This post was guest-blogged by Vittorio Pazzini. Follow him on Twitter (@vittoriopazzini)
Welcome back, friends, to what is sadly a post-Coppa Italia-exit edition of STTBS.
Last night’s match was truly the cruelest kind of defeat, as after 90-plus minutes of futility, courtesy of a toothless attack and more ignored penalty shouts, and having conceded our customary lone goal, things looked ridiculously bleak. And still, if we could just score to send it to extra time…
Our savior finally arrived in the form of a wounded (how else?) Arturo Vidal. And yet, Juve managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory less than a minute later, as a sadistic deflection from a Lazio cross found Floccari wide open to head past a less-than-stellar Marco Storari.
From utter despair to wild hope, back to utter despair, all within two minutes.
It’s Pendulum Week in Turin. As you’ll see herein, Juve’s fortunes have swung drastically from day to day, even hour to hour, starting with this past weekend. And though morale is at a relative low and the pendulum has swung temporarily towards defeat, there’s only one way for it to swing now (we hope).
With that, let’s commiserate, and maybe even try to find a bright spot or two.
Coppa Italia Post-Mortem
Juve knew going into last night’s match that they were facing an uphill struggle.
They also knew they had to do one thing above all others — score. A defensive masterclass by itself would mean nothing if the Bianconeri didn’t win the match, or score more than one away goal in the event of a draw. Ultimately, they neither defended well nor converted the bulk of their chances, while for the second straight match valid claims for a penalty kick were ignored.
Antonio Conte went with a risky, low-quality starting XI, partly due to fitness concerns and the need for turnover, and partly for tactical reasons. From the start, Antonio was banking on three super-subs to be introduced later in the match in order to capitalize on any fatigue Lazio would be feeling. If it worked, we would probably be extolling his crafty genius, and in a way I admire his nerve in setting out that way.
Unfortunately, he sent out an extremely weak midfield to support a notoriously weak strike force. Arturo Vidal was left to anchor the middle of the pitch alongside Simone Padoin, Emanuele Giaccherini, Mauricio Isla and Luca Marrone; in each instance, you will agree that the aforementioned are inferior to the normal Bianconeri protagonists. Meanwhile, Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco brought their recent inferior form to bear on the proceedings. Things looked shaky at best.
Yet even with such an unpromising lineup, the Bianconeri started out in very bright (though nervy) fashion. This match had that rare combination of ugliness and pace, which in my experience are usually mutually exclusive. It was a sort of a fast grind, dotted with very hard tackles from both sides. However, Juve were very quick to be yellow-carded by Banti, while Lazio were given a much longer leash for equally intense tackling. Nevertheless, the early going was quite promising, culminating in a valid claim for a penalty when Vucinic, connecting with a through-ball in the box, beat Lazio goalkeeper Federico Marchetti to the ball and was brought down by him. Of course, this is Juve, so after a cursory conversation with the linesman, Banti resumed play with no penalty given.
What followed was the usual story, writ large in a knockout format with no margin for error. Juve controlled the bulk of possession and gave very little ground to Lazio, and yet the abject impotence of the midfield and forwards ensured that no goals were scored.
Worst of all, Juve’s most active attacking “threat,” Giovinco, invariably lost the ball, scuffed a shot or fell prey to referee skepticism regarding the exploitation of his famously small stature. Giovinco had several strong claims for free kicks, but for every true foul there were at least one or two embellishments on the part of the Atomic Ant which gained him no favors with Banti, who clearly believed him to be taking advantage of his size disadvantage. But what else can an ant do, especially when he’s not feeling so atomic these days?
The old frustration soon gave way to desperation, as shortly after the break Lazio went ahead on Alvaro Gonzalez’s diving header. Gonzalez was allowed free passage to the far post courtesy of Federico Peluso, who admittedly was one of the better players on the pitch up to that point.
Enter the super-subs. Conte sent in Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Fabio Quagliarella, who added the necessary intensity without providing that one transcendent moment. At the close of regular time, a mixed blessing arrived: six minutes of injury time. Great for our last-ditch efforts to score, but more ammunition for those who believe Juventus are being “helped.”
Luckily, within only two bonus minutes, Arturo Vidal cleaned up Marchetti’s parry of a swinging cross and placed it where all had hitherto failed: in the back of the net. Suddenly, hope! The match was seemingly headed for extra time, a much-needed respite from the frantic offensive launched and sustained by the tiring Bianconeri.
Then, within less than two minutes more, Lazio converted that fatefully deflected ball from their corner kick for the crucial deciding goal. However, their delirious celebration added a minute of precious time for the Bianconeri to answer. Improbable, but not impossible…
And damn if we didn’t almost make it through.
Giovinco was put clear through on goal, and nine times out of ten (especially if those nine times were not very important occasions), Seba would have converted. But at point-blank range he shot straight at Marchetti, who deflected the ball…right to a wide-open Marchisio! But inexplicably, the second easy chance in seconds went similarly unconverted, as Claudio failed to strike the ball with his right foot, or cleanly with his left. Heartbreaking.
In seconds, Juve went from crashing out, to all-but-passing through to the final, back to crashing out. It was the cruelest of defeats, because for a few brief moments, after a match full of frustration, we were finally allowed to dream.
Whether this setback spurs Juventus back to power is very difficult to predict, as on top of injury woes, the Genoa fiasco has led to several suspensions (see below) which will see several makeshift lineups in the coming weeks.
What we do know is that the Old Lady has been scorned, badly, and more than she deserves. We can only hope for her subsequent fury to surface.
Recently, Antonio Conte’s press statements have been maddeningly vague, and his reaction to the loss at Lazio figured began in much the same manner. It may just be a symptom of the current say-nothing media ethos, but the Juve coach’s determination to keep all of his criticism in-house, while mostly noble, can get more than a little frustrating amidst a string of disappointing results:
We certainly deserved better over the 180 minutes, but Lazio went through and congratulations to them. The last chance had a decisive bearing, because we would have qualified had it gone differently. The lads played an excellent game, but that’s football and we can only take note of it.
As ever, Conte’s use of the word “excellent” (as translated by the official site) is baffling. I imagine he’s referring once again to some abstract execution of the movements he choreographs during the week, the means rather than the end.
Conte then defended his player selection, hamstrung as it was by illness and injury:
Matri had a high fever up until yesterday so I didn’t have any other options available in attack.
Quagliarella did well when he came on. Marrone? I envisage a great future for him in the center of defense, but he also did well in midfield. I’m happy with how my players expressed themselves. We know exactly where we’ve been lacking in this recent period.
We do? Okay. That genuinely makes me feel better, especially after continually hearing that Conte is happy with his players’ “expression,” which you’ll agree expressed very little in the way of confidence and prowess, to say nothing of marksmanship.
While it’s still too early to panic, there’s no denying that this is officially a storm that now must be weathered, until several of the Old Lady’s best players recover and the old spirit returns.
When the smoke cleared from Saturday’s debacle against Genoa, four Bianconeri were sanctioned by sporting judge Gianpaolo Tosel.
Antonio Conte was given a two-match ban, which means he’ll miss the matches against Chievo and Fiorentina. Compared to what Conte has been through this season, this is no big deal. What is perhaps a bigger deal is that Leonardo Bonucci will also be suspended for two matches. We’re looking at a Barzagli, Marrone and Caceres backline for the next two weeks.
Mirko Vucinic, who was yellow-carded in the match, will sit out for Chievo; same goes for Giorgio Chiellini who was disciplined for running out onto the pitch in his civilian clothes. Of course, he was never in contention for the Chievo match, due to his injury.
And according to our JuventiKNOWS Indifference Bureau, Giuseppe Marotta has been “banned from all representative duties” until February 18.
That’s fine, because despite his obvious skill as a sporting director and nose for a good deal, his rash statements have proven that he is not quite a “Top Representative,” to paraphrase slightly.
Juve Clean Up Calcio Awards
From sanctions to accolades in the space of a few hours, Pendulum Week started with a bang for Juve.
The annual Gran Gala del Calcio (formerly known as the Oscar del Calcio) was held on Sunday in Milan, and unsurprisingly, Juventus swept the major awards:
Best Manager: Antonio Conte
Best Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
Best defender: Andrea Barzagli
Best midfielder: Claudio Marchisio
Best midfielder: Andrea Pirlo
Best Italian player: Andrea Pirlo
Best team: Juventus
No Juve forwards? It’s a scandal! Oh, wait…
The winners were chosen by members of the Italian Footballers’ Association; sadly, none of them seem to have had an influence on the FIGC since around 2006.
There’s nothing like being handed trophies after a somewhat embarrassing incident to make an Old Lady feel sheepish, but bad timing aside, no one in the calcio universe could deny that all of Juve’s plaudits from the past season are more than well-deserved.
For once, no one, not even a Milanese fan can dispute that these awards were won entirely on the pitch.
Agnelli Weighs In
Juventus President Andrea Agnelli is in a precarious position these days. He has to straddle the line between defending his club and keeping up Lo Stile Juve. And while he hasn’t always made us proud (the handling of the whole Del Piero affair), he has done much to restore pride in Torino after years of sporting darkness and organizational incompetence.
Regarding the Genoa incident, Andrea balanced his words very carefully, but still managed to make a good point or two:
There are games that have a lot riding on them and people get caught up in the emotion and tension of the occasion. You can’t really expect them to behave like English lords at the end of the match, especially when you have such a glaring episode right before the final whistle.
You will always get reactions in football. Certain things always get blown up when they happen to Juventus, but you shouldn’t manipulate comments made in the heat of the moment. Marotta maintained a very calm tone yesterday and it’s up to the people who select referees to decide how appropriate certain appointments are.
Depending on which refereeing appointments are made in future, we’ll see if what was said was deemed appropriate or not. Having said that, we must move on and remember that whoever finishes top in May will be there deservedly.
Agnelli went on to discuss both present and future objectives:
We have very high expectations and we know that it’s more difficult to win the second time round. The teams behind us have legitimate title ambitions and Napoli should be seen as a serious Scudetto contender because they have great players and a very capable coach.”
The investments that the club has made in the last two or three years will bear fruit. I’m talking about the J-College, which enables our youngsters to combine their academic commitments with their sports activities, the stadium, which makes headlines when it’s ‘only’ 90% full, and the J-Museum, which has already received over 110,000 visitors in just over six months.
We want to keep aiming higher, drawing inspiration from the very best in European and American sport. There are three main sources of income for sports clubs: TV rights, gate receipts and commercial earnings. The clubs that lead the way in these areas are Spanish, English and German, in that order, but Juve are on a par with the best clubs in Europe.
Bravo, Andrea: a measured tone, throwing no one under the proverbial team bus. He has a daunting legacy to live up to, but Andrea is handling himself with distinction, and is showing the boorish older generation (Berlusconi, Moratti) how to behave, even when members of one’s organization lose their cool.
If tonight’s result once again hammered home our severe lack of quality in front of goal, then true to form, Giuseppe Marotta has remedied the situation… with more of the same.
Nicolas Anelka has apparently finished his medical examination ahead his eventual transfer to Juventus. The French forward has gone a relatively lengthy series of tests at Turin’s Istituto di Medicina dello Sport and the Clinica Fornaca di Sessant.
We are not getting the Nicolas Anelka of Chelsea. We are getting a 33-year-old who most recently played in China with Didier Drogba. And for those of you who were wary of Drogba signing with us, I can only imagine what you think of this signing. Anelka is generally thought to be a replacement for the injured Nicklas Bendtner, and unfortunately it portends to be a like-for-like substitution of utter futility in front of goal.
I am not the first to say this, but it bears repeating: why did we cast out the greatest player in the history of our organization, only to replace him with a 33-year-old football pensioner? I usually don’t take much stock in the commentary on BeIn Sport, but they had a point when they said that for every time Giovinco was shut down near goal due to a lack of ideas, Alex Del Piero could have easily supplied eight to ten very bright ones. And I’d go further to say that Alex would provide said creativity not just in his prime, but right now.
I seriously hope I’m wrong about Anelka, and if he can contribute even three or four goals in any competition, he will instantly shoot miles ahead of his injured predecessor. In any event, I look forward to admitting to an almost Pele-like incompetence in predicting the future as it pertains to football.
Please prove me wrong, mon ami!
Meanwhile, in more transfer news, you may have heard that Mario Balotelli is finally on his way to Milan. Juventus were reported to be in talks, but Juve’s interest was almost certainly a ploy to drive up his price for Berlusconi. In that task, we succeeded: Milan had to up their initial €20 million offer to Manchester City’s original asking price of €23 million plus incentives.
As I said, I doubt Juve’s interest in Balotelli was anything other than superficial. Moreover, I’m aware that Mario’s occasional moment of magic is more than outmatched by his very consistent madness, and that he would potentially be disastrous if faced with Antonio Conte’s exacting, disciplined methods.
Still, as we sit through match after one-goal match, it’s hard not to feel a slight frustration at our lack of options, allure, resources, etc. We certainly have no need to fear anyone in Italy, certainly not Milan, with or without Balotelli. If anything, it’s a testament to our strength that we’ve had such success in the past year with fewer “marquee” names. But it would be nice to feel fully, properly superior, as we once were.
Not Galactico style, which is false superiority, but simply secure in the mix of homegrown talent and choice international quality that the best Juve squads have always enjoyed. When the money kicks in from the new stadium, I expect Marotta to work towards that end.
Juve Sign Cevallos
Last time, I mentioned the impressive enthusiasm for the Old Lady exhibited by imminent signing Jose Cevallos, who now officially has joined us on loan until the end of the year, most likely with the Primavera squad. But if he can score, who knows? Give him a chance with the big boys!
Here’s the official announcement:
Juventus have completed the loan capture of midfielder José Francisco Cevallos Enríquez from Ecuadorian side LDU Quito.
The 18-year-old, who has forged a reputation as one of the most promising teenage prospects in South America, joins the Bianconeri on a temporary deal with the option to make the move permanent in the summer.
Born on 18 January 1995 in Guayaquil, Cervallos’ impressive displays have already earned him international recognition with the Ecuador Under-20 national side.
Welcome, Jose! And please, please, please… try to score.
Buon Compleanno, Gigi!
Finally, all of us here at JuventiKnows wish our captain and San Gigi Buffon a very happy 35th birthday today.
The official website has posted a very succinct tribute, though it can only fail to adequately express all that Gigi means to the club and Juventini worldwide:
The current captain joined Juventus at the age of 23 in a big money deal which brought him to the club from Parma in 2001. The Juve shotstopper has been symbol of the club for many years and has appeared in nearly 350 matches. He has achieved great success during his time in Turin, winning five Scudetto titles and three Italian Super Cups. The recent contract extension will see him remain at the club for an additional two seasons.
Gigi has also achieved great success internationally, having played a major role in Italy’s 2006 World Cup victory. He currently sits third in terms of appearances for the Azzurri and is set to overtake Paolo Maldini this year.
Tanti auguri, capitano!
That’s all for now. See you later this week for updates on the Chievo match, last-second transfer news and Primavera exploits.
Hang in there, amici!
[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)