What we learned: Udinese 1-2 Juventus
All we heard from the media, forums, fans this week was “this is the game that decides Pirlo’s fate”, a lot of Juventini latched themselves onto this belief before the game, for 80 minutes it looked like fate was sealed until once again we got bailed out. This seems to be the story for so much this season, time and time again whether it is mostly either Ronaldo or Chiesa, the team has an absolutely shambolic collective performance only to be saved at the bell. For much of this game, the team was asleep at the wheel, not knowing where it was going or why they were playing the way they were. In the end, Pirlo is still going to be coaching this team in all likelihood until the end of this season, performances like this game however make us wonder if we have any chances to keep our place on the table for much longer. A behemoth of a matchup next week vs. Milan may just defy it.
We saw in this performance an anticipated return to a 4-4-2, McKennie starting, Cuadrado pushing more forward, Danilo back as well starting at RB, and yes unfortunately Bernardeschi starting at left mid. While there was an assumption of a more offensive approach especially through the likes of Cuadrado on the right, the team never got going, they never created chances, they seemed in conformity with reaching Udinese’s box and then backing up and restarting their plays. The Udinese goal was indeed down to lack of concentration rather than tactical practice, however, it summed up the performance for literally 80 minutes. It was incredibly boring to be honest, a performance that deserved 0-0 for both teams. Udinese did their best to hold down the fort as they found themselves shocked at a 1-0 lead early on. Juve seemed to take no issue with that and played like they were the ones ahead and not the other way around. The game got choppy and was constantly interrupted by constant fouls especially in the first half, mostly because the starting midfielders in Bentancour and McKennie were always a step behind Udinese’s midfielders, always having to tackle, pull down from behind. Indeed that was the reasoning for the freekick for Udinese’s goal, McKennie got beat and he had no other recourse but to foul. Out wide it was quiet, Udinese did a good job in preventing any dangerous crosses from developing. The only cross that did develop was off a corner, which McKennie should have scored. There were few if any two, three passes connected by the midfield this game. The disconnect from the wide players to the forwards also meant no first-time chances, for the most part, frankly, the only players who probably deserve credit today are the defenders, except for them falling asleep on the Udinese freekick. Again there was little if anything to write home about for much of this game, as Juventini and someone loves to write about them, this game was honestly stale and not worthy of our time, and then the last 10 minutes happened.
Mounting frustrations, no clear chances, Bernardeschi tripping over himself with the ball, and Juve get a penalty. The game suddenly turns on its head as De Paul stretches out his arm on a chance that actually looked goal-bound for Ronaldo. As the rumors swirled around this week regarding his remaining time at Juve, Ronaldo once again reminds us why we bought him in the first place. A killer from the spot, a beautifully low driven penalty, and suddenly Juve are brought back to life. A few substitutions including shockingly Adrien Rabiot making an impact off the bench. For once the subs paid dividends for Pirlo. In the 89th minute, Rabiot makes a brilliant run, bumps off the Udinese players, and delivers a beautifully placed cross at the far post and Ronaldo manages to sneak in a header that skids past the keeper. The bench explodes and Pirlo runs towards the celebrating mob, knowing that he may have well have saved his job at least for a few more weeks.
This team finds itself at a crossroads, and as the rumors regarding summer transfers, future managerial/management changes continue to make noise, it is now more important than ever to ensure Champions League football for next season. Performances like the one seen vs Udinese will simply not cut it against more challenging opponents like Milan. Yet again, this is the type of season we have witnessed, a loss against Benevento, almost a loss against Udinese who weren’t even trying to win it seemed. It seems like we are hanging on by a thread, and so is Pirlo. As I have noted a few times, it is not entirely his fault that the team is not performing, his lineup for this game ensured that the team had dynamic approaches in looking for goal-scoring opportunities. Players lacked execution to do the most basic of tasks, and this honestly goes for everybody. Barring 10 minutes in this game, the whole script would have changed and we would be writing about Pirlo probably out of a job and the worst game I’ve probably witnessed this season, thankfully we’re not, but again the margins for loss or victory have turned razor-thin and will be even thinner next week.