Last night, Juventus progressed to the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia. They did this by utterly destroying Napoli with a superb performance at the Olimpico in Turin. Except they didn’t.
Whilst there were a lot of encouraging signs in the Bianconeri performance, this author feels that there are still tons of unresolved issues. A lot more work and much improved performances will be needed before this Juventus team can have the honour of being called a proper pre-Calciopoli Juventus team.
One must not forget that the Bianconeri were facing a second string, reserve Napoli side last night. No Paolo Cannavaro, Lavezzi, and until late in the second half, no Quagliarella, Hamsik or Maggio. So whilst Juve did actually manage to win 3-0, it is cold comfort when one considers the quality of the opposition. Even colder comfort when one remembers the 3-2 defeat at the hands of a Napoli a few months back.
It could be termed freezing comfort when one realises that this Coppa Italia affair was more important to Juventus than Napoli who evidently do not take it as seriously as they do the Serie A title race, in which they are level on points with Juve. When did Juventus ever come to have such low expectations of themselves?
The victory last night does nothing to dispel the feeling that the 2009-10 campaign is in tatters and ashes, still smouldering and barely revivable.
One could also argue how differently the whole affair could have turned out had Hamsik equalised with that sublime effort from 40-yards out, which hit the bar. Whilst Juventus were the better team until they scored, one could detect a certain nervousness and lack of confidence on their side (which has more or less been there all season) right up to the second goal.
Napoli was pushing and pushing hard, until a brilliant counter attack rendered the victory beyond doubt. Up to that point however, Juve were more or less on the back foot. At home. To a second-string Napoli side. Who didn’t really care about the Coppa Italia.
Nevertheless there were glimmers of hope for better days. One of the most encouraging signs was that Ferrara actually got the formation right. As the season has progressed, that has become an increasingly rare phenomenon.
The 4-3-1-2 with Filipe Melo the single holding midfielder in and De Ceglie and Salihamidzic playing wider worked much better for the Bianconeri. It is a huge improvement over the 4-4-1-1 that we have seen in the two prior matches.
There were more encouraging signs in the performances of certain players. Most fans would have readily cited an improved Diego, who worked hard all night and looked a lot sharper than he has all season, but this author would also like to draw your attention to Melo.
There were two to three wayward passes from the midfielder but also a few good, sharp and perceptive ones and many important interceptions and tackles throughout the whole affair.
Perhaps more than anything, Melo was helped by the absence of Christian Poulsen. Since the 3-0 defeat to Milan, it was evident that the two could not work together. But they say it’s best not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Whatever the reason for the improvement last night, let’s hope he keeps it up.
If Melo can even improve on his performance, then perhaps he can silence the criticisms of both incoming players and the people that brought them here.
Finally, one should also mention Paolo De Ceglie who was mightily impressive down the left and who demonstrated the quality Juve have at youth level. As for the rest of the team, they pretty much turned in a performance that would have been expected of them. And no one ever really seriously doubted Del Piero’s quality did they?
So, is this a new start for the Bianconeri? Like most matters close to one’s heart, one should hope for the best, yet fear the worst. This could be a new beginning for Juve; a chance to turn their season around in all three competitions. But let’s not pop the champagne yet, eh?
This may have been a confidence boosting victory but will not turn Ciro Ferrara into Marcello Lippi overnight, will not add 12 points to the Serie A campaign and will not put Juve back in the Champions League. And there have been many false dawns already this season (5-1 against Sampdoria anyone? 2-1 against Inter?).
If Juve can keep producing these kinds of results until the end of the season, then Ferrara may have just done enough to justify his position as coach.
However, the frustration felt after the 3-0 defeat to Milan left many sharpening their knives and calling for Ferrara’s head. This author was one of them. That has not changed. I still stand by all the points I raised in a previous article. One victory has not made me see the merits in Ferrara’s appointment. If anything, it could constitute a negative result as it may delay the appointment of a more experienced coach.
If Ferrara can turn the whole season around, then credit to him. But that, at least in my mind, is nigh on impossible.
Finally, we should never ever forget that we are discussing Juventus here. The Old Lady of Italian football. A side that has never settled for second best or given up. A side that should be up there with the best in the world. Winning only the Coppa Italia this season would be scant consolation for any fan. Since when has it become acceptable to lie 12 points off the pace in Serie A?
Since when has it been acceptable to crash out of the Champions League group stage? Since when have five defeats in seven outings been okay? The first game without scoring at home since 2004? Losing as many games midway through the season as in the whole of last season?
Make no mistake, any more defeats to lowly relegation-threatened teams (Catania), or humiliations at the hands of traditional rivals (AC Milan) or capitulations and implosions (Napoli, Bayern) will have this author sharpening his knife faster than you can say “Forza Juve!”