There have been times in Juventus’s recent history when dropping six points in a month might have been considered as a run of poor form. On Tuesday, they saw that number slip away in the space of less than six hours.
First came the news that the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) had overturned the decision by Serie A’s sporting justice to award Juventus a 3-0 win for their unplayed game against Napoli in October. The Partenopei were a no-show for that fixture in Turin after two members of their first team, and a further member of staff, tested positive for Covid-19.
Under the protocol agreed between the Italian Football Federation and the national government’s scientific committee, the match ought to have gone ahead. Napoli, however, insisted they had been barred from travelling by local health authorities. Initial appeals to the league and federation were rejected, but CONI upheld their claim.
Juventus’s official position was one of indifference. “We have always been extraneous to this affair,” insisted the club’s chief football officer, Fabio Paratici, after the CONI decision was confirmed. “When they tell us to play, we will play. That said, we were ready in October.”
At least those “lost” points can be recaptured. The ones that got away later in the evening are gone for good. Juventus hosted Fiorentina at the Allianz Stadium on Tuesday in a game that ought to have provided an opportunity to end 2020 on a winning note.
The Bianconeri, despite mixed performances and some disappointing draws, were still undefeated in Serie A under Andrea Pirlo. Their opponents had not won a game for two months. Fiorentina made a nostalgic appointment of their own in November, bringing back Cesare Prandelli as manager after a decade apart, but he had scraped together just three points from his first six games in charge.
This, furthermore, was a fixture Juventus always won. Fiorentina’s supporters love to hate the “Old Lady”, but their team had not tasted victory in Turin since 2008 – all the way back during Prandelli’s last stint in charge. Perhaps, with hindsight, we ought to have afforded greater weight to that detail. Prandelli’s most recent win as a Serie A manager, at Genoa in 2019, also came against Juventus.
He got something right in his preparations on Tuesday. At Pirlo’s pre-game press conference, the Juventus manager highlighted the physical prowess of Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic and the enduring class of Franck Ribéry, saying that his team would need to “stay alert to those two in particular”. Despite the extra attention, it was those precise players who combined for the opening goal in only the third minute.
Prandelli had instructed Ribéry to drop as deep as he felt necessary to get on the ball, nominally lining up in a No 10 role but operating more like an advanced regista – retreating and drawing defenders with him to make space for Vlahovic ahead. The Frenchman’s vision made the ruse work. He required only a glance before releasing his teammate with a 60-yard through ball that split the Juventus centre-halves.
The defending should have been better. Leonardo Bonucci was out of step with Matthijs De Ligt, playing Vlahovic onside. The striker ran through and clipped the ball over Wojciech Szczesny. There were plenty more mistakes to come from Bonucci, and the rest of the Juventus defence.
In the 18th minute, Juan Cuadrado slid into Gaetano Castrovilli with studs so high they almost found his opponent’s knee. The referee Federico La Penna initially showed a yellow card, but corrected it to red after a VAR review.
It is never easy to recover from losing a man and a goal so early in a game. Pirlo had already been forced to adjust his game plan at the last moment following the CONI verdict. Adrien Rabiot was supposed to be in the starting XI on Tuesday, but cancelling the walkover win over Napoli also meant restoring a one-game suspension that the player had notionally served in that game.
Cuadrado’s dismissal meant Pirlo now also had to withdraw Aaron Ramsey from his midfield, sending in Danilo to shore up the defence. The Welshman kicked a bottle in frustration as he left the pitch, though it was the manager’s decision to send on Federico Bernardeschi for Álvaro Morata at half-time, instead of Dejan Kulusevski, that had fans venting their frustration on social media.
With different refereeing decisions in the second half, Juventus might yet have turned the game around. Fiorentina should have gone down to 10 men in the 50th minute, Borja Valero arriving late to a challenge just moments after collecting a yellow card.
Juventus then had the first of two strong penalty appeals waved away, as Cristiano Ronaldo went down under a challenge from Castrovilli. The fall was exaggerated, yet the contact looked clear, the only ambiguity being whether it took place a fraction outside the box.
An Alex Sandro own-goal doubled Fiorentina’s advantage before Bernardeschi appeared to be fouled in the box by the goalkeeper Bartlomiej Dragowski, who raised an elbow to stop the Juventus player from reaching a loose ball. The Juventus director Pavel Nedved was seen leaving the stands in a fury as La Penna declined once more to award a spot-kick.
Instead of finding a way back into the game, Juventus had their humiliation completed by a third Fiorentina goal. Not for the first time, Bonucci was dispossessed on the edge of his own box, compounding the error by chasing out of position in an attempt to make amends. Castrovilli spread the ball out to the left, Cristiano Biraghi crossed and the former Juventus player Martín Cáceres swept home.
Latest Serie A results
Tuesday 22 December
Crotone 2-1 Parma
Juventus 0-3 Fiorentina
Sunday 20 December
Torino 1-1 Bologna
Benevento 2-0 Genoa
Cagliari 1-1 Udinese
Inter Milan 2-1 Spezia
Sassuolo 1-2 AC Milan
Atalanta 4-1 Roma
Lazio 2-0 Napoli
After having a 3-0 win taken away from them earlier in the day, Juventus now tasted defeat by the same margin. It was the first time they had conceded three goals in a home league game since the Allianz Stadium opened in 2011.
Could this also become the first season since then that they fail to lift the Serie A title? They will end this year 10 points back from first place if Milan beat Lazio on Wednesday night. For now, they sit joint-third, level with Roma and Napoli – who had an additional one-point deduction revoked by the CONI verdict.
Pirlo sought to keep things in perspective, highlighting the refereeing mistakes and stressing that “an ugly night like this can happen”, but his suggestion that Milan or Inter could be favourites for the Scudetto felt like a remark that his predecessor, Maurizio Sarri, would have been crucified for: held up as evidence of a lack of the requisite “winning mentality”. Besides, was this game truly a one-off for a Juventus side who are now 11 points worse off than at the corresponding point last year?
In the away team’s changing room, there was only joy. “I’m happy because I asked the team for courage and that’s what the lads gave me,” said Prandelli. “To win and fight against fear you need to be brazen. If you are fearful, sooner or later they will catch you.”
Will Milan and Inter hear the echo of those words, as they seek to press their advantage at the top of the table? Both have showdowns with Juventus to look forward to in January. The champions’ six-point slide on Tuesday has given them an unexpected opportunity to build a buffer in the meantime.
• Nicky will post her talking points in the comments section on Thursday, when this round of Serie A matches are complete
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