Riding the wave of a series of clean sheets and victories since the defeat to Inter on Jan 17th, one of those victories being against that same Inter in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final, Juventus went into a matchup vs Roma with the second leg of the Coppa Italia final on the horizon. This was going to be yet another measuring stick match and week for the Bianconeri. Despite Roma having some controversy surrounding their own team, as Dzeko and their manager Fonseca were involved in a heated exchange, which left the star striker stripped of the captaincy and set to be on the bench to start this one. This match was still going to show us the growth Pirlo's side has seen and if we have corrected the issues that were there in the first matchup, which saw Juve fighting for what was widely considered an undeserving draw. What we got this particular week was probably something not many expected yet very familiar to Juventini. A defensive masterclass in not one matchup but both for the week.
It started against Roma, Juve was able to get the jump on Roma through Cristiano Ronaldo as he made a harmless looking play end with a goal and the lead for his side. From there Juve shut the door with their Capitano Giorgio Chiellini turning back the clock and putting in an absolutely dominating display and being the commander and chief at the back. Roma for all their possession through most of the match could hardly muster a quality scoring chance and late in this one Juve sealed it through an own goal by Ibanez that was deflected in their own goal after a great through ball by Cuadrado to Kulusevski who put the cross that if not put in their own goal by Roma's Ibanez, Ronaldo surely would've slammed into the back of the net. This was a performance that took many of us back to the days when Juve would cruise with a rock-solid backline that was feared at the best of times let alone trailing from even the smallest of margins. Accepting what their opponents could throw at them and then finally delivering the killer blow to finally crush all hopes of them getting anything out of the match. Chiellini easily man of the match in this one. The question quickly became do we start him again or do we go with the young guns of Demiral and De Ligt as we had little time to celebrate as it was quickly time to shift focus on the second leg of the Coppa Italia Semi-Final against Inter.
As we prepare to go into the second leg of this tie against Inter, Juve fans were eagerly waiting to see the lineup. Not sure if the suspense was intended or not but the lineup came very late in comparison to when it's usually announced. The news that had broken out on matchday was Pirlo had tested the left flank with Sandro and Bernardeschi and the right with Danilo and Cuadrado. This is what we would see in the match with two Pivots in the middle of Bentancur and Rabiot as Arthur was out. Kulusevski would be used as a hybrid midfielder used to tie up Brozovic in Inter's midfield and still support Ronaldo in the attack. This lineup received a lot of criticism from Juventini for being too defensive in a matchup where you knew Conte's men would come out hard and try to put Juve under. Although it may have been a surprise, it was very clear what Pirlo was doing, with Juve scoring two goals away from home and holding the lead 2-1 on aggregates, he was challenging Inter to score and break them down in another manner than the flanks. stacking both sides and forcing them through the middle while adding Kulusevski to hang up Brozovic. Simply put, it worked. Juventus, although not generating much offensively in the first half until the very end, for the most part, didn't really seem threatened by Inter. De Ligt pocketing Lukaku, Lautaro not being able to generate much and Hakimi always having multiple guys to deal with and Barella not having time and space to operate and Cristiano Ronaldo looking dangerous every single time he went at Inter's defense, making Skriniar look foolish on multiple occasions. In the second half Demiral, Danilo and De Ligt continued there dominance and absolutely shut Inter down and Ronaldo continued to look dangerous and if not for Handanovic would've had easily a brace and completely crushed Inter's hopes. The soul-crushing sub of Chiellini in the 80th minute pretty much deflated Inter the rest of the way and they knew if they couldn't get a goal before that, they definitely wouldn't get one now. The game ended in a draw and Juve would advance to the Coppa Italia Final on May 19th in Milan. Now we can look ahead to Napoli right?! Well, not so fast.
The emotions were running high as they always do in the Derby D'Italia and videos were distributed of Conte flipping the bird to Juve's bench at half time and at the end of the match it was shown Agnelli had replied with some words of his own, sharing a location perhaps in which Conte could place that finger. This along with Conte stating Juve should carry themselves with more sportsmanship in his post-match interview led to a highly debated topic amongst Juventini, which was should Juventus remove his star from the stadium. There is an online petition being signed by Juventini worldwide as I write this. My opinion on the matter is this...He has earned the star and it was given to him for a reason. Those reasons aren't wiped out because of these actions. If he chooses to leave a stain on his own legacy let that remain with him and let's maintain our integrity and class. Also, I find it interesting all the traits we are faulting him, for now, were the same ones we loved when he was with us. His full commitment to the job, not holding back on anything, showing his emotions. The only reason it's become unbearable is how he left us and the fact he is now with Inter but the star he earned should remain in my opinion. He is the same Conte he has always been but again let him be the one who ruins the legacy should HE choose to. Now, we can look ahead to the clash with Napoli.
As it stands, Bonucci was facing a knock but has made it on the lineup sheet for the match against Napoli. Dybala and Ramsey have been very close to returning and their status is day today. The big blow came from the news surrounding Arthur who is facing an injury in his leg which is now being reported could require surgery. Everyone will be paying close attention to the Brazilian status as he was starting to solidify himself as a staple to Pirlo's Juve. The squad has some questions going into this match. Who will be in defense? Will we play defensively again? As the lineup goes based on a couple of projections, it looks like Chiellini will start but it could be next to either De Ligt or Bonucci with the latter just making it into the lineup sheet after recovering from injury, my choice while being unpopular I'm sure would be Bonucci, as we will face Porto midweek in the Champions League and we can unleash De Ligt then. The other question is McKennie or Cuadrado as one of the side midfielders. Basically, this decision would mean if Cuadrado plays Sandro would most likely be on the left against Napoli. Otherwise, he could sit and rest for the match against Porto. Other than that we should see Szczesny in goal, Bentancur, and Rabiot as pivots with Chiesa on the flank and Morata and Ronaldo up top. In my opinion, regardless of the options we go within the lineup Juventus should win this and I believe will. It won't be easy but we are in good form the belief is at a peak for the season and Napoli has their manager Gattuso in some hot water with the potential of losing his job. They will be looking to make up for their loss to us in the Supercoppa but we neutralized them quite well in that match and have gained even more momentum and have been getting more organized and stronger at the back so I see our opponents struggling again especially when you factor in that Koulibaly, Manolas, Ghoulam or Hysaj they will be hurting at the back and I'm sure Ronaldo has been carrying around a towel to soak up the drool as he should have opportunities to feast on a makeshift backline. Prediction Juventus wins 3-1.
Hot Topic of the week:
The poll question was...
If Ronaldo wanted to extend with Juventus but keep the same salary, would you extend his contract?
This was interesting reading the comments. I believe it is not as clear cut as many make it out to be when saying absolutely, yes. It is a lot of money to commit to him again and I believe the question is fair to ask if we would be better to spread the money out and fill gaps among the squad. I also believe it's a bit too early to make that decision as the options available could change and there will always be the context that can change people's minds instantly. I would be fine either way, to be honest. Performance-wise you can't deny Cristiano but how much longer can he do it for? When is time finally going to catch up with him? Who would be available for us should we make a move away from him? Is it better for the future to look elsewhere? Are we still in win-now mode? There are so many questions to be asked to dissect this which is why I don't believe it is clear cut but I loved the discussions and I'd love to hear from anyone reading this what your thoughts are.
Enjoy Napoli vs Juventus and the midweek Champions League clash against Porto and I'll be back to recap it all next week.
Forza Juve Fino Alla Fine!