It was a feeling of pure nostalgia; a deep yearning. Enveloped by the warmth of beautiful memories and profound emotion, Alessandro Del Piero was on the pitch again, not in the Bianconeri shirt we have grown accustomed to him wearing, but as the opponent in an exciting friendly game that Juventus won 3-2 over the A-League All Stars.
An opportunity to play against Australia's best in a heaving atmosphere surrounded by cheerful fans, Juventus took to the pitch in an attempt to demonstrate their understanding of Massimiliano Allegri's ideas and ability to cope with the tough fitness regime recently imposed upon them. Make no mistake, this wasn't a relaxed game played by benchwarmers but a match that was treated with respect, with some of their best players, including Paul Pogba and Carlos Tevez, in the starting lineup.
- Friendlies: Juve edge past All Stars
However, in front of approximately 60,000 fans in Sydney, the Old Lady attempted but failed to better emphasise their superiority. The Sydney Morning Herald, among other Australian media outlets, were eager to take shots at the Italian champions, noting their own players were equal if not better than their European counterparts.
"Juventus survive a match they would like to forget against A-League All Stars," read its headline, but while it's fair to say the Turin giants did not perform to expectations, one must provide context to better understand the performance.
In the past two days, the Juventus squad undertook a tough fitness regime, working on their endurance to better prepare them for the long upcoming season. Battling hard to increase their strength, it perhaps explains why their performance was somewhat muted as they struggled to adequately overcome the strain they felt in their legs. Yet despite the dynamism of their counterparts and their own inability to play with greater intensity, one must acknowledge that they still managed a win and fought for their goals until the final moment of their game.
Slow and cumbersome, the first half exposed the Bianconeri's lack of ideas going forward and the inaccuracies in their game. They simply struggled to reach, let alone penetrate, the final third. However, individual ability made the difference in the end as well as the players' reluctance to accept defeat. Yet one must understand that to expect tactical fluency at this stage is perhaps demanding too much from a squad that is only just getting to grips with the new arrivals and new tactical ideals.
However, the Australians deserve to be praised for not only demonstrating great discipline and wonderful organisation but for their energy, willingness to impose themselves and eagerness to claim a victory.
As Allegri noted in his postmatch news conference, there were several individual errors that must be eradicated as soon as the new season officially kicks off. For one thing, Patrice Evra must better handle his responsibilities and know when to get tighter and close the gaps so as to not expose his teammates.
For Angelo Ogbonna, one must now appreciate that he does not have the qualities necessary to play at the very highest level. Static and nervous, he may have been left to fend for himself, but after the performances of last season and his failure to develop during his time at Juve, it might be time to move on.
On the plus side, Simone Pepe is officially back to being the man who captured Juventini hearts in his first season with the club. Having scored against the ISL stars, he scored the winner against Del Piero's boys. Speaking after the match with his usual infectious enthusiasm, he noted the struggle to overcome the obstacles, the days when he was forced to sit still or train away from the group and how exciting it is to be back on the pitch contributing to the Bianconeri's game.
Capable of making an impact as a substitute and able to provide his coach with the option to play another formation, that being the 4-3-3, Pepe is the player the Old Lady missed the most last season and thankful to have for the upcoming one.
As part of their tour, only one match remains, and that will be against Singapore's all-stars. One hopes the performance will be better and the individual errors will be eradicated to better position them for the start of the new season. Exemplary levels of fitness are of the utmost importance at this moment; fluency will come in due time.