It was the third installment of a newly-established exciting saga. The hero was a world-class act and a divisive figure. The villain was a nouveau riche that aims to conquer Europe with oil money. Was it Skyfall? No, it was the NextGen Series match between Juventus Primavera and Manchester City! Here’s Massimiliano F. with the review:
Juventus coach Marco Baroni has no licence to kill, and it shows. Though the last-second 2-2 draw at the home of Capolista Genoa and the 1-0 win in the derby against Torino can be considered as positive results, in both matches the young Bianconeri performed poorly in pressing and possession – the keys of 3-5-2, as borrowed from Antonio Conte. Baroni’s main allies are forwards Stefano Beltrame and Stefano Padovan, who form the best-matching attacking couple when they’re fielded together, while newcomer Leonardo Bonatini and captain Andrea Schiavone have failed so far in taking the team to the next level.
Like a true Bond villain, the coach of Manchester City EDS is a former friend who has joined the enemy’s ranks: Attilio Lombardo, who won the Champions League, an Intercontinental Cup and a Scudetto in his spell with Juventus. Lombardo’s henchmen are a Dutch defender with Premier League experience, Karim Rekik, a talented Spanish midfielder, Denis Suárez, and a seventeen-year-old giant striker, Devante Cole, who also happens to be the son of Andy Cole.
Heavy rain poured all day over Alessandria and created large pools in the pitch of Stadio Moccagatta. Attilio Lombardo fielded his boys, wearing a fitting granata shirt, in a classic 4-4-2; a notable absence was that of Suárez from the called-up list. Marco Baroni responded with Brănescu between the posts; Rugani, Magnússon, Penna in the back line; Mattiello and Gerbaudo (in for Tavanti, who suffered a foot injury) on the wings; Slivka, Schiavone, Kabashi in the midfield; and Beltrame in line with Padovan in attack.
The weather and pitch conditions made the game a matter of strength and tenacity more than of technical quality: this favoured most of Juventus players, who enjoyed numerical supremacy in the midfield and were in control. The first danger for Laurenţiu Brănescu came from a miscalculated back-pass by Hörður Magnússon, which he had to save in the corner.
At the 10th minute, a forward header by Magnússon put Padovan past the Citizens’ defense: stuck in the mud, the striker promptly passed the ball on the left to Matteo Gerbaudo, who wasn’t given time to shoot on target. At the 17th minute, a long kick by Brănescu put Padovan again in front of City’s goalkeeper, Ian Lawlor, who deflected the ball out. Beltrame had a similar chance a few minutes later, to the same outcome.
Most of the first half was a battle to get the ball and move it from swamp to swamp. This prevented our wingers to have effective runs and our forwards to get past their opponents, but also held the English players away from our area. They had their first real chance after the 30th minute mark, when José Pozo engaged Brănescu in a difficult save under the top corner. So it came as a shock when defender Courtney Meppen-Walters headed home a corner-kick to put Manchester City up 1-0 with a few minutes spare!
The second half opened with Eric Lanini coming in for Vykintas Slivka and positioning next to Padovan, with Beltrame scaling down as the trequartista in a 3-4-1-2. Juventus didn’t look defeated and kept pushing for the equalizer. At the 50th minute Padovan entered the box and was about to beat Lawlor, but he was pushed to the ground by one rushing defender: instead of conceding a penalty and showing the Citizen a red card, the referee booked Padovan for simulation! Five minutes later the penalty was awarded for a hand-ball by Kieran Kennedy: captain Schiavone kicked the ball at half-height to the left of the goalkeeper, and Lawlor saved!
Baroni put Léo Bonatini and Edoardo Ceria in for the wingers, making it a four-man attack (plus Beltrame in the hole). This move didn’t change the inertia of the game, which saw the Juventini adding up pressure and corner-kicks without posing much of a threat to the boys from England. Defenders Francesco Bertinetti and Pol Garcia made their European debut too but they didn’t have any work to do until the end.
It would have been unfair, had Juventus lost its best NextGen Series match so far. And the deserved equalizer came six minutes before the end: Beltrame caught the ball in the “D” and shot it past Lawlor, but the ball hit the bar and bounced in the box, where Daniele Rugani was ready to head it back in the net! The midfield battle lasted until the final whistle, when Citizen George Evans chased Beltrame to have a gentlemen’s talk (not really) and sparkled a brawl. The heaviest rain can’t extinguish a teenage fire.
Comments from the Tribuna Centrale
The bad weather and the concurrent Serie A match kept many fans away from the Moccagatta, which had half the attendance of the previous fixtures, mostly children from the local youth team. Speaking of the weather, it reminded me of a videogame I had on my Commodore 64, Kick-Off 2: when the conditions changed from “sun” to “rain”, you could make the players slide and spin without control. That’s exactly what happened during the match to the goalkeepers and tackling defenders: fun within the fun!
I sat near a group of Manchester City technicians, with ginger hair and unintelligible accents, who recorded the match with their equipment and tracked stats about their players. I didn’t see any Juventus staff members doing the same, but they might have been somewhere else in the stadium. Among the VIPs I spotted again youth director Gianluca Pessotto, chief scout Mauro Sandreani, and the MCFC executive Patrick Vieira. Former Azzurro and current coach of Italy U-19, Alberigo Evani, sat there too.
Did Evani leave with good impressions on our eligible players? Padovan and Rugani have already been capped, Filippo Penna is a reliable centre-back, Federico Mattiello can improve a lot as a classic winger without defensive duties. Among the foreigners, Brănescu has a career ahead but must improve with his feet and on set-pieces, and I hope that a pure full-back like Joel Untersee (now injured) won’t be left behind to adhere to the 3-5-2 fundamentalism.
Those who didn’t make good impressions on me were the interni, Slivka and Kabashi. The former never knew what to do with the ball and didn’t provide much of a filter; the latter on the contrary was in love with the ball and lost too many a possession trying to dribble opponents in the mud. Elvis is generous and has good instinct for penetrations but should learn to keep things simple, otherwise he’s more of a danger for his own defense.
This was the third and last home fixture for Juventus in Group 2 of the NextGen Series. Paris Saint Germain is currently leading with 6 points, Juve and City are tied second with 5, Fenerbahçe closes with 2. If we gained one victory in our leg away from Italy, qualification to the knock-out stage would be possible, at least as one of the best third-placed teams. I don’t know if future matches will be played in my home town, nor if I will be around next year, however it’s been a pleasure to share the enjoyment with you.
The NextGen Series is a pan-European football tournament for Under-19 players, aimed at giving them the chance to face a quality of opposition they would not otherwise see domestically. It is pitched as a “baby” version of the UEFA Champions League. Juventus make their competition debut this season.