THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
The bitter rivalry between Juventus and Fiorentina is well documented, with the acquisition of local lad and Viola idol Federico Bernardeschi further heightening the ill-feeling between the sides after the Italian winger sealed his switch to the Bianconeri in July 2017. Fast forward 18 months and it’s Federico Chiesa at the centre of a tug of war that could see Fiorentina lose another of their prized assets to their fierce rivals. But a touching gesture prior to the first meeting of the season between the sides, in memory of the late Davide Astori, showed how football pales into the background at times of tragedy.
Nevertheless, in a heart-warming moment and one of the images of the campaign to date, the champions and Fiorentina put their differences to one side as Juve Giorgio Chiellini, on behalf of his teammates, placed flowers in front of the Fiorentina bench before the League clash on December 1.
The gesture earned widespread respect from not only the football community, but the Florence natives.
Chiellini, of course, was a colleague of
Astori at international level, and the duo formed a close relationship during their time with the national team. Bernardeschi, Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli were all notably applauded upon their arrival to Astori’s funeral in
March and the elegant defender will live long in the memory as his peers continue to honour his legacy.
In October 2018, Fiorentina left-back Cristiano Biraghi, making only his third appearance for Italy, netted a dramatic
92nd minute winner as the Azzurri squeezed past Poland in their Nations League clash, and it was the poignant celebration which struck a chord. Biraghi notably played alongside Astori in defence last year and while the three points did enough to ensure the four-time world champions avoided demotion to the second tier of UEFA’s new tournament, for Biraghi, it was a moment of reflection as he looked up to the sky and thought of his dear friend. The 26-year-old has often cited Astori as an instrumental figure in his call-up to the national setup.
Following Cristiano Ronaldo’s blockbuster summer arrival, Juventus’ attacking options included Douglas Costa, Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi. And that’s without even mentioning Juan Cuadrado and Marko
Pjaca, further highlighting the extraordinary depth of resources at Max Allegri’s disposal. The Italian tactician tended to rotate
Higuain and Mandzukic during the 201718 campaign to good effect, with both forwards enjoying regular playing time and sharing the workload. Of course, with Ronaldo in town, someone had to make way, and much to the shock of his teammates, it was Higuain who was ushered out the door.
The former Los Blancos attacker, who had played and won honours alongside Ronaldo during their four seasons together at Santiago Bernabéu, was quickly cast aside despite being just two years in to the Bianconeri contract he signed in July 2016. The Brest-born hitman had little choice but to accept his fate, with Chelsea and Milan his only options of a temporary switch, with former boss Maurizio Sarri extremely keen on taking the player with him to London. Sarri and Higuain connected during their time in Naples and while Sarri had no malice towards his star attacker, Higuain gave up everything to pursue his move to Juventus.
Fast forward to November 11 and one of the biggest fixtures in the League calendar as Milan hosted Juventus, and the Argentine came face-to-face with his friends and former teammates. The visitors ran out 2-0 winners on the night but the big talking point was the actions of Higuain. The 31-year-old, usually so mild-mannered, and rarely involved in controversy or on field skirmishes, received his marching orders in the closing stages of the showdown.
Higuain first missed a penalty to put his side ahead, before letting the occasion – and his emotions – get the better of him as he berated the referee for showing him a yellow card – it was quickly followed by a second yellow. The Diavolo loanee was visibly devastated and arguably wouldn’t have self-destructed if Milan were playing anyone else in the Division.
Following Roma’s dismal 1-0 defeat away at Udinese towards the end of November, Coach Eusebio Di Francesco publicly tore in to his troops for their abject performance. The former Sassuolo tactician, renowned for his usually calm temperament, didn’t hold back, claiming his men lacked desire and hunger, before criticising their mentality. Di Francesco was rightfully lauded in the 2017-18 campaign for his tremendous efforts in guiding the Lupi to not only a third place finish, but a semi-final berth in the Champions League. The Giallorossi trainer earned rave reviews, and was heralded as a future Italy boss, such was the scale of his achievement and the expectation was Roma would go from strength to strength this year, particularly after transfer guru and Sporting Director Monchi was able to bring in so many of his first choice targets in to the club.
In truth, while the prodigious talents of Justin Kluivert, Nicolò Zaniolo and
Ante Ćorić may eventually flourish, what Roma needed was a core of seasoned professionals, but unfortunately, a combination of a never-ending injury list and lack of experience have contributed to an inconsistent first half of the domestic campaign.
From a goalscoring point of view, leading marksman and attacking figurehead Edin Dzeko is so important and if the Bosnian is not on his game, those around him fail to step up and help the goal machine. As of early December, the ex-Manchester City title winner only had two Serie A efforts to his name. In contrast, Cristiano Ronaldo has double figures and with Patrik Schick also misfiring, alarm bells are ringing.
With Inter and Napoli battling it out to be Juventus’ runner-up, Roma face a real fight on their hands even to get in to contention for a top four spot with Milan, neighbours Lazio and surprise package Torino all faring well.
ABOVE:THE GOOD, ChielliniABOVE LEFT:THE BAD, HiguainLEFT:THE UGLY, Di Francesco