This post was guest-blogged by Vittorio Pazzini. Follow him on Twitter (@vittoriopazzini)
Somewhere in the world, maybe London, Los Angeles, Paris — maybe he’s still in Glasgow — a certain old rooster-haired crooner reclines in luxury, probably sipping on something expensive; maybe he’s literally throwing money around. The point is, he looks happy.
But make no mistake, amici: Rod Stewart weeps once more. And this time, his are not tears of joy.
In keeping with the remit of this column, I will not mislead you further: I honestly didn’t see Mr. Stewart cry on Tuesday night.
What I do know is that Juventus demoralized his beloved Celtic in their own home, administering a defeat even more dispiriting in its fine details than the video for “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
On Tuesday night, the Bianconeri truly returned to the European stage, running up a three-away-goal lead on the Scottish champions while shutting them out entirely. It wasn’t easy — quite the contrary, which makes it all the more impressive. Even Alessio Tacchinardi had something positive to say!
Surrounded by a loud but ultimately toothless partisan crowd, Juve did not nearly have the possession they’re accustomed to, suffering long, sustained attacks from their opponents. Yet when a rare chance on goal materialized, Juve were finally what they needed to be: clinical and technically proficient.
Finally, we can say that possession is temporary, but class is permanent — instead of the opposite.
Celtic were left with an empty, silent stadium, squabbling teammates and a manager who had the sand to bemoan us for effectively matching the same “physical” play that seemed to be their only stratagem. To the Scots, who now face a daunting task (and an authentically intimidating crowd) in Turin, I advise them to listen to their countrymen Belle & Sebastian and do something pretty while they can.
Now Juve travel to Roma to meet a disjointed, helter-skelter squad (listening to Zdenek Zeman for six months or so will do that to you), with a brand-new caretaker coach. They are in a very precarious situation, to put it mildly.
It’s an excellent opportunity for the Bianconeri to capitalize (no pun intended) on what was potentially a transformative win abroad in order to consolidate their power on the peninsula.
In today’s STTBS, we’ll do our fair share of glory-basking — after weeks of anxiety and general January-ness, it is our just dessert — but we won’t rest on our laurels. Suffice it to say, there are much bigger fish to fry in the coming months.
Roma awaits, and so does the news…
All Roads Lead to the Fall of Rome?
As I mentioned above, Juve have an opportunity to inflict even heavier damage on an already reeling Roma side. It’s the calcio equivalent of arriving at the tail end of the fall of the Roman Empire, swiping the few remaining pieces of priceless art and getting to skip ahead of the tourist queues for the Colosseum.
And though it flatters Roma to compare any part of their footballing history to their city’s ancient dynasty, Juventus must still beware the wounded wolves determined to defend what’s left of their season. Throw in a Roman crowd and the undeniable quality of several of their players (not to mention recurring antagonist Francesco Totti), and this is no piece of… some delicacy indicative of the fine Roman people and their culture.
Thursday saw Juve train in earnest for their trip to the capital, running through specific tactical scenarios. This afternoon will see one final session before departing for Rome.
There are two suspensions this weekend for the Bianconeri — one worrying, one not so much. Federico Peluso and Claudio Marchisio were both booked in last week’s Fiorentina victory, thus reaching their yellow-card limit. While Peluso’s absence will not be keenly felt, owing to the return of Kwadwo Asamoah (joy of joys), it is certainly not a good time to lose Claudio’s services after his heroics in Scotland. But then again, there’s never a good time to lose Marchisio these days, such is his quality (see below).
There are four Bianconeri on the edge of suspension: Barzagli, Chiellini, De Ceglie and Vidal. Injuries to Chiellini and De Ceglie point to this being a two-horse race between Barzagli and Vidal to run afoul of the referee; smart money’s on Captain Hook to be the next to sit out.
New Roma manager Aurelio Andreazzoli will have everyone at his disposal, although Osvaldo, De Rossi and Florenzi are all being monitored due to an assortment of small ailments.
A mild turnover should be expected, but, this being Conte’s squad, you never know. Matri should start, as he has proven recently that he responds to continuity, and I would be surprised if Sebastian Giovinco didn’t partner with him from the start, as he will be well-rested. Caceres is confirmed for the back line, while the aforementioned Asamoah will return on the left wing.
Conte could spell Lichtsteiner for someone like Isla or (gulp) Padoin, but even though he could use the rest, let’s hope the Swiss Express runs on-time.
Overall, expect a strong Bianconeri squad with just the right amount of confidence on their side, intent on a result. Still, in the city of Fellini, simple conquest should not be the only objective.
Fortunately, we have our own (bearded) regista to create some fantastic images of his own.
Rocchi’s Refereeing Roma
Gianluca Rocchi of Tuscany will try to maintain law and order on Saturday in Rome.
Juventus usually flourish under his supervision, compiling a sterling record of 15 wins, three draws and two defeats from 20 matches.
What’s more, Rocchi has already presided over two successful Juventus ties this season, those being the 3-1 win over Genoa in September and the 3-0 derby thumping of Torino.
Hugging the touchlines will be Di Liberatore and Manganelli (apparently no first names needed), while Tonolini has been named as fourth official/man-who-has-some-sad-incident-in-his-past-that-makes-him-incapable-of-love-until-a-good-woman-shows-him-that-happiness-is-possible.
Conte on Celtic Campaign
He may be new to the Champions League as a coach, but as a player Antonio Conte has serious European credentials. He’s been around and played his share of high-pressure, high-stakes continental matches. So we can trust him when he remarks upon the singularity of the Celtic match:
I played at lots of European grounds in the Champions League during my playing career and rarely have I seen such an electric atmosphere anywhere as here tonight. It was absolutely booming, I couldn’t even make myself heard with my players.
He must either have The Shining or be a wizard with hand signals, then, because the message got through at every turning point. The Bianconeri masterfully negotiated what was for all intents and purposes a 90-minute rough patch. The lack of possession forced them to lean on an uncharacteristic, stereotypical Italian game (let’s not make a habit of this):
It was a massive win and hard-fought too. We stood strong when they came out at a high tempo and we did what we could, then as soon as they eased off the accelerator a little, we hit them. We got the goal and created a number of other threats. I’m pleased, we’re growing. This team has important qualities—apart from their footballing ability—and they keep showing that time and time again.
Hopefully this is only the first in a series of massive wins in the Conte era.
Ladies and Gentlemen… The Great Marchisio!
I thought I’d never see the day.
On the night of our Champions League triumph (or the next morning, for many of you), Juventus featured in one of SportsCenter’s characteristically brief and halfhearted sops to that much maligned, ragtag band of misfits: American soccer fans.
And the star of this particular segment was the star of the match itself: Claudio Marchisio, Futuro Capitano extraordinario. This is Claudio’s second appearance on US television, following last year’s cameo as “Typical Italian Soccer Player” on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
After quickly covering the first goal (which if you believe the commentator, was scored by Alessandro “Muh-TREE”—didn’t know you had Irish blood, Ale!), ESPN preceded to show a patronizing but nonetheless welcome THREE-STEP BREAKDOWN of Marchisio’s goal. This, despite the fact that seconds earlier they could not identify Marchisio as the very same man who put back Matri’s goal (“Muh-TREE’s teammate puts it back in, but Muh-TREE gets the goal”).
Step 1 featured his clinical run to get open in the first place; Step 2 his just-as-clinical shot-fake to lose the defender; and Step 3 his even-more-clinical finish.
I don’t know if Marchisio knows he made SportsCenter, or if he even cares. But if it’s tough for Messi and Ronaldo to get coverage on the program, is it not impressive to see one of our own?
In any case, Claudio was in deservedly buoyant spirits afterwards:
It was a fantastic team performance and a key win. We’re not through yet, but taking a 3-0 lead back to Italy means we can concentrate a bit more on the league. We’ve sent out a message tonight, to ourselves more than anything: if we maintain our focus as we did today and in our last two Serie A games, we can go on to achieve great things. It’s no mean feat to come here and win in Glasgow, but we studied our opponents well and we got our approach spot on. We wanted at least one goal… and we managed to score three!
Claudio’s seriously on his way to the soccer equivalent of superstardom: being referred to only by his last name. It really helps that his last name conjures magicians and magic almost as well as “Zidane”.
Gigi on Living Dangerously
If we’re measuring by miracle saves, our captain Gigi Buffon had very little to do on Tuesday. Still, he was as always crucial in organizing the defense and radiating calm during the sustained Celtic onslaught. And despite the euphoria of such an inspirational win, Gigi refuses to give the Bianconeri too much credit:
Celtic are an excellent side and they showed that tonight. We set out to attack them but struggled to get into our rhythm so we had to settle for what we could manage, which was to defend well and break forward on the counter. We did a great job of it too – we were clinical and ruthless.
We have to be honest though: the game hinged on a couple of decisive moments. If you didn’t watch it, you might think we cruised to victory. But it’s a positive sign that things went our way and also that we took our chances. Already through? It’s not good for us to be too relaxed. We must remain focused and keep showing Celtic the respect they deserve.
Indeed, the very edge Buffon suggested Celtic lacked this season has proven to be the gift that keeps on (intermittently) giving for Juve. And when it isn’t forthcoming, the press or the FIGC is always happy to help.
Adversity, whether real or manufactured, is of course a necessary byproduct of winning, so hopefully that’s something we’ll be begrudgingly forced to accept. Frequently.
As expected, Juve’s Champions League win sent brought all the former Bianconeri out of the woodwork to tepidly hedge their bets once more. Their basic message: Juventus will win or lose, depending on how they play. Needless to say, JuventiKnows’ Obvious Bureau has been pulling 14-hour days since the Celtic match. By the way: They recommend that we take all of this with the entire shaker of salt.
First up is Gianluca Vialli, who was so moved to speak that he forgot his personal rule of only discussing Juve in relation to Chelsea:
They can win the trophy. They are practically in the quarter-finals and the last eight will all have that ambition. There will be a few sides who remain favorites, but Juventus are a leading outsider along with Paris Saint-Germain.
“Leading outsider”? Is that something to be proud of? Is that even something?
Alessio Tacchinardi takes more of a risk, although he too has forgotten his personal rule of only speaking critically after Juve losses or disappointing draws:
At the moment, Juventus are only inferior to Barcelona in Europe. I don’t really believe in Real Madrid’s chances as they have shown in La Liga that they’re having problems. Juventus put in a great performance against Celtic. It’s true that the draw was in their favor, but Conte’s team did a great job.
Tacchinardi’s statement was all the more unusual for being, well, actually a bit positive—although Alessio still couldn’t resist getting in a little dig at the end. Still, I must admit that going from Barcelona comparisons to backhanded compliments in three lines takes some skill.
If you want a balanced reaction to the victory, you actually have to ask an ex-Milanista.
Andrea Pirlo, as you’d imagine, is taking a confident but measured point of view. You’ll remember that he was part of the Milan side that infamously coughed up a seemingly insurmountable lead at the worst possible time. Turns out he hasn’t forgotten about it:
Of course we have put ourselves in a great position and, after a win like that, we expect to go through, but it would be dangerous to consider that the tie is won yet. I’ve been in football long enough to know miracles can happen. I can still remember the Champions League Final against Liverpool. They scored three goals in just a half, whereas Celtic have a whole game.
The Stats Lied (Yes!)
Bizarro Juve resurfaced Tuesday night, losing virtually every statistical battle while winning the match itself.
And while it was painful to watch for long stretches, the Bianconeri’s three devastating strikes were all the sweeter, each of them coming against the run of play.
The official site puts it most economically — very apropos for this particular performance:
Despite laying claim to almost twice the amount of shots on goal—17 to 9—the hosts were restricted to very few clear-cut chances, with Gigi Buffon only troubled by Efe Ambrose’s second-half header and several tentative efforts from outside the area. Down the other end, Juventus were economical with their seven attempts on target, making three of these count through decisive strikes from Alessandro Matri, Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic.
Celtic’s principal threat stemmed from set pieces, in particular corners, and Conte’s side stood tall in the face of adversity as the Scots jostled in the penalty area to impose their physical advantage on ten separate occasions.
If you saw the game, you may be surprised to know that Juve actually won the possession battle, albeit very narrowly (51-49%). It certainly felt like a lot less.
I haven’t experienced such calcio suffering in quite some time — nor have I felt as rewarded.
Martin Only Has Eyes for Juve
Finally, this one goes out to Aaron down in New Orleans — hope you have the smoothest Mardi Gras recovery possible.
Many Juventini were more than happy to see Martin Caceres return to Juventus, as he was one of the very few bright spots in a dark, dark time. Perhaps that’s why it’s been so frustrating to see him be underused, often in favor of inferior players, and then suffer from low confidence because plays in fits and starts. Rumors of Martin growing restless and feeling under-appreciated were even more upsetting.
Which is why it’s been great to see Caceres become an integral part of the back line in Giorgio Chiellini’s absence and play a crucial role in what is now two clean sheets in a row. What’s more, it’s great to hear how dedicated he is to stay in Turin:
I only want to play for Juventus. I never thought about leaving. I only want Juventus. I am here, I’m very happy and want to always do well for this team. It’s where I want to be.
What else does the man have to say? Even when Giorgio returns, use him, Antonio! Find a way!
[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)