Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus won the Italian Super Cup. Thanks to a rebound, the opportunism of Cristiano, the reflexes of his goalkeeper, Szczesny, and the misfortune of Lorenzo Insigne, who missed a penalty. Events were concatenated in favor of Pirlo’s team, which went from being seriously questioned to lifting its first title as a coach. The loser was Napoli, who did not play worse than their rival. The game lasted for irrelevant periods. The final was poor. Sign of the times. The most important part of the match, played at the Reggio Emilia stadium, was the result (2-0), due to the consequences that it illuminates. Andrea Pirlo, symbol of Italian football, a living myth made an institution on the Juve bench, dispels the clouds that were gathering over his head in the form of a threat of dismissal after five months of unfortunate debut in Serie A.
The game had the aroma of a reissue. Last June, Gatusso’s Napoli beat Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus in the Cup final. That loss triggered a dismissal. Sarri was fired despite winning the league. The Agnelli family, owners of Juventus, alleged through their emissaries that the removal of the coach was due to that obsessive search for excellence that is a trademark of the house. Pirlo was named in the wake of that ideal of perfection. But the team’s game has not improved in recent months, on the contrary, it has deepened the disenchantment in the Agnelli, perplexed witnesses of Pirlo’s fruitless experimentation.
Pirlo’s fundamental dilemma was the problem that Sarri could never solve. How to make the team exercise its superiority in the midfield without the constant collaboration of Cristiano in maintenance tasks. Faced with the almost exclusive dedication of the scorer to his finishing task, Pirlo opted like his predecessor to reinforce the center lanes with Bentancur and Arthur, both vigilant of his centers, and deployed Mckennie and Chiesa on the wings. On the assumption that Morata would be less attentive to off-the-ball tasks, he put Kulusevski through kilometers of pressure, uncheck and support.
Cristiano, 20 games, 20 goals
The immediate consequence of the plan was not what was expected. Arthur and Bentancour were slow to tune into the distribution of tasks and spaces. When in doubt, they fell back, and in the gap that separated them from their attackers, Bakayoko and Demme set up their camp, more coordinated with Lozano, Insigne, Zielinski and Petanga when they advanced. In that way, Napoli got a small advantage. If it was not consolidated, it was due to Koulibaly’s doubts when it came to playing. But the first shot of the game, before the quarter hour, was the clearest occasion of all. And it was from Naples. Demme crossed from the right and Lozano headed point-blank, beating Danilo’s back. The ball did not go in because Szczesny saw a shadow and reacted with a slap.
Pirlo made up some of the lost lead by introducing Bernardeschi for Chiesa after the break. But in an hour his team did not get more shot than a clearance by Manolas that almost ended in an own goal. The final got stuck when after a corner Bakayoko cleared the ball to his small area. There was Cristiano, whose activity to find the shot is still intact. Without waiting for the goalkeeper to prepare, he volleyed with his left foot and ran to celebrate the 1-0. The Portuguese has 20 goals in 20 games in all competitions this season.
Insigne had the tie on the right boot. The Neapolitan captain wasted the penalty manufactured by Mertens by throwing it wide. Pirlo’s anxious gaze from the side betrayed the weight he lifted. Napoli came close to leveling when Chiellini deflected a shot from Elmas, who had come in through Bakayoko, into his own goal. The last minutes were filled with tension in the Szczesny area, but the defense was successful. On the backlash, taking advantage of the despair of the losers, Cuadrado and Morata clinched the final 2-0. For Juventus it was a formality. For Pirlo, an invaluable credit fee.