was headed by Danilo to Pogba, who in turn headed it across goal for the mighty Gatti to tap in for the equalizer. Final score: 1-1 and a thrilling end to a tight game!

Federico Gatti of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring a... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Bianconeri showed off their brand new jerseys (a bit early?) in the next league game at home against Cremonese. While the first half was tight and lacked action, the team created lots of chances in the second half. Former Cremonese midfielder Fagioli reminded his old teammates of what they’re missing when he scored the first goal from a thunderous shot after Chiesa’s run and assist. Arek Milik then scored the team’s second goal but VAR disallowed it for the tightest of offside decisions.

Gleison Bremer made sure of the victory when his volley from a corner deflected off defender Vlad Chiriches up in the air and the Brazilian jumped highest to head it over the keeper for his fourth goal of the season. Adrien Rabiot came ever so close to scoring the team’s third, but the impressive Chiriches cleared his low, driven shot off the line. Final score: 2-0.

Next on the calendar was the long-awaited semi-final showdown against Sevilla in Spain. It was an old-fashioned cracker of a game in European football. Sevilla played high-intensity, proactive football that created chances though not always dangerous ones, while Allegri’s mean soaked up the pressure effectively and created fewer but better scoring opportunities than their opponents.

It was, then, fitting that the Bianconeri opened the scoring. Substitute Vlahovic, who had only just come on, got a 1-on-1 opportunity with goalkeeper Yassine Bounou due to a mistake by defender Loic Bade. The striker chipped a classy finish over the keeper to put his team in the lead for the first time in the tie.

Dusan Vlahovic (L) of Juventus FC celebrates with Samuel... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Unfortunately, a blast from the past brought the scores back level. Suso, a former Milan reject, became a good player for all of thirty minutes in his career and blasted an absolutely vicious shot past Szczesny and into goal to force the game into extra time. Bryan Gil (a Tottenham Hotspur reject) then crossed excellently for Erik Lamela (who is an AS Roma and Tottenham reject — I think we see the pattern here), who was free as a bird in the penalty area and headed in the winning goal for his team (when does Lamela ever score headers?). A heartbreaking 2-1 loss in what was an absolutely thrilling, end-to-end game. Both teams created lots of chances but at the highest levels of (European) football, it’s those one or two (lucky?) moments that make the difference.

Then came probably the most depressing game of the month: the painful 4-1 loss to Empoli on the same night in which the 10-point penalty was announced. Francesco Caputo scored the first goal from the spot after Milik’s unfortunate foul on Nicolo Cambiaghi and Sebastiano Luperto scored the second after taking advantage of a bit of pinball in the box from a corner to smash in a shot from close range. Caputo grabbed his second of the game when Akpa-Akpro got the better of the woeful Alex Sandro and squared the ball for the Italian striker, who deftly chipped the ball over Szczesny.

Federico Chiesa scored a consolation goal for Juventus in the 85th minute — his first in the league since his ACL injury over a year ago — after his low, driven shot sneaked past goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario. But Empoli got a fourth goal (for the first time ever against Juventus) when Roberto Piccoli scored from a well-worked short corner routine in stoppage time: 4-1.

Empoli FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Andrea Martini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Allegri’s men welcomed Milan to town for the penultimate game of the season, although it might as well have been the final game given how demoralized the Bianconeri looked. That said, they were lively in the first half, dominated proceedings, and created a decent number of chances.

Unfortunately, Milan scored against the run of play just before half time when Olivier Giroud scored an impressive header from an equally impressive cross from Davide Calabria. The second half was a pretty boring affair with a few shots here and there, mostly from the home team. The biggest opportunity for the equalizer came in stoppage time when Danilo’s volley inside the six-yard box hit Pierre Kalulu, who was very much unaware of his own goal-saving intervention. Final score: 1-0 loss.

Lastly, we had the season finale away against Udinese. There was little to play for this game — Europa League qualification was out of our hands and depended on what Atalanta and Roma did in their final games — and it showed as the game was almost a non-event. Our biggest chance came when Leonardo Bonucci hit the crossbar with a header after Milik nudged the ball to him. The Bianconeri played positively and had plenty of shots, but few of them forced the goalkeeper to make a save. Chiesa scored the game’s only goal in the 68th minute after turning inside the box and curling the ball into the far corner: 1-0, although it wasn’t enough to secure a place in next season’s Europa League as both Roma and Atalanta won their games.

Juventus Women

The remaining league games for Juventus Women felt relatively pointless given that Roma had already won the title and Juventus were comfortably in second place, and thus guaranteed a spot in next season’s Champions League. But the show must, and indeed did, go on. First, a Derby D’Italia against Inter at home. The Bianconere started the game with a real appetite for victory as they scored 2 goals in the first 15 minutes of the game through Sofie Junge Pedersen — who will leave at the end of the season after five years at the club — and Sofia Cantore. Unfortunately, they failed to maintain that intensity in the last 15 minutes of the game; Elisa Polli scored Inter’s first goal in the 75th minute and Tabita Chawinga equalized in the last minute of the game: 2-2.

Fiorentina v Juventus - Women Serie A Photo by Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Juventus then suffered a 4-2 loss away to Fiorentina in the next game. Alexandra Jóhannsdóttir put Fiorentina in the lead through a wicked shot from range but Juventus hit back with 2 goals in 3 minutes just before the break. Barbara Bonansea scored after collecting a brilliant backheel from Cristiana Girelli and finishing past the goalkeeper. Lineth Beerensteyn then unleashed an unstoppable shot to put the Bianconere into the lead.

Unfortunately, Michela Cantena scored immediately after the break to equalize for her team and Jóhannsdóttir scored her second of the game ten minutes later. Pedersen then conceded a penalty for a foul on Margherita Monnecchi late in the game. Veronica Boquete scored Fiorentina’s fourth goal of the game from the spot to kill off any faint hopes of a Juventus comeback.

The team quickly put the painful Fiorentina loss behind them with a fantastic 5-2 win over champions Roma, which was a real statement victory and (hopefully) a sign of things to come in the Coppa Italia final on June 4. Montemurro’s team raced to a 3-0 lead before half time thanks to goals from Paulina Nystrom, Cristiana Girelli, and Valentina Cernoia. Sofia Cantore added a fourth after the break but Roma fought back with two goals in five minutes from Moeka Minami and Sophie Haug to make it an awkward final 15 minutes of the game for Juventus. The departing Pedersen thankfully settled everyone’s nerves by scoring the team’s fifth in the 79th minute.

The Bianconere ended the season on a high thanks to a last-gasp 1-0 victory in the final of the Coppa Italia against Roma. It was, quite remarkably, the sixth time they played Roma this season, who had already won the Scudetto and Supercoppa this season. But Juventus denied their rivals a treble thanks to a 94th-minute goal by Barbara Bonansea as she, quite remarkably, got the better of Elena Linari (one of the best defenders in the league in aerial duels) in the box to head in Boattin’s cross: 1-0 and an uplifting end to a tough season for Juventus!

Juventus v AS Roma - Women Coppa Italia Final Photo by Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Added value

The two big news stories of the month were, of course, the new/revised 10-point deduction that Juventus received as a result of the plusvalenza scandal and the €720,000 fine that it has to pay after the Old Lady reached a plea deal with the FIGC regarding the salary maneuver case during/after the COVID lockdown. The deduction knocked the Bianconeri back into seventh place in the league, which means that we’ll qualify for the much-coveted Europa Conference League next season (unless UEFA kicks us out of all European competitions as added punishment for our crimes, which is very likely).

While most of us expected the new points penalty, we were surprised (or maybe not?) by the timing of the announcement, which was less than an hour before kickoff of the Empoli v Juventus game. I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories, but it’s not too crazy to claim that that FIGC’s Federal Court of Appeals deliberately timed the announcement in order to destabilize Juventus before their disastrous 4-1 collapse against Empoli.

With respect to the loss to Empoli, there are two schools of thought. On one hand, the players, club, fans, and everyone who was remotely aware of things going on in Italian football knew that we were going to get another points deduction, likely in the 8-11 point range. So to claim that the players were surprised or destabilized by the announcement would probably more be evidence of the players/staff’s negligence and ignorance rather than the Court’s malice.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-PARMA-JUVENTUS Photo credit should read MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

On the other hand, the players are human beings. They were hired to play football rather than deal with the overload of legal problems that the club has experienced this season. In addition to the winter World Cup that was only 6 months ago (yeah, remember that?) they’ve been through a lot this season and this was just yet another psychological blow to deal with in an utterly (physically and mentally) exhausting season. For all their sins this season, at the end of the day the players are completely innocent of the crimes that the club has been punished for, so they should not have to suffer for them.

The older I’ve become, the more careful I am when giving moral judgments . Hence, I’m not going to pick a side here. I lean towards the first argument but absolutely sympathize with the second one as well. Whatever the case, I know this for sure: this event and all other off-the-pitch problems this season have severely damaged our reputation and brand. Whether we’re innocent, guilty, or somewhere in between, we can no longer afford these shenanigans in the future — literally and figuratively.

This must be the end of this turbulent and controversial chapter of Juventus’ story. Because this chapter has definitely not been one of ‘grande amore’ for me.