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.
NextGen Series began last season, created by Brentford director Mark Warburton, with the eventual winners being Serie A side Internazionale who defeated Ajax in the final. Juventus make their debut this season, attempting to balance the competition with the Primavera Championship and the prestigious Viareggio Cup. It will not be easy: not only does the competition involve some of Europe’s best teams, but Juventus does not have a U-19 side (Primavera is now U-18) so these games will be the only ones at this age bracket.
Luckily for those who didn’t see the opening game (and even those who did) Massimiliano F. — a native of Alessandria, where the Bianconeri will play their home matches in this competition — did attend and was kind enough to file a match report here at JuventiKnows. Here’s what he saw.
My Return to the Moccagatta
I was born a Juventino when I saw my father’s misty eyes at the news of Gaetano Scirea’s death, but I owe most of my childhood education to my neighbour, Luigi Lupo, who played left-back for Alessandria Calcio in Italy’s top division in 1922-23, before breaking his knee on his 7th appearance in a grey shirt. His memories of the calcio che fu (“football that once was”) were fables of epic battles in the fog and mud between fierce sides fueled only by passion, and legendary were the names of the players with whom he got to play, like Torino’s Adolfo Baloncieri and Juve’s Giovanni Ferrari.
A few years later their trainer, Carlo Carcano, would lead Juventus to four consecutive Scudetti in the Quinquennio d’oro.
At Stadio Moccagatta zio Gigi saw the rise of one of the most talented Italian footballers of all time, AC Milan’s Gianni Rivera, nicknamed “the Golden boy” because Alessandria allegedly sold him for the worth of his weight in gold. I attended the Moccagatta several times in the 90s, but I never really fell in love with the Grigi.
Coincidentally, the last time I set foot there was the first and only time I’ve seen Juventus live, when the locals were defeated 1-5 in a friendly match against Fabio Capello’s team at the beginning of the ‘Two Years That Weren’t’. That day I was standing among the Juve ultras.
Naturally, when Juve announced that my town’s stadium would hold Juventus Primavera’s home matches in the NextGen Series, I thought I couldn’t miss them.
I walked early to the stadium, queued for the tickets and sat in the central stands, right above the Fenerbahçe bench and next to the VIP seats. Among NextGen Series officials and other Juventus club executives I spotted youth director Gianluca Pessotto, chief scout Mauro Sandreani, and our very own Commander-in-Chief, Massimo Carrera (another former Alessandria player), who spent the half-time break signing autographs and taking pictures with fans.
Primavera coach Marco Baroni fielded Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2 formation with BRĂNESCU between the posts, UNTERSEE / PENNA / RUGANI in the back line, RUGGIERO and MATTIELLO on the wings, KABASHI / SCHIAVONE / EMMANUELLO in the midfield, and BELTRAME slightly behind PADOVAN in attack. As for the Fenerbahçe Academy coach – who bore a striking resemblance to Beppe Baresi – fielded his team in a 4-2-3-1 scheme.
From the start the Juventus players looked physically stronger and focused on ball possession, but passing was slow and most of their chances came from Stefano Beltrame‘s fantasia and Giuseppe Ruggiero‘s deep runs on the right flank. The Istanbul side defended in an orderly fashion, with
David Luiz (yes, another lookalike) Oğuz Mataracı providing filter and his mates promptly launching counter-attacks. Turkish captain Beykan Şimşek proved particularly dangerous, cutting Juve’s defense with his deep passes for striker Emrah Akar.
In the 27th minute came the first goal and it was Beltrame’s creation: he took possession by the centre circle, ran to the box, passed the ball on his left to Stefano Padovan who simply had to kick it past Fenerbahçe’s goalkeeper. The Turkish reaction came from the feet of Şimşek: first he troubled Brănescu with a free kick, then in the 38th minute picked up a rebound and fired an unstoppable effort past the goalkeeper’s arms to make it 1-1.
The second half began just like the first half had ended: a Beltrame pass for Padovan who then turned the ball into the net. It was the 48th minute. The Turks didn’t feel defeated and kept pressing Juve’s defenders, who committed a streak of errors in possession. After Brănescu tried three times to emulate Gigi Buffon’s moment of madness against Lecce last year, a misunderstanding between Joel Untersee and Daniele Rugani forced the Italian to foul substitute Sertaç Yılmaz inside the area (or was he outside?). The referee conceded a penalty kick that Şimşek converted with 15 minutes to go.
At this time Juve’s midfielders looked tired and ineffective both in the defensive and attacking phases, the only sparks coming from Federico Mattiello on the left flank. A wonderful pass from Şimşek launched Akar in our half, Cavani-style: Akar ran to the box, avoided Brănescu’s intervention, but incredibly shot wide! It was only a matter of time however before Yılmaz curled the ball in Juve’s net, putting his side in the lead with only five minutes left on the clock.
Looking for a desperate draw, coach Baroni switched to a 3-3-4 and took Mattiello and the inconsistent Emmanuello out, bringing Edoardo Ceria and Eric Lanini in. Since five minutes of injury time were spent with Turkish players faking cramps, the referee granted three additional minutes, and right at the death (90 + 8′) a last-gasp cross was headed by Lanini under the bar for Juve’s deserved equalizer. Cue the Turkish Beppe Baresi getting sent off, a brawl on the pitch, and eventually the final whistle.
27′, 50′ Padovan, 94′ Lanini
Untersee, Penna, Rugani
Ruggiero, Kabashi, Schiavone, Emmanuello, Mattiello
(BENCH: Gagliardini, Tavanti, Curti, Braccini, Gerbaudo, Ceria, Lanini)
Comments from the Tribuna Centrale
A few words of praise must go to Juventus Primavera executive (and former Alessandria sports director) Stefano Braghin, who set up this operation and brought the competition to a proper stadium and to a proper audience. The covered stands were packed, meaning an attendance of about 1,000, mostly families with children. Though the tickets were a bit overpriced, perhaps.
The merging of Tifosi Grigi and Bianconeri fans, often in the same person, gave rise to a creative mix of inner supporting and outer criticism, mainly directed to the goalkeeper and defenders. All spot-on, in must be said: Brănescu looked in trouble every time he had to manage the ball with his feet, and there was little harmony among the back three, who had no help from the wings when pressed by the Istanbul forwards.
Captain Schiavone and the mezz’ali were at times overwhelmed. I don’t know how much Baroni is into Conte’s 3-5-2, so I won’t criticize him for that, but he certainly could have made his substitutions earlier, because in the second half our midfield couldn’t keep up with the fast pace of Fenerbahçe. A rather funny moment was when the Beppe Baresi-lookalike was about to make his fourth sub before Baroni had made any, when a Turkish executive ran down the stand, screaming and showing three fingers (five subs are allowed by competition rules, but only in three instances — e.g. you can sub two players a 1st time, then one player the 2nd time, and another two players the 3rd time).
Overall, Juve’s class of ’94 doesn’t appear as brilliant as the previous ones, but only two official matches have been played so far between Campionato and NextGen Series. The next fixtures against Paris Saint Germain (September 19th) and Manchester City (October 31st) will be more serious tests and will determine whether this Juventus Primavera has a new Gianni Rivera in its ranks. Stefano Beltrame, maybe? “Copper boy”? (“rame” means “copper” in Italian — Ed.)