This post was guest-blogged by Vittorio Pazzini. Follow him on Twitter (@vittoriopazzini)
Hello everyone, and welcome to a feeling-slightly-better-but-still-frustrated STTBS!
The win at Chievo, while at times less than pretty, was a necessary tonic, not only because it saw Juve return to winning ways, but because it took place in February, and February is thankfully not January.
The traditional Turin Hell Month is over, calendar-wise, but two very big tests loom on the horizon. First up: our old pals Fiorentina, angry as ever and recently refueled with a fresh helping of Anti-Juve bile from the Della Valle family.
Then next week we face the Champions League acid test against Celtic. If we’re truly on our way back to European greatness, a strong showing is crucial.
For now, we’re “enjoying” an international break, but I assure you that work doesn’t stop at Vinovo, and nor does it here.
And now, the news…
Italy’s friendly with Holland will feature a few players short of a true ItalJuve.
Leonardo Bonucci’s Serie A suspension subsequently disqualifies him from this friendly, according to Cesare Prandelli’s ethics code. Sebastian Giovinco will also sit this one out, as he recovers from his thigh strain. That leaves Buffon, Barzagli, Giaccherini, Peluso and Pirlo. As of now, it looks like Buffon, Barzagli and Pirlo will all start.
I believe that players should be willing, honored and excited to play for national teams; however, for a February friendly in the midst of Juve’s injury crisis, I would prefer Buffon, Pirlo and Barzagli be rested. We can only hope that they do not feature for the full 90 minutes. This being a friendly, they likely won’t.
Meanwhile, Stephan Lichtsteiner will be available for Switzerland’s clash with Greece, while Martin Caceres will suit up for Uruguay against those famous world-beaters Spain. Arturo Vidal and Mauricio Isla are in Chile’s squad for their match with Egypt.
Now to the youngsters: Luca Marrone will play for Italy’s Under-21 side against Germany, while rising star Paul Pogba will play France’s Under-20 match with Portugal.
Finally, the sorely missed Kwadwo Asamoah has helped Ghana progress to the semifinal of the African Cup of Nations vs. Burkina Faso. The good news is that barring injury (fingers crossed), it is only a matter of days until Kwadwo rejoins the squad and shores up the barren wasteland that has become the left side of the pitch.
Deprived of the full squad due to the international break, Juve got to work yesterday in view of this weekend’s visit from friendly Fiorentina. There will be another session today, and one tomorrow, after which many of the internationals (at least the Italians) will rejoin the squad.
The injury picture is still clouded, although progress is being made. Mystery man Simone Pepe finally worked on the pitch today, while Claudio Marchisio is about halfway through his 7-10-day recovery period for the strain in his obturator externus muscle. As mentioned previously, Sebastian Giovinco’s thigh injury will see him miss Italy’s friendly with Holland, and it also puts his availability for Fiorentina in doubt.
Mirko Vucinic will be back, having done his time for his role in the Genoa incident. Leo Bonucci and Antonio Conte will sit out one more match, while Giorgio Chiellini has served his suspension and would have been available, had he been healthy.
There are hints that Giorgio may return in time for the Napoli clash in March, according to reports from the hardworking volunteer staff at JuventiKnows’ charitable organization Help Our Left Side Now! It’s a great cause, and we’re proud of you guys!
For the Viola side, our former vice-Little Prince, Alberto Aquilani, will skip this one, in addition to midfielder Migliaccio.
Suffice to say, this is an incredibly important match, but not just because Fiorentina hate us with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Our position on the Serie A table is not as secure as it was before our miserable month, and Napoli are always lurking in the shadows. Moreover, this is a crucial momentum-building match for our even more crucial Champions League first-leg tie vs. Celtic.
Finally, Juventus will need to avenge that 0-0 draw earlier this season — you know, the one that briefly anointed Fiorentina as the official Anti-Juve. They did play well; us, not so much.
That should be motivation enough.
A frustrating affair ends in more frustration, as key Bianconeri dissenters in the Genoa fiasco have publicly apologized for their reactions to Guida’s controversial non-call.
Most notably, Antonio Conte officially “withdrew his complaint” at a meeting with officials and referees in Milan on Monday, after a discussion with Stefano Braschi, referee designator for Serie A, led to all parties deciding that Guida was correct not to award the penalty. Here’s Braschi:
It was a complicated situation. We spoke about it today (Monday) and almost everyone said the handball was not intentional. The fact that Granqvist basically kicked the ball at his own arm was evaluated. Almost everyone agreed with that. Guida noted what occurred with certainty. In cases like this it was right to not award a penalty. He (Conte) understood that he went a bit too far but what counts in situations like this is whether the handball is voluntary or not.
The question of what constitutes voluntary is murky at best; after all, couldn’t it be said that even the best referees can make willful, voluntary calls? Or can it at least be said that it’s impossible to know if one person’s decision is ever really objective and unbiased?
When confronted with such ideas, the FIGC and the Referee Association will always take the literalist approach: Granqvist did not want or plan to handle the ball, so it technically never happened.
Never mind that this minimalist line of reasoning is inconsistently considered from match to match — one of the challenges of soccer is to ignore your instinct to use your arms and hands. That’s why defenders keep their arms tied to their torso in the penalty area, even when it’s easier to run with help from arm motion. If your arm stops what could be a goalscoring opportunity, what does it matter if it’s voluntary?
But I digress. Later, Giorgio Chiellini took to the Internet to voice his apology:
Even if I could not play because of my injury, I sat out the one-match ban imposed after my reaction at the end of Juventus-Genoa. Now that the controversy about that match has gone, I would like to apologize publicly for the incident.
Unfortunately, watching the game from the stands gave me more tension and after the end of the match I reacted too vehemently. We players should be the first who give a good example of how to behave on and off the field, so I wanted to apologize to all football and sports fans in general for my behavior.
As usual, a more important issue is lost behind all these apologies given and accepted: the question of equality in the decision-making process itself, as well as the reviewing of those calls in retrospect.
With their actions during and after the incident, both Juve and the FIGC/Referee Association have managed to ignore the actual flashpoint that caused the ruckus in the first place. Juve unintentionally but surely made a spectacle of themselves with their reactions to the call and their misguided modes of self-expression, but calcio officials seized on that behavior as the perfect excuse to divert attention from Juve’s otherwise valid motivation for arguing.
Admittedly, Juve have occasionally benefited from erroneous calls like any other team, but recently it appears that in general, whether on the pitch or in one of many kangaroo courts, the rules are different for Juventus.
The FIGC/Referees are sticking to a very literal interpretation of the rules—which would be fine if they didn’t spend the other days of the year rationalizing those rules out of existence when referees make different but equally inconvenient decisions.
The question is impossible to ignore, but equally impossible to answer: would that penalty have been called for any other team — say, Milan? And how much of that rationale is “voluntary”?
We can’t know for sure, but these certainly are valid questions, given what we’ve seen this year and last. We do know from Sunday’s Milan-Udinese match that a bogus penalty call for Milan is not greeted with the same level of hysteria, the same howls of derision as a call of similar benevolence for Juve. We also know that Juve are far more vilified for complaining than any other team.
Saying it’s because we’re on top, or because we’re most modern and progressive (or simply because we’re beautiful), doesn’t make it any less frustrating. In the end, as with Farsopoli and Conte’s persecution, the wider world will see not the complexities of the issue, but only the apology, and will thus infer another guilty verdict. And this time, unfortunately, we were complicit.
And so Juve’s PR wars continue…
Stats: Good Job, We Can Do Much Better
In a refreshing change from recent episodes of STTBS, this week hasn’t seen the Bianconeri dominate the bulk of statistical categories, only to fail to secure the most important one.
Juventus won, but by a narrow margin which could have (and should have) been much wider. From Juventus’ official site:
The visitors dominated almost all the key aspects of the game. The shots statistics clearly show that Juventus posed the bigger threat to the opposition goal, 18-7 (8-3 on target). The Bianconeri also achieved supremacy in terms of set pieces from the corner flags, with four opportunities to whip the ball in, whereas Chievo failed to earn a single one for the duration of the match.
Matri and Giovinco each got off three shots, while the always active Arturo Vidal and Stephan Lichtsteiner matched their forward counterparts with the same total.
Juve won the possession battle with 56% of the ball to Chievo’s 44%. They completed 609 passes (71.7%) compared to the Flying Donkey’s 458 (63.6%).
Andrea Pirlo, of course, led the individual passers with 63 successful connections, while Martin Caceres and Vidal made 56 and 55, respectively.
On the defensive end of things, Caceres and Luca Marrone each recovered a team-high 17 balls in an encouraging, not-January performance.
The official website concludes with an understated understatement:
Antonio Conte will be satisfied with his team’s display at the weekend, but will also be encouraging his players to be more clinical and convert these dominant performances into more comfortable wins going forward.
I’ve said the same thing myself for the past several weekends, only not exactly in those words.
Gigi Loves the Competition
Our captain Gigi Buffon is more than happy to see the likes of Napoli breathing down the Old Lady’s neck, believing that far from worrying Juve, it will instead spur them to remain at the top of the Serie A table:
Rivals can only be a good thing for us. With certain players, the more they’re put under pressure, the better they perform. Now it can’t be taken for granted that Juve will win the Scudetto.
At the end of December it seemed as if we’d already won the championship because there weren’t any rivals. Now they’ve revealed themselves. Knowing that you can’t put a foot wrong brings added motivation.
Please be careful with these statements, Gigi, or at least say them after we’ve recovered from a wretched stretch in which we allowed Napoli ample time (about a month’s worth) to claw their way back into the Scudetto race. But please, go on:
Napoli are a complete team, they believe they can do it and want to replicate our achievements from last year. They’ve played together for many years and possess an excellent manager along with important individuals. They’ve got everything in place to fight for the Scudetto.
But we won’t stand back and watch. We need to play in a convincing manner as we did up until a month ago. At which point the others can do whatever they like…
What we really need to do is erase the month of January entirely.
Wishful thinking aside, I can appreciate Buffon’s classy-as-ever deference to Napoli, perfectly counterbalancing that rascal Marchisio’s recent incendiary statements on our friends from the land of Sophia Loren, very thin pizza and “passionate” (euphemism) supporters.
Has Matri Found His Mitra?
Despite his recent scoring problems, Alessandro Matri was instrumental in both goals against Chievo, and in doing so exhibited no lack of precision and skill.
But despite his fine performance on Sunday, it still remains to be seen if Alessandro can actually repeat it over successive matches, overcoming the frequent disruptions in rhythm, constant physical sacrifice and fluctuations in confidence that seem to be hallmarks of playing upfront for Antonio Conte.
Yet despite the probable complexity of his feelings on the subject, Matri is putting up a brave, determined face for the media:
Everyone wants to play, but unfortunately there are only 11 players on the pitch. As in every team, there is a pecking order. All you can do is give your all and give the coach something to think about. I’m not satisfied with being a reserve, I’m working to play in the starting XI. Pecking orders have to be respected, but you can try and change them.
Ale is more confident in the knowledge of who is fueling the club’s current “crisis”:
If you look at the situation carefully, you understand who wants the top player more out of the club and the media. It seems like the latter to me. That’s why we are criticized in an exaggerated manner.
As for his impressively clinical volley to open the scoring on Sunday, it turns out Ale was as surprised as we were:
It felt like a great goal. Strange though, because normally when I strike it well, I don’t score. But today it went well and we provided a great response to Napoli’s win. These are the games that win you championships, not the direct encounters.
Well said, sir. And as for the great goal: We know it’s strange, but we can get used to it if you can.
Nuthin’ But A “C” Thang
This is too disappointing not to mention.
Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion, as he now prefers to be called) is reportedly in the market for a soccer team — or at least a piece of one. Unfortunately, he’s leaning toward next week’s Champions League opponents Celtic, as he told The Daily Record:
I don’t need to run a soccer club but [I would want] enough of a percentage to get me on the board so I can be heard. I got a lot of interest in soccer … [and] I see how passionate Celtic fans are about their team.
Let me see if I have this right: I spend every day of eighth grade listening to The Chronic and this is how you repay me, Mr. Lion?
Snoop’s reasoning seems to follow what I call the Erroneous Transitive Property of Catalan Upsets — Celtic beat Barcelona once, so they’re pretty much just as good:
Barcelona are a big deal, and it shows Celtic are a big deal as well.
This is a guy you definitely want on your board helping to make key personnel decisions.
When asked about Celtic’s recent prospects for success, Snoop has clearly perused the talking points, praising Georgios Samaras as “a proper athlete [and] pretty dangerous player. If we are to go far in Europe, [Samaras] needs to play well.”
“We”? And since when does Snoop speak like a poorly translated European footballer?
In any event, in addition to his lobbying to be Celtic’s mascot and lead them out for the Juve match, Snoop promises to throw unbelievable parties in the boxes at Celtic’s stadium and to talk David Beckham into joining the club as part of his endless farewell tour. And he eagerly looks forward to hanging out with Celtic’s most famous fan, Rod Stewart, who shed actual tears when they beat Barcelona in the group stage this season.
Upon hearing of Snoop’s interest in Celtic, Andrea Agnelli immediately made a counteroffer for the famous rapper’s presence on Juve’s board. He even pledged to alter Boniperti’s famous maxim to better fit Snoop’s “laidback” (euphemism) lifestyle:
“Winning isn’t important. It’s the only… wait, what? I think Burger King’s open!”
Doesn’t have the same ring to it, Andrea. Drop it like it’s hot (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Fernando Llorente has officially put the moves on the Old Lady.
Speaking to Spanish paper AS, Fernando admits that he noticed that we were noticing him from across the room, and that he liked our style:
I had offers from many teams, but I really liked the Juve project. They have invested heavily in me from the start and have always been clear in their intentions. I’ve always enjoyed the competitive spirit of Italian teams and, for me, Juve are the biggest.
Aww, Fernando, that’s very sweet — but we bet you say that to all the girls. Just remember: There’s only one Vecchia Signora, buddy.
Quick, pay us another compliment:
The club are also trying to win the Champions League, which, for me, is the title that is the most exciting. They are a winning team, with the ambition to keep on winning. It excites me a lot.
Really? Well… okay, we’ll take a chance. But just to warn you: we’re coming off a string of disappointing relationships with forward types.
The worst was this guy from Brazil. He had a profoundly stupid hairstyle. He promised us the world, and everything was actually cool for about four months. He really wasn’t so bad, although it was difficult to look at him — again, the bad hair.
And then, all of a sudden… nothing, for over a year! And we mean nothing.
But you’re not like that, are you, Fernando? Guess we’ll find out in July.
Super Cup Anniversary
Finally, a bit of Bianconeri history: Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of Juventus’ second Super Cup victory. As told by the official site:
On 5 February 1997, Marcello Lippi’s Bianconeri, fresh from their Champions League exploits the previous May, added to their silverware haul by seeing off the challenge of Paris Saint-Germain over two legs.
Having silenced the Parc des Princes with a 6-1 victory in the first encounter between the sides, Juventus completed the rout in Palermo, with Alessandro Del Piero and Christian Vieri finding the target in a 3-1 success.
It was the second European Super Cup trophy in the club’s history, following a 2-0 victory over Liverpool at Turin’s Stadio Comunale in 1985.
We have another chance to restore our rightful place in European football, and it all starts next week. We could do worse than to use this memory as a source of inspiration.
Ciao for now. See you later this week, as we get ready for another Tuscan tango. A presto!
[STTBS]: Juventus News is a daily feature where the JuventiKnows editorial team discusses the JuveNews stories you need to read, without the “Messi signs for Juve on loan thanks to Nike” kind of nonsense. What does [STTBS] mean? You’ll have to guess that for yourself. We wouldn’t tell you even under pain of torture… (though we do take bribes)