Juventus learn from mistakes by firing warning shot at other title chasers
This season’s Serie A title race is arguably the best Italian football produced in ten years.
It has become nearly impossible and completely unnecessary to count or exclude a team in their quest for scudetto glory, and yet we can’t help but try to make sense of this bonkers 2020/21 campaign.
Juventus have been in and out of the race like the hokey-cokey, putting on their left boot with a nostalgic display of dominance before removing it just as quickly with a lackluster draw or loss.
The last time they Apparently pulled out of the battle at the top on January 17, when they lost 2-0 to Inter at San Siro. Even more damning than the result that night was the way they submitted to I Nerazzurri’s desire and tactics.
It was a blow that many thought they would never recover from. But this is no ordinary season. Since that humiliating defeat, Juve have won five on the rebound, a race that has left them with a record nine out of ten wins in all competitions in 2021.
League leaders Milan’s 3-0 clash at home against Atalanta allowed I Bianconeri to narrow the gap even further, meaning victory in their current fixture would see them climb within four points of I Rossoneri .
So, despite the overreaction and hyperbole, Juventus are still in the mix. And Tuesday night’s impressive victory over rivals Inter in the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg was a show of strength, maturity – and champions.
What was most telling of all was not the growth of the players, but of their rookie coach. Andrea Pirlo was trained by his former master Antonio Conte in the convincing loss earlier in the month and had absolutely no response to the tactical changes made by the former Juve player and coach to cancel his visitors.
It was an indication of the boss’s current level and how much he needs to learn. But Tuesday’s performance was vindication for Pirlo, who learned from his mistakes at their previous meeting and taught his ex-master a lesson.
Juve denied the hosts space or time on the ball and were much more wary of any threatening counterattack. Nicolo Barella, the man of the match in the last meeting, had no leeway and no space to collide, preventing the box-to-box midfielder from providing the link between defense and offense , which worked so well on January 17th.
And when he escaped their grip, I Bianconeri was not afraid to get tough on the midfield maestro. Indeed, Pirlo’s men accumulated six yellow cards in the 90 minutes, Matthijs De Ligt posing a major challenge to Barella at the start of the second half.
Let him know what kind of 45 minutes he is, huh?
More importantly, Juve took a chance and showed great character in the face of adversity. They fell behind for nine minutes thanks to a well-crafted move between Barella and Lautaro Martinez, and the Argentine drilled a smart finish under the 43-year-old body of Gianluigi Buffon. It’s not the ideal start, but plenty of time to surrender or wake up from this recurring nightmare and attack.
Fortunately, they opted for the latter.
Ashley Young somehow managed to turn Federico Bernardeschi’s misguided and miserable cross into a decisive cross, shooting a Juan Cuadrado pressed into the box. Referee Gianpaolo Calvarese saw enough of the incident to award I Bianconeri a penalty, and Cristiano Ronaldo did the rest.
Inter were shaken and clearly agitated by the decision, and Juve seized their chance to capitalize on this descending red haze. Ronaldo was the protagonist again in the 35th minute, pouncing on a moment of hesitation from the usually reliable Alessandro Bastoni, pinching the ball with his toes and rolling it home into an empty net with Samir Handanovic nowhere to be found. .
It sounds simple enough, but it was actually an incredibly difficult finish to execute. Juve continued to play on the front foot, surpassing possession statistics at the final whistle and getting more shots on target than their hosts, who continued the game for around an hour of play.
Of course, it’s only half-time in this two-legged encounter. But coming out of San Siro with their pride restored, a solid lead to regain in Turin, and pulling a warning shot at the rest of their title rivals is reason enough to be optimistic as a Juve supporter.
In an upside-down Serie A title race where you can’t guarantee anything, there is a team you can always count on to deliver when it matters most. Fino all is well.