Juventus celebrate after Carlos Tevez’s opener before going on to topple AC Milan 3-1.
TURIN, Italy — Three quick thoughts from Juventus’ 3-1 win over AC Milan at Juventus Stadium on Saturday night.
1. Juventus in a league of their own
“I can say right now that the chances of Juve winning the Scudetto again are 70-80 percent,” said former Italy manager Giovanni Trapattoni in an interview with Turin-based sports newspaper Tuttosport on Saturday. That percentage is likely to have risen to 80-90 percent after Juventus toppled Milan, and should Roma fall at Cagliari on Sunday, it could well rise to 99.9 recurring.
Juve underlined once again on Saturday night that they are in a league of their own domestically.
The Bianconeri have won the title three years in a row, and you can practically make that four. “Having the title for 80 percent doesn’t mean having it in the sack,” added Trapattoni, famous for his “cat in the sack” remark while in charge of the Republic of Ireland. Juve could get away with shouting “cat” on Saturday night.
“The signs are [Juventus] are going to dominate in Italy for a long time to come,” Trapattoni added. “Juve are already working on upgrades for the next two years. It’s an engine which is going great guns. At the same time, their rivals are miles behind.
“At this point, all [Milan manager Massimiliano] Allegri can be afraid of is unexpected stumbles, maybe due to the distraction of the Champions League, even if that’s a nice distraction to have.”
Paradoxically, the league could be about to become Juve’s main distraction and not the Champions League. Given Saturday’s comfortable win over a Milan side who, admittedly, are a shadow of the one who under the guidance of Allegri were the last champions of Italy prior to Juve’s recent domination, the Old Lady can afford to take things a little easier domestically.
On Feb. 24, they host Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 of the Champions League. Between now and then, they travel to Cesena and host Atalanta; two games nobody would expect them to lose. Given a 10-point advantage over their nearest challengers in Italy, who, according to Trapattoni “are already at their limit where they are,” Allegri could afford to play his youth team in those game and spend the next 23 days focusing on the biggest fixture of the season so far.
They have made no secret of their desire to improve in the Champions League. That can now become more than a desire; it can become a priority.
“I’m very optimistic about the Champions League,” Trapattoni added. “Juve have an advantage over Borussia. Allegri can give the killer blow to an injured lion.”
The feline reference was not casual, but it looks like as far as the Scudetto is concerned, Juve can already say “cat,” because they’ve got it in the sack.
2. Morata makes his case to partner Tevez
Having one world-class attacker can be sufficient, but having two is clearly an advantage.
Juventus have been searching for a double act to succeed Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet ever since that duo split in 2010 (even if you have to go back at least four more years to find their best years together in a Bianconeri shirt). That’s almost a decade in which Juve have instead had to rely on one attacking lead with many supporting actors.
Alessandro Matri, now back in Turin on loan until the end of the season; Sebastian Giovinco, who hastened his departure for Toronto this winter; and Fabio Quagliarella, who is enjoying a second wind at Torino with nine goals this season, all failed to provide such guarantees as the second man to lead Juve’s line.
Fernando Llorente needed awhile before he struck an understanding with Carlos Tevez. While the little and large combination worked for the club in Serie A last season, it did not quite deliver on the continent — even if it was Tevez who was failing to provide in Europe and not the Basque.
In the summer, Juventus tried to rectify this by signing Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid. At 20 million euros, Morata cost more than twice as much as Tevez and is something of an investment for the future, even if Madrid secured the right to buy him back and could yet scupper those plans.
Given the way he is developing, though, Juventus would certainly rather keep hold of him going forward than be forced to cash in before he hits his peak.
Rarely has Morata let his side down this season, even if Allegri is only slowly feeding him regular playing time. His first start of the season in Serie A did not come until November, when he scored in a 2-0 win over Empoli. Days later, he grabbed two in a 7-0 humiliation of Parma, although he was a sub for that and the following two fixtures.
Morata had not found the back of the net since, until Saturday.
His selection in the starting XI by Allegri for such a big match is an indication of how far he has come in his first six months in Italy. Morata more than justified his inclusion, too, sending Tevez through to open the scoring. It was like Del Piero and Trezeguet again; each knowing exactly what the other is thinking, where he is going to go and when he wants the ball delivered.
When he tracked back to dispossess Andrea Poli deep in his own half, he earned an ovation from those who had to rub their eyes to be sure it was he and not Patrice Evra playing left-back.
His interplay not only with Tevez — who made it look like fears he may not feature due to a cold were fabricated to have Milan second guessing Allegri’s attack — but also with the midfield looked like something years in the making, not months.
It may have been luck that Morata was in the right place at the right time to turn the ball in after Claudio Marchisio’s shot came back at him off the post, but it was probably calculated positional play. His movement and vision helped get Marchisio into position to shoot, after all.
Soon after, there he was in the right position to score again after getting things moving by spreading the play to Arturo Vidal. The offside flag prevented him from celebrating that time, while a crisp close-range volley that just cleared the crossbar denied him a second brace in a Juventus shirt, and few would have begrudged him that.
Juve will now be hoping Madrid are not paying too much attention, what with the Spaniards’ option to buy the striker back for 30 million euros in the summer or 38 million in 2016. The latter is when Tevez’s contract expires, and the Argentinean has said he will be going back home. The prospect of losing both is something Juventus fans cannot bear to contemplate, just when it seems they have found the successors to Del Piero and Trezeguet.
3. Milan searching for the next Allegri
Just over a year ago, Massimiliano Allegri was dismissed by an AC Milan side languishing in 11th place with just 22 points from their first 19 matches. A change was deemed necessary to shake things up at the club and try to salvage a proud record of 15 consecutive years in European competition.
At the time, many questioned whether anybody could do a better job than Allegri given the resources and low morale of the players he would inherit. There was no indication that Allegri had lost the dressing room, or that the former Cagliari coach who guided the Rossoneri to the Scudetto in 2011, second place a year after and third in 2013, had lost his touch.
A good coach simply does not turn bad overnight, but a change was nevertheless decreed with Clarence Seedorf appointed. If anybody could improve on Allegri’s record in 2014, it could be him.
In 19 matches under the Dutchman’s guidance, Milan picked up 11 wins, two draws and six defeats, totaling 35 points with 26 goals scored and 19 conceded. The Rossoneri finished eighth under his guidance, only narrowly missing out on a place in Europe. Seedorf’s mission was not accomplished. It was not a failure, either, but he lost his club’s support and Filippo Inzaghi was appointed in the summer.
Inzaghi’s first 22 Serie A games have brought seven wins, eight draws and seven defeats for a total of 29 points. That is six fewer than Seedorf in three games more.
It appears Milan still do not have the right man on the touchline. Inzaghi certainly looks predestined to become a great coach, given his obsessive nature, but at a club like Milan, where the demands are for trophies and European football, whether he will get the chance to learn from his mistakes and develop into the coach the Rossoneri need today rather than tomorrow remains to be seen.
He is currently being shown the patience he needs, but just a glance at the opposite bench at the Juventus Stadium tonight may have evoked some nostalgia. Sitting there was Allegri, perhaps the most suited man, apart from Carlo Ancelotti — and he’s not going to come back in a rush — to right Milan’s current wrongs. Only he is taken, and on course for a second career Scudetto. Milan let him get away.
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