Cristiano Ronaldo was at the centre of transfer rumours after failing to make the Juventus starting XI at Udinese – but Massimiliano Allegri insisted there was an innocent explanation.
Ronaldo and drama go hand in hand and the superstar forward came off the bench to snatch what looked to be a stoppage-time winner in his team’s opening game of the Serie A season.
A VAR ruling meant the clinical header was ruled out, however, and Juventus had to settle for a 2-2 draw, with two glaring errors from goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny costing them.
Szczesny might have been grateful for the spotlight to be shone on Ronaldo, because it took some of the attention away from his regrettable performance.
The team announcement from Allegri, embarking on his second spell as Juve head coach after last term’s failed Andrea Pirlo experiment, sent shudders through football when it emerged Ronaldo was only a substitute.
It was swiftly reported by major Italian news outlets that Ronaldo had requested to be benched and was hoping to secure a move from Juventus before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
Allegri said after the game that it had been a decision taken purely with the player’s interests, and those of the team, in mind.
“Cristiano is fine, I had talked to him with a view to everyone’s conditions at the beginning of the season, also thinking about the game especially at the beginning, and I said to him, ‘Come to the bench, in the second half we will need you to come on’,” Allegri said.
“He made himself available, he also did well: he also scored a goal, then unfortunately he wasn’t good by a centimetre.”
— Federico Bernardeschi (@fbernardeschi) August 22, 2021
Allegri led Juventus to five Serie A titles in his first spell at the club, from 2014 to 2019, and had two years out of the game before accepting an offer to return.
The Scudetto is again the target for Juventus, whose nine-in-a-row title sequence ended last season as rookie coach Pirlo struggled to coax the best out of the team.
Allegri had a win percentage of 70.48 across 271 games in his first spell at Juve, but may find success this time around is harder to come by, judging by how his team started impressively but allowed Udinese to control much of the second half.
Early goals from Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado had put Juve in charge, but Szczesny carelessly gave away a penalty after letting a shot squirm from his grasp and then committed a worse error in the 83rd minute that allowed Gerard Deulofeu to fire into an empty net.
Juventus have now conceded eight penalties in Serie A since the beginning of 2021: only Udinese (13) have conceded more in this calendar year in the competition.
“Unexpected things happen: this is football too,” Allegri said, quoted on the Juventus official website.
“In the first half we were in control, and we had to control the ball better. Then we didn’t know how to manage the unexpected, and this is a lesson that we must take home with us.
“The performance was good, but in football the only thing that counts is winning and knowing how to read the match moments. In the second half, we lost two or three too many balls in midfield, perhaps also due to the heat and the conditions at the beginning of the season.”
For the first time since he joined Juventus, Ronaldo has now started two games in a row on the bench: against Udinese and in May against Bologna.
If the substitute trend continues in next Saturday’s clash with Empoli, familiar rumours will return. His steadying influence over the closing half-hour of Sunday’s game, as a replacement for the misfiring Alvaro Morata (three goal attempts, zero on target), suggests Juventus should do all in their powers to retain him.
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