“El Apache screams, with froth and fangs and trembling fists promising recompense, with vipers twisting along his neck, and fire in his eyes. Tevez is a much-starved lion. Dybala is a pointy-chinned elf, all darling and squirming, with wisps of hair in his face, and a pair of gems for eyes, all darling and dry-crying, so sad and pleading. A fallen Dybala will break a girl’s heart.”
It is with great calmness, or the extremities of a pampered child, that this is written. But with apparitions of Drogba and Sneijder rearing their heads over intriguing scenes of Istanbul still rocking my visions, I dare say not all is well. The snow has since thawed, yes, but the flood of emotions never cease to caress and pinch me in turns.
It’s 32 on the scale of triumphs, three from the last three, casting an image of impenetrable dominance like shade from the wide spreading boughs of an oak tree. Add to that a record number of points collected while making nonsense of Roma’s historic performance, and the unfurled scripts glitter like sparkling threads woven into a silver crown. As the feats are inked onto the pages of history, numbering beyond the greens of the fields with flowers in bloom, and fruits ripened in the spring of sunshine, the gentle breeze whistles verses of Storia Di Un Grande Amore.
Somebody knight Antonio already!
The sensation though, like the burst of tartness that fills your mouth after nibbling on a piece of Oranco Bar, quickly disappears and leaves you with the familiar early morning mouth stink. The type that leaves your wife holding her breath and braving a thin smile while you yawn and mumble an incomprehensible dialect about the previous night’s love wrestle…reversing numbers, kama su… well you catch my meaning.
Far from being arrogant, but it would be unfair to pitch Dominic Toretto in a race with Theophilus Teye (T.T.), unless T.T. is the mysterious alias of a certain Sebastian Vettel. Man-for-man, chest-to-chest, La Gobba is head and shoulders above all else in Italy, even without the hump. The quartet of Pogba-Pirlo-Vidal-Marchisio would occupy lofty places in the pecking order of many elite clubs in Europe. The depth of the back line dwarfs the Benatia-Castan partnership while the front pair of Carlos-Llorente is surpassed by none on the peninsular. Even when the club’s personnel was cut down to almost a minimum for long spells through the campaign due to injuries, it was like Il Dottore freestyling on a Morbidelli; the team still soldiered on with impressive single score results to secure the Olive Wreath in the end. It is the escapades outside Italy, a run in a competition flattered with the title of Europe’s second, that sours the sweetness in one’s taste.
After getting to the last eight the previous term, it was with hope that we found ourselves in a group containing Real Madrid, Galatasaray, and a random element from Denmark. Yet, come the end of the group stages, complacency or ineptitude connived to send us to Europa. Quite funny, it is, to blame the pitch, and the weather… even Platini, when we failed to beat the same team with minutes to go on a perfect sward in Turin. Only an ostrich knows what it sees in the sand, but it would be folly to ignore the glaring deficiencies in the team in a bid to find that out. As Italy’s strongest team, we failed to fly the banner of the league as high as it deserved. A quarter-final berth would have served the club well and improved the ranking of the league, even if slightly. Instead, we were left with a back-seat view of Sevilla-Benfica while reminiscing on what might have been- a bitter end to a sweet European dream.
The Pratici-Conte-Marotta adventure has been a success since its inception, but with the season having ended, its greatest test comes into view. Will they look to cash in on the club’s prized assets, or would it be a summer that begins Juve’s forward strides towards where it should be in Europe? Should we spend the summer scavenging for have-beens while talents like Gabbiadini (10 goals), Berardi (16 goals), Immobile (22 goals, top scorer), Fausto Rossi, Ouassim Bouy, Masi and Rugani remain on our books?
Yes, the primary objective has been achieved, but while we celebrate the heroes of 102, it would do to add that, a goat is supposed to bleat, and even with a finely trimmed beard, it does not grow into Abraham Lincoln. Turin’s dominant bull is supposed to be winning the Scudetto as the strongest on the peninsular, and the record smashing and the rewriting of history does not add much beyond that. Juve winning domestically is no news, it has not been for a very long while. The fans have had enough of the cocoa farming while the roasted and sweetened seeds are nibbled elsewhere with the mouth-watering relish of a Tony Britten-composed hymn, the one that sends pulses racing and hearts two-stepping at beats of the orchestra. Bitter or sweet? Why not both?
Even in the most flawless of structures, there exist a few minor deficiencies, which when not attended to could lead to an eyesore of a disaster. Since the master class performance against the Wolves of Rome, Antonio Conte’s men have scored 8 goals. That means four goals in each of the last two games against Cagliari and Sampdoria, the latter having beaten us in both encounters last season. However, the telling tales of the events are not to be swept under the carpet.
While Roma have gone on to make 7 scores since our encounter, which is inferior to Juventus’ by a single goal, the Giallarossi have been able to keep back to back clean sheets in the process. The same cannot be said of Juventus though, who have conceded 3 goals in the last two games. Putting it into perspective, we have lost the advantage we had over the Roman club after we put 3 unanswered goals past Morgan De Sanctis’s goal. Those three goals have been roundly wiped out by two lowly oppositions.
Perhaps, the issue that needs to be addressed more is the fact that all three goals resulted from poor clearances during corner kicks. In Sardinia, Pinilla was left unmarked to beat Buffon at his near post when the ball was not cleared at the first time. In the last game versus Samp, a poor clearance fell at the feet of the enemy who returned it into the penalty box. The resultant kick was deflected by Barzagli beyond Buffon. The second though, was from a poor punch by Buffon that fell invitingly for the Juve-owned Gabbiadini, who had a very good game. He made no mistake, and with the gamestill at 3-2 saw his effort crash the crossbar. Chiellini certainly had his hands full. But for Pogba’s long range curler to make it 4-2, the game could well have ended differently.
A double from Vidal, one from the spot and another after a through ball by Pogba saw the Bianconeri appear to be cruising to victory. The tally gave Vidal his 10th of the season, equalling his season best with almost half of the season to go. Between those goals though, Llorente continued from where he left off in Sardinia by heading beyond the keeper from a Tevez corner. He should have added a second in the second half when sent through by beautiful Vidal pass. For those who doubted the Spaniard at the beginning of the season, his tenth goal in all competitions, including two over the two legs against Real Madrid, should give them enough justification for his talent. His link up play with Tevez is growing with the passing day, though his passing could be frustrating at times.
Despite the problems of a leaking defence, Juventus remain 8 points ahead of Rudi Garcia’s men going into the game at the Olympico against Lazio who seem to be rising since the reappointment of Edy Reja. Before that though, there is the small matter of the Coppa game against I Lupi. More than pride is at stake, as both clubs are locked on 9 Coppa victories each. A win would give the victor the chance to contest for a record 10 titles, and with it, another emblem on the jersey. But Juventus have always been the makers of legends…..
Forza La Juve
The scripts were written even before the games kicked off. Juventus had earned the Winter Crown by dispatching Roma in the previous game with and emphatic score line. However, in Sardenia, talk was ongoing about the fact that Cagliari would still have to play in front of as little as 5000 fan, with the city authorities yet to give the all-clear for the stadium to be filled to its capacity. The few Juventus fans at the game though, had little to complain about as their team saw off a very good Cagliari side who were looking to impress more than their manager.
The winter transfer had opened and Cellino, the Cagliari patron had indicated that all of his star players were up for grabs, except those who were willing to stay. Roma acted quickly and got their hands on Nainggolan from the under the noses of Juve and the Milan clubs. Still, one or two were in the fold looking to impress, especially with David Moyes in the building. Davide Astori could well have been his prime target for the Manchester United defence, given how unreliable Ferdinand has become with old age. It remains to be seen, though, if after conceding 4 goals, the Sardinian defender would be an appealing option.
On the opposite side, Marchisio came on to turn the game on its head after replacing Andrea Pirlo. The game was locked at 1-1, with Juve having forced an equaliser in the first half after going behind to a Pinilla effort that beat Buffon from an uncleared corner kick. Llorente rose above his marker to turn in a Lichtsteiner cross. However, it was the Juve youth product, known affectionately as the Prince by the Juve faithful, who put Juve ahead with a curler from all of about 30 yards. The keeper was beaten at his near post, for what was Claudio’s first score of the season. He had been a pale reflection of his performances of last season, and with the burst of Pogba, has found first team football rather difficult to come by. Perhaps, with the Manchester United midfield more lightweight than ever, Moyes might still be willing to cough up the funds to sign the Italian international. On from scoring, he fed Lichtsteiner with a Pirlo-esque 40 yard cross-field pass. The Swiss interchanged passes with Vidal before teeing up Llorente again at the far post for an easy tap in. The right wing-back then finished the home side off with a goal of his own, after Llorente’s effort was parried by the stopper.
That made it 11 straight wins, though the score line did injustice to the home team. They caused problems for the Juve defence, and right after scoring form a set piece, nearly added a second from another corner. Sau and Pinilla moved well, though they found it harder to break the defence in open play. With Roma finishing off Genoa with a 4-0 mauling, the win maintains the gap over the second-placed team at 8 points.
For Antonio Conte and indeed Beppe Marotta, it would be wise to ensure Claudio Marchisio remains. Juventus has always boasted of important elements in the Italian national team. With Pirlo in the twilight of his career, the Prince stands in good stead as an important block on which to build for future successes. It is very likely that one of Vidal or Pogba will be sold within the next two transfer windows, and selling Marchisio now would be an ill-advised move. If nothing at all, his versatility gives us more options like it has over his career so far in the Black and White jersey.
Fino Alla Fino
Forza La Juve
You beat or you get beat! Nothing personal, just the way of things.
You would think they would come as Wolves at least; snarling and fiery, menacing, and with an appetite for a fight. For in the brutal environs of Serie A, the cold hands of fate require an armour made for the guile but robust; features sorely lacking in the display by the Roman team. Spirit they hard, trickery they showed, yet when the heat went up a notch, even the tactician seemed exhausted as he unfolded his scarf from around his neck. His team, despite a few signs of threat and hunger, had to settle for a new definition for their title ambitions.
Roma were second on the log, unbeaten, and with the meanest defence in the league. Only once had they conceded twice in a game, and it was in the San Siro clash against an ailing AC Milan side. Before the Turin clash, fires were stoked, as earlier in the season, De Rossi had referred to Juve’s supposed help form the referees. His remark was in reference to the Chievo and Torino games, where refereeing errors appeared to stain the game. Yet, a day before the mighty clash, it was the captain of the team, Francesco Totti, who would rekindle the flames that seemed to be doused over the winter break. In the face of all their accusations at a team that has dominated Serie A in the last two and half years and counting, “pub talk provocation,” was Conte’s response to the words of The Captain and the Future Captain. “I don’t want to respond to Totti and De Rossi’s comments, as I am accustomed to responding on the pitch. In the last two and a half years we gave a very clear response on the pitch, so…” he concluded. Had the game been a debate for bragging rights, the result after 90 minutes would be a #Punchline. Yes, it was that emphatic.
In the first half, the Romans ran about like sparrows on caffeine. Their interplay was pleasing at first, as they tried to tease openings from the Juve back line. In the thick of things were Pjanic and Strootman. The rejuvenated Arsenal flop, Gervinho, had a few moments of promise, though they were short lived. The defence stood still, unmoved by the trickery and cunning of the Ivorian and Ljalic on either flank. At the head of the spear, leading the attack, Totti was starved of the ball and had to track back to get a touch. Yet, with all their threats of words and tactics, it took a mistake from the overly confident Bonucci for them to get a sniff of the goal area. He got robbed of the ball as he tried to dribble through three men. Like lightening, the visitors were in the hosts’ penalty area, needing a combined Gigi-Chiellini effort to prevent a score. As has become a recurring theme though, it was Vidal who opened the scoring with an assist from El Apache. The Argentine’s pass was finished off in one move, as the ball beat De Sanctis at his near post. The stadium was wild with joy, Conte was calm as the sea.
In the second period, a Pirlo free kick was met at the far post by a sliding Bonucci to make it 2-0, and the result looked secured with half an hour to go. Destro was introduced, while Tevez was withdrawn for Vucinic. The former Roma man, down the pecking order since the arrival of Llorente and Tevez, looked to seal things up. Yet, there was more drama at the Juventus stadium following a moment of madness by the visiting team. After the captain of the team, Totti had been subbed, De Rossi took over the captaincy and tried to provide inspiration for his side. Juventus soaked up pressure, and when they finally attacked with Chiellini, a harsh tackle form the number 16 meant he received his marching orders. The resulting free kick from the Bearded Wizard to the back post was headed goalward by the man at the end of the tackle. In a bid to prevent the goal, Castan, who had formed a formidabe partnership with Benatia throughout the campaign reached out his hand to stop the goal. He was caught, and like Suarez at the World Cup in South Africa, received a straight red card. Vucinic was unforgiving to his former team mates as he dispatched the spot kick with aplomb to the right of the keeper.
Without their Captain, and Future Captain, the two elements that had started the pub talk, and down to nine men, the visitors’ only goal now was to curtail the humiliation that would have ensued. Juventus were not in hurry, as their clean sheet was maintained after the adventure in Bergamo. There was still time for Ljalic to lose his head and get booked though. At the final whistle, Maicon picked the ball and offered it to Rizzoli who had done well to keep the game free of controversy. It was a perfect display of class and strength, something the rest of Europe would be happy to see remain in Italy. Shaking hands at the end of the game, you would think Conte just whispered a salutation to Rudi Garcia: “Welcome to Serie A!”
Forza La Juve!
There are matters of the heart that words fail to describe. The strings that send the cardiac organ into playing tunes and notes no instrument can pirate are found in very few things that have no bound; like the lady whose blink leaves you breathless, or the care and patience of a mother. But above all, and beyond magic and hobbits, there is the beautiful world of Calcio. Whether it be the tactical discipline enshrined in the syntax of Catenacchio, or the contempt with which some Italians view English football, there is always a scene or two in this wonderfully wrought masterpiece of sport entertainment that no other culture could match. Calcio, after all, is the single yarn that weaves into the very fabric that is the Italian culture. It is difficult to admire one without acknowledging the other. And like the exploits of the Roman nation, the Shakespeare-esque love that gripped our hearts had moments of brutal pain and inexplicable misery. Heads dropped, while friends were shunned, seeking solace from the blissful memories that were once the norm. And these memories, they were, that lulled us to sleep, feeding us with fantasies of the glorious sights and graceful art that painted our faces with the blush of a young crash.
For those of us whose juvenescence coincided with the explosions of Baggio, Totti and Del Piero, Serie A was by far the lady of choice. Fairest of them all, wearing a curve both ravishing and lecherous. Tall and elegant she stood, her braids flowing in the breeze to reveal a smooth and dimpled cheek. Unblinking, the coal in her eyes danced with enticement. Such was the pull of the talents of the game. The trickery, skill and incredible scores made by these celebrated professionals, counted among the very best of the world game. Despite the Catenacchio tendencies attributed to Italian football, these players, among a host of others, swayed audiences and divided opinions for their out of the norm artistry. We had little regard for the tactics that did or did not exist. Only players nutmegging opposition, curling free kicks, or celebrating scores existed in our world of football. Thence, our times were spent in the reverence of such kings and jewels of their era. While the girls whiled away in their girly games, we ran the length of clayed earth, mimicking a Del Piero curler, a Baggio dribble, and only stopping shot of trying out Totti’s petulance.
Rather ironic it would seem; loving Italian football for aspects that were only remotely Italian. For even when such players were applauded for their artistry with the round leather in ages past, so were they mocked and disparaged for their lack of catenacchio characteristics. But for the insistence of Angelo Moratti, Helenio Herrera would have sold ‘he with a Divine left foot’ ten times over. Mario Corso it was, the tricky left-sided attacker with an unusual touch of flair, who was never endearing to his manager, a catenacchio disciple. Carrying a right foot that was titled a ‘crutch’ for its inefficacy in play, Corso was either magnificent or he was terrible. According to legends, he only used his right to get onto a train. Despite his brilliance that was from another epoch, it was his near ‘uselessness’ without the ball that earned him scorn from many. Corso could ‘hide in the grass’ when the team was defending it was said, and he hardly ran or closed down opposition. Same was said in reference to Gianni Rivera. Without doubt one of the finest fantasisti the game has witnessed, the Genius was at the heart of Milan’s successes in his days. Every other player’s job was to win the ball, then give it to Rivera. Yet, it was his documented aversion to physical effort that earned him the nickname, Abatino – little priest. Such players that were only loved half-heartedly, we worshipped and made them lords. The heralds of defensive play did not exist for us. The Maldinis, Baresis, Nestas, Cafus, and their ilk were hardly recognized. In our world of poetic football players, there was hardly space for tough tacklers. Davids could throw his ‘pitbull’ tag into the Red Sea for all we cared. ‘Water Carriers’ and Medianos were simply what their names implied – destroyers of beautiful football. They were the anti-Christ by our definition, and they reeked of evil with every tackle. And yet, it was Italian football we adored!
Buoyed by the migration of family members to the Italian peninsula, the appreciation we showed for such heroes extended to the national team. Even with Brazil and France annexing the world championships, our adoration for the Azzurri never swayed. And as we followed the Italian national team almost as much as we did the older Ayew brothers, their rivals became our rivals, and their games brought the same level of enthusiasm. Ghana and Nigeria have been eternal rivals since before dinosaurs. The feeling is natural for some people. There is no love lost between the two sets of fans. When Italy faced the Super Eagles in USA, Amunike’s opener was treated with the contempt that it evoked. It was not a fellow West African nation locking horns with a European one. No! It was a group of Super Chickens threatening to embarrass a familial friend. But, with pain and torment looking destined to follow, a ‘Divine’ occurrence favoured my soul. The Divine Ponytail, one of the two Baggios for the side, struck twice to send my sworn enemy home. Yipee! The cry was a delight. And in 2002, I found myself cheering on Senegal in Japan-Korea. That time, you would not have been wrong if you attributed that to the disappointment Italy suffered at the hands of Les Bleus in 1998 and 2000. France was a sworn adversary, even more than Senegal was a brotherly nation. The sight of Diop sliding home the winner left a glee so palpable, it was thick enough to spread on a slice of bread. Today, of course I know better!
By the time Juventus lost to AC Milan at old Trafford in 2003, newer faces had emerged to cement the love we had for the game. Not even the Azzurri’s poor showing in Japan-Korea could change the chemistry of affection. Zizou had been adored, as had the ‘real’ Ronaldo, Sheva, and the Czech Fury. Bobo Vieri too, as well as Batigol and Crespo. The defeat of the mighty Real Madrid by Juventus en route the final that year represented a significant achievement. For me, it did not matter that Juve lost the final. Rather, the fact that three Italian teams had made it to the last four was victory enough. At the time when I only knew of Juventus, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Manchester United and AC Milan, the sight of two Italian clubs, managed by Italian coaches, left me in awe of such experts who knew no wrong.
Little regard was accorded the few who could not make it in the best league by our count. As such, Thierry Henry would always remain a flop on Italian soil. He made zero impact in the league, having to be rescued by Le Professeur and the weaker English league. Of course he would go to within touching distance of being awarded the Ballon’D’or. He would go on to lead the Gunners on a couple of shameful defeat of Italian opposition. He would be fashioned into one of the deadliest attackers in the modern game; with the pace of a deer, the strength of a horse, the instincts of a predator, and the accolades know no bounds. Yet, in the face of hard facts, the French striker was only as good as Jonathan Zebina, and miles behind David Trezegol. Ridiculous it appears, but not as funny as the Hand of Frog. A man birthed in the back seat of a FIAT 500 knows little appreciation for a Cadillac.
Zola, though, was the ‘little’ exception. He made Calcio proud with his efforts abroad, and would continue to count among one of the very best, even in our books. MaraZola, he that was smaller than Maradona, would return to Serie A for one last hurrah. He was not alone.
Beckham’s decision to join Serie A in 2009 would appeal to a part of me like honey did to the taste buds. Arguably the most celebrated footballer on earth, even if it was for non-footballing reasons, his decision added voice to the greatness of Serie A. It did not matter that an old man had joined the country of old men, where the game was slower and less competitive. His choice was that of a man born noble; a privileged characteristic of Calcio heroes. But when he finally opted for the flush of Paris, it was obvious he knew little of the goodly things that were plentiful in Italy; like the women, football, the weather, food, and well, the women! Celebrating a league was always going to be a subjective business, but anyone who did not love Serie A knew little of football, I mused. Would you not admire the play of Chess? as was my description of Italian football. What is it with the horse race that goes on in England, or the Salsa football in Spain that leaves champions like Cannavaro look totally out of their depth? Barcelona and Manchester would go on to contest the final that year in the Champions League. Yet, it was Mourinho’s success a year later, that would put a lid on the fear that was threatening to rupture my heart apart. He beat Barcelona and Chelsea in the process. Yeah, In their faces! that part of me spat.
So that success in Madrid by Mourinho, with Inter, would earn him a piece of the respect that was reserved for Italian tacticians. I mean, anyone could win back-to-back European titles with lowly Avellino in FIFA 12. There is not much that goes into it, except perhaps, restarting any game you lost. His beloved Chelsea, after all, was kept under the watchful eyes of Italians. Luca Vialli won a few titles with the Fulham-based club, before the Tinker Man added the final touch for the arrival of the Special One. Yes, the final piece that was Frank Lampard. Only an Italian has such sight for pure gems. After his failure to lead the expensively assembled side to the Holy Grail, it would take another Italian to put the smiles on the faces of the fans. Roberto Di Matteo it was, who would lead the club to success in Europe’s elite competition. Catenacchio, even in its attenuated form as that shown under RDM, is as efficient a system as there is. There is a reason they call it the ‘Padlock’.
Despite all his ills, including his ravenous appetite for media attention, the Portuguese is definitely one with many successes. His CV is dotted with trophies and records that few can boast of. He stands nowhere near the likes of the silver-haired Trap, the unsmiling square-faced Fabio, and the very likeable cigar-puffing Lippi. But of the managers of the day, quite few compare to him. It is this achievement that endears him to his fans. And in Spain, and more so in England, they include women and children who fill the stadia to sing his graces. Not so very much, when it comes to Italy!
The sad state of Italian stadia has only been brought to the fore with the successful modernization of the English ones since Hillsborough. Where stands were converted to seats in the British world, the realm of Italian support sees a command of hardcore fans behind goal posts, leading and revelling in chants and insults. Their taunts, when they were not aimed at opposing players, sliced through and made bare, the obvious regional discrimination that exists in unified Italy. A message to Napoli fans involves only a depiction of mountain Vesuvius. They need not include the colossal volcano spitting smoke and fire in their wish of misery for the Neapolitans.
My fair lady, though, is not all bitchy and spiteful. There is more to her than meets the eye. The choreographic displays the fans showcase make for an exciting sight. Their ability to organise and effect beautiful gestures is one feature that is lacking in other worlds. Not to mention the mammoth-sized banners that spell out which character on the pitch or absent was lordly, and which deserved the sack. Thus, images of players and managers were erected by these organised fan groups, which gave those of us at a comfortable distance behind our sets, an amazing and yet, frightening insight into the world of Italian Ultràs. Exercising their inalienable ‘union’ rights, they could decide to go on strike, criticize the commercialization of the sport, or save their voices the worry. Instead, they would unfold a banner directed at Inter players which read: “We don’t know how to insult you any more.”
The epithets that are dished out to players in Italy add to the intrigue that is already plentiful. Batigol, Trezegol, The Duck, The White Feather, The Phenonmenon, The Real Phenomenon, Il Pintirucchio, are but the few that are chanted along Serie A terraces. Sweeping the disgraceful scandals under the carpet, my fairest lady has only a scattering of faults. These past few nights have been bitingly cold, having had to make do with a rather disappointing Arsenal-Chelsea encounter. My faithful butt needs a warm and night-long embrace. This weekend, my heart throb returns. I think I will be feeling lucky, if you catch my meaning! 😉
The festive season started early for Juve, as, notwithstanding Roma’s crushing of Catania at the Olympico, the Turin club remained 5 points ahead going into the Winter break. Despite the infrequent scares from the Bergamo outfit, The Old Lady emerged victorious, and prepare for the holidays as Winter Champions.
Decked in an unusual red-Christmas attire, Atalanta, through Cigairini and Bonaentura caused a few problems for the Bianconeri. Only Fiorentina had won at the Stadio Atleti Azzuri d’Italia, and for 45 minutes, Juventus looked foiled in every attempt forward. Tevez had pounced on a half chance to send an effort past the stretched arms of Consigli before the home team equalized. Pogba, who looked like he had stopped to take a fart, allowed Bonaventura to run into the box. The self-confessed Juve fan laid it off for Maxi Morales, whose neat finish clipped the inside of Buffon’s right post to end his run of clean sheets. The French man looked to make amends with a subtle lob that found Tevez in acres of space behind the Atalanta defence. El Apache was less clinical though, as Consigli pawed his effort away from goal. The resulting cross found neither Llorente nor another Bianconero. The half ended disappointingly with a rare score line.
Conte’s solution to the regista conundrum in the absence of Pirlo, appears to have taken the shape of Il Principe. Today, like in the mid-week game, he was fielded between the duo of Pogba and Vidal. While he lacks the vision of the Bearded Wizard, Claudio Marchisio’s fabled ‘style’ saw him control Juventus’ attack fairly well. He opted against frequent audacious long passes that was the speciality of Pirlo. Pogba and Vidal had been guilty of trying unsuccessfully to make those spreads of play when they were chosen for that role. With Marchisio, the tactic paid off, as the two players on either side were given the freedom to make forays into the opposition area.
Pogba latched onto a Llorente flick on Asamoah’s cross to slot the ball pass the Atalanta goalie early on in the second period. Vidal, though, had to wait till later before scoring his 7th of the season. Stephan had won himself little space before sending a low cross that missed Tevez at the first post. The ball looked to run away from the Chilean, but he dragged it back and beat the keeper in one attempt. He was not at his combative best though, as his tackles were restrained for fear of sitting out the Roma game due to suspension. The coach, quite rightly, hauled him off alongside Pogba, for a bit of mini-trolling. Two ex-Atalanta players, Padoin and Peluso were brought on, as Conte, a former Atalanta coach himself, looked to avoid unforeseen eventualities. Pogba had been booked for a needless tackle in the first half.
Perhaps, the success of the second half was all the more telling with Llorente on the score sheet. He gave the ball away a few times too many in the first period. Yet, having been dominated by Migliaccio already, the Spaniard got his way for once. He received a pass from Chiellini, another excellent performer on the day, took one touch before turning the defender inside out. His shot just outside the 6 yard area made it 3-1 for the Bianconeri.
With Roma winning 4-0 against Montella’s former side, the 1-4 result should give La Madama the ease with which to approach the game against I Lupi after the break. It promises to be great, with Juve collecting 9 straight wins thus far since the mishap in Florence when the Juve defence seemed to be puffing on long-bottom leaves for the final minutes of the game. The fixture finally appears to take its historic significance, after the Bianconeri dominated encounters in recent past. Both teams have the same goal difference of 28, with Roma possessing the superior defensive unit. Juve though, have lost only once and won 4 times in the last 6 games with the team from the Eternal City. There is a lot of belief in the Roma camp this season, and De Rossi looked to take a dig at Juve for receiving preferential treatment from referees, specifically in the games against Chievo and Torino. Buffon would have to be at his best when he faces his nemesis and good friend in Francesco Totti. For Serie A lovers, the break could not have come at a worse time!
Forza La Juve!
The show was a minor competition at the Juventus Arena. It opened with a choreographic performance by the spectators which provided a colourful atmosphere. Scarves were unfolded and hats were waved. The speaker buzzed with the ballad of “The Story of a Great Love”, with kids and Ultra miming their favourite verses. Before them, the exhibits marched onto a lush and dewy turf.
On the right, a member gallops along the touch-line. His run, when not checked by one from the lower echelons of Italian football, ends with an attempted pass. His showing is filled with hope, as he prays for an important display; a display, perhaps, that would see him find a club in the new year. Little is observed that is promising from a once-touted prospect for the right side of defence. You would think failure to unseat an erratic Chilean in the absence of a former Lazio wing-back was enough to spell out his poor form. Yet, the evidence of the night’s game would give you a cringing feeling of disappointment that could leave the dictionary definition of average unwholesomely flattering. He will have a good game though, seeing as good and average are only a blur apart.
Left Wing Defence
On the opposite flank we have a crowd of likenesses. A Ghanaian goes about his business with minimum fuss, occasionally bursting into the penalty zone. Along the touch-line, a curious case of inconsistency rears its brown hair. A product of the Juve nursery, he has been showing potential for an unfair length of time. It’s not quite certain whether his position lies on the left of defence or of midfield. Perhaps, his is the generational merge of the two roles that he alone revels in. He runs the lines with fervour and tenacity, hardly stopping to catch a breath. Under a beautiful rainbow-filled sky, he delivers crosses that find their intended targets, like a few seasons ago for a Quagliarella goal at San Siro against Milan. On a cloudy night, he can lose sight of his marker like he did against Lazio in the Coppa last term. The sky was neither clouded nor blue, so we are treated to another okay display.
Behind him, a product of one January expense fills a void left by the absence of a hard-nosed defender. He will not get booked like he did in Bologna, while very little gets pass him. Well, with an extended version of low quality opposition, a former Orobici man can actually relax and puff on long-bottom-leaves.
Another of Conte’s old friends from his short stint in Bergamo provides cover in the middle. Though a midfielder, his versatility makes him a viable option for the wing-back position on the right. He provides outlets for through balls on the few occasions that he is having a good day. By his own standards, he will go on to provide a stellar display. Otherwise, tonight was a good outing, as none can quite fill into Vidal’s shoes at the moment.
Up front, we have a man-of-the-match performer harrying and dancing past the wolves of Irpinia. A product of the Juventus academy, he has had an unfair share of injury this term. His fans have hardly given him the peace of mind since his return from the ‘wilderness’, a fact that wasn’t lost on his tactician. He looked to silence his critics against the Devils of Milan when the two sides met. That time, he sat Zapata on his but with a feign, before sliding a low effort past Abbiati. Tonight, his High Shortness, aka The Atomic Ant, will score a neat curler that is reminiscent of the Del Piero Zone. Moments later, his floated set piece will find the sprawled feet of Caceres to double the Bianconeri’s lead. And then, it is Quagliarella who would be the beneficiary of another inch perfect free kick. When he is not scoring or assisting, he is harrying the Avellino defence and clipping their feet in the process. Hopefully, he has not injured his toe with such a fine display.
A Beautiful Black Angel
From the back, we have an ebony-Italian taking up the defender-regista duties of La Madama for the night. His forward strides are mostly purposeful, even if the ball particularly ends up side ways to his co-defenders. He is hardly reckless in tackles, and doesn’t suffer frequent concentration lapses like his higher-ranked colleague. His left foot can find a pass when it’s needed, while his powerful thighs and strength make him an unmovable bulwark. Tonight, he swept the defence like was needed, sniffing danger and quelling it before it blossomed into a goal threatening move.
He is still young, with much room for improvement. He does not have the power of the other young Juventino with a Mohawk, but he certainly has an eye for a pass. He attacks the final third with relish, while a role shielding the defence would not be foreign to him. He has captained the reserves of a Dutch Giant in the past. Until his season-ending injury, Balotelli’s hometown provided a launch pad for his Italian expedition. Tonight, he gets booked for stopping a counter-attack from the Serie B side. That makes it rather obvious that he is wise to dangerous play, and is willing to put his discipline on the line to stop the opposition from making progress. Together with Marrone, the Juventus midfield has life after Pirlo. Who the heck needs a certain King from Indonesia?! He needs space to learn. After all, he is a Boy!
Previously known as the Headless Chicken for his near purpose-less runs, the former Friuli winger has seen very little play over the past two years. He is injured all the time, and as such, prevented Conte from playing a three-pronged attack. Now, his efforts and tireless running are channelled towards the progress of the team. At a point 2 years ago, he was scoring in a few games, and proved a thorn in the flesh of the Laziale. Tonight, his ushering will bring Quagliarella’s lips to his cheek, while the whole Arena will applaud the return of the terribly-missed work-horse. For rustiness sake, he won’t do much. But he has earned that excuse with all the ‘absents’ that have been ticked against his name on the match day sheet.