Ronaldo's wait for a goal continues as Juventus edge past Lazio
TURIN, Italy -- Along with the iconic Mole Antonelliana, Cristiano Ronaldo can see the tricolour dappled pylons of the Allianz Stadium from the balcony of his hillside "mega villa" overlooking Turin. Ever since the 33-year-old moved in, Juventus fans in the city below have been in reverential awe of him as if the green slopes behind the Gran Madre church were Piedmont's own Mount Olympus; the home of a god, not a footballer.
Within walking distance across the River Po in Piazza Vittorio, one of Ronaldo's principal sponsors has pasted a poster listing all of his achievements across the facade of a 17th-century palazzo. Cars pull over, windows roll down, pictures are taken. Awe-struck passersby stand and contemplate the records he's set over the years before reaching the final message printed in gold.
"Now forget everything and start over."
It reflects the Juventus mindset. The Bianconeri take the exact same approach every year. They took it in Saturday's 2-0 win over Lazio, too. It's why Ronaldo and Juventus go together like Punt e Mes, the vermouth Turin is famous for. They combine the airs and graces of the elite with the work ethic of the Fiat factory floor. Italy's military academy was founded in this city, which is why Juventus players have been called "soldiers" in the past. And for an athlete as monastic in discipline as Ronaldo, it feels weirdly appropriate that his neighbours on the hill adjacent are an order of Capuchin monks.
The morning after his first league game, a stoppage-time win in Verona last Saturday, Ronaldo was back on the exercise bike getting a workout in before helicoptering to Lake Como for the afternoon. In some respects, it was better for the local Juventus fans that their new star didn't score in the five-goal thriller at the Bentegodi. All it has done is intensify the anticipation around what already promised to be a big event: Ronaldo's first game as a Juventus player at the Allianz Stadium.
Hotel bookings are up 8.2 percent in Turin since June, and it's not just because it's holiday season. Outside the Curva Sud where the ultras stand, the Around Turin group that connects Juventus fans from all over the world included first-timers from Aruba, Kuwait, Moldova, Australia, Chicago, Denmark and a couple of young women who'd made the 14-hour flight from Oman with a layover in Dubai, just to be here to see if Ronaldo could repeat the same tricks he conjured on his last appearance on this pitch in April.
Speaking on the eve of Saturday's game, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said that the standing ovation Ronaldo received that night, in response to the bicycle kick he scored for Real Madrid, was the "consecration" of the relationship that led to his Serie A record €117 million move to Turin. Allegri also let it be known there will be games in which Ronaldo starts on the bench. Thankfully for those who jetted in from every corner of the globe, Saturday's wasn't one of them.
Practically a sellout at the Allianz Stadium -- Lazio didn't take up all their allocation -- the TV audiences were also expected to be bigger for this game than last weekend in Verona, which (according to Sky Italia) was the fourth most-watched match in the history of the station, a number rendered all the more remarkable when you consider they had the 2006 World Cup, which Italy won.
The first big game of the season, Allegri was justified in hyping up Lazio despite their defeat last week to Napoli. The Biancocelesti came here and won for the first time in almost 15 years last October, showing that their victory in the Super Cup was no flash in the pan. Ciro Immobile scored a brace in each of those games on the way to being crowned Capocannoniere (top scorer).
"You know what I thought when Ronaldo joined Juve?" Immobile revealed. "Thank goodness I won the top scorer title last year because now ..." Now everyone expects Ronaldo to break Gonzalo Higuain's 36-goal single-season scoring record. He'll need a new poster for that, too.
Immobile, of course, is already off the mark this year. As for Ronaldo, it'd be wrong to characterising him as still waiting for one. He sought out the back of the net with the same determination as a week ago. Back then, Chievo's fitness coach Roberto De Bellis marvelled at his application. Ronaldo made 285 sprints, leading Tuttosport to compare him with a Ferrari. But all the hard yards that Ronaldo put in today ended in no goals, only frustration.
Allegri started Saturday's match with the forward line that finished the game against Chievo. The subs who turned defeat into victory, Mario Mandzukic and Federico Bernardeschi, started at the expense of Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa.
While fluent in their interchanges -- Ronaldo and Mandzukic took it in turns to go out wide and play centre-forward -- this new trident faced the same problems as the old one. It lacked fluency. Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi had promised to keep Ronaldo under "special surveillance," and his team played a very good positional game without the ball. But it helped that CR7 and his new teammates aren't yet on the same wavelength.
Ronaldo's first chance came from chasing down a back-pass rather than anything from open play, and when everything did open up for him after a nice move involving Leonardo Bonucci and Blaise Matuidi, his shot was blocked. What looked like an attempt at a "Hand of God" preceded Miralem Pjanic celebrating the new contract he signed in the week with a nicely taken goal from outside the box to break the deadlock on the half-hour mark.
As the interval approached, Ronaldo could be seen gesturing how and where he wanted the ball. But the mechanisms need oiling and patience is required. Mandzukic had a cause for complaint when Ronaldo wasted an opportunity by squaring a ball behind him, although he didn't hold it against him.
The Croatia international was on hand to double Juventus' lead when his illustrious new strike partner couldn't get a cross from Joao Cancelo out of his under feet amid interference from Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha. Moments earlier, the talented Albanian had tipped a fierce Ronaldo shot over the bar -- a save to show the grandkids -- and the highlight of his and the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's evening.
Ronaldo must have wondered what else he had to do. The crowd sympathised and groaned as one when Rodrigo Bentancur turned and passed the ball backwards instead of sending another cross into the box for Ronaldo to have one last crack. As such, the mood around the ground in stoppage time felt weirdly subdued. Juventus were comfortable in the end, winning 2-0 against an awkward side that had caused them all manner of problems last season. Nevertheless you were left with the impression that the fans didn't get what they came to see.
Allegri will no doubt focus on the bigger picture, another win and maximum points, while reiterating how delicate the period between the start of the season and the first international break is for teams. As for Ronaldo, the poster in Piazza Vittorio comes to mind again. Rather than dwell on another game without goal, he needs to forget everything and start over next week in Parma.