This post was guest-blogged by Massimiliano F.
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.
Nothing screams “I’m unemployed!” more than going to the stadium on a weekday afternoon to attend a youth tournament match. Last week, the Giuseppe Moccagatta in Alessandria hosted Juve’s second match of the NextGen Series: this time, the Bianconeri’s opponents were U-19 French League runners-up Paris Saint-Germain.
In the previous installment of Juventus Primavera Latest, Adam Digby reported about the highs and lows of the beginning of the season for coach Marco Baroni‘s side, and before that, I gave my report on the first game of the NextGen Series in which Juventus grabbed a last-gasp draw against Fenerbahçe. Paris Saint-Germain has had a better start, leading its home league group with two victories and one defeat, and coming back from Manchester with a surprising win against the Citizens in the first match of the tournament.
On the Parisian side all eyes were on the French-Croatian striker, Nicolas Rajsel, who scored the two winning goals against the Sky Blues. Good news for Juve arrived in the formal transfer from Cruzeiro of Brazilian forward Leonardo Bonatini, giving Baroni a hard choice for the starting eleven. Would he pick a classic household 3-5-2 (with either Beltrame or Padovan having to sit on the bench) or switch to a more suitable 4-3-3?
As it were, Juve held on to their 3-5-2 but chose not to use Bonatini right away, instead opting for some personnel changes at the back. With BRANESCU in net, the defense was lead by PENNA, RUGANI, and MAGNÚSSON, along with UNTERSEE and LAURSEN siding up on the wings at the right and left positions respectively. MATTIELLO, SCHIAVONE, and KABASHI formed the central midfield, with PADOVAN and RUGGIERO up top. On the opposite end, PSG coach David Bechkoura fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation with the deepest terzini I’ve ever seen, as well as some creative chaos behind their lone striker.
The ball-playing style that Juventus showed against Fenerbahçe was nowhere to be seen in this match, as PSG dominated the first half in both possession and territory. A few minutes into the match Filippo Penna lost the ball due to the Parisians’ high pressing, allowing Rajsel a shot on goal: Laurenţiu Brănescu was vigilant and saved, repeating himself on the following corner kick and once again in the 8th minute, when Adrien Rabiot — the “man of order” of the French midfield — troubled Juve’s goalie with a 25-meter shot. The first chance for Juventus came at the 15th when Stefano Padovan launched Giuseppe Ruggiero, who resisted a defender and fired his effort above the bar. Ruggiero would return the favour to Padovan a few minutes later, only to fnd the Parisian keeper to deny him.
It looked clear how the overlapping movements of the French fullbacks, Presnel Kimpembe and… wait for it… Antoine Conte (!), left only two men behind the line of the ball and forced Juve’s fullbacks in line with the defense, but also opened wide prairies in their own half. At this time Baroni moved Federico Mattiello forward on the left and Ruggiero on the right, switching to a 5-2-3 that was more of a 3-4-3 in possession. While this would prove right in the end, it immediately put captain Andrea Schiavone and Elvis Kabashi under higher pressure, effectively pushing the team’s core back. Fortunately, a tight display by Juve’s three CBs prevented the opposing forwards from finalizing.
In the second half Paris Saint-Germain simply had to slow down on pace, and the tide turned. Juve came out of its shell, though many balls were lost due to Brănescu’s awful foot distribution. In the 50th minute Jacob Laursen took possession on the left flank, ran into the box and shot on goal: Areola saved into corner. It was the prelude to the Juventus goal, which arrived in the 57th: Mattiello recovered the ball into the French half and passed it to Padovan, who skipped a defender and put it into the box for Giuseppe Ruggiero. The forward promptly obliged and slammed the ball past Areola to put Juve in the lead!
One minute later, another ball stolen by Mattiello resulted in a great through ball for Padovan, but the striker’s goal was disallowed for dubious offside decision. Mattiello continued his good form with a 50-metre side-to-side run, before being substituted (along with Padovan): in came Lanini and Bonatini. The Brazilian took the centre-forward spot and, despite looking the slowest in the lot, created danger in duet with his sidekicks. The Parisians didn’t give up and came close to an equalizer at the 70th minute when trequartista Hervin Ongenda freed (French) Conte in the box, but the wisely-named right-back shot wide.
At this point coach Bechkoura decided to take Rajsel, who had been completely neutralized by Juve’s back three after his early shot, with John Nkomb-Nkomb, whose only contribution would be an attempted bicycle kick. Baroni put Ceria in for Ruggiero to keep the ball high, then Tavanti and Emmanuello for Penna and Kabashi to let the clock run out. And right into injury time — with all of PSG in Juve’s half — Rugani launched Léo Bonatini in front of the French goalkeeper: the striker sat him down and scored, to give the Bianconeri a 2-0 win and the lead of Group 2 with 4 points.
57′ Ruggiero, 91′ Bonatini
Penna (90′ Emmanuello), Rugani, Magnússon
Untersee, Schiavone, Kabashi (90′ Tavanti), Mattiello (63′ Lanini), Laursen
Ruggiero (81′ Ceria), Padovan (18′ st Bonatini)
Comments from the Tribuna Centrale
I sat above the Juventus bench with pencil and paper to have a look at Marco Baroni’s way of coaching. He wasn’t very vocal – his French counterpart spent most of the match directing his players – but he let himself heard when the forwards and fullbacks didn’t cover. When Joel Untersee replied to the referee about a foul he hadn’t committed, Baroni shouted him angrily to shut up. I liked that. I liked the lack of ball-playing less.
I was surrounded by player agents and youth trainers from around Northern Italy, many of which had connections with the Juventus youngsters. Stefano Beltrame and another guy that I didn’t recognize complained with one former mister about being relegated to the stands – “not even to the bench” they said – for Baroni’s turnover. They had sad eyes but they seemed to accept it.
Among the VIPs I spotted again youth director Gianluca Pessotto and chief scout Mauro Sandreani. A few seats away was the former Juventus midfielder, and current Manchester City executive, Patrick Vieira. When he was at AC Milan, a friend of mine asked him an autograph after a training session, but the young player refused it and walked away. This time he signed autographs to children who weren’t even born when he betrayed us for Inter Milan, and he gave interviews to star-struck local journalists. I liked that. I liked his betrayal less.
Despite the earlier kick-off the attendance was about the same as the previous match: about 1,000. A 20% reduction in prices didn’t hurt, though most people had free tickets. Once in my lifetime, I want a free ticket too! Should I apply for a “JuventiKnows OFFICIALLY OFFICIAL NextGen Series correspondent” press badge?