Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Juventus did not surprise his old teammates. It was all about the timing.
For months, it had been evident that the Portugal international wanted go.
He repeatedly turned down opportunities to commit his future to the club, most notably when he chastised the media for reporting his desire to return to Real Madrid, despite the fact that one of his closest associates, El Chiringuito’s Edu Aguirre, had sparked the speculation in typical over-the-top fashion live on Spanish television.
In a 286-word message on social media, Ronaldo stated that such talk was “disrespectful to everyone of the teams engaged in these allegations, as well as to their players and staff,” yet he did not mention Juventus once.
Of fact, the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. “Whether I stay at Juventus or go, whatever happens will be for the best,” he would only declare during Euro 2020.
While there were – and continue to be – obvious financial benefits to his eventual transfer to Manchester United for the Bianconeri, his choice to leave four days before the summer transfer window closed had a detrimental influence on his colleagues.
“Ronaldo left on August 27,” captain Giorgio Chiellini told DAZN. If he had left earlier, it would have been better for us.
“We paid something for it, which was a surprise, but we paid something in terms of points. We would have had more time to prepare if he had left sooner.”
As it turned out, Ronaldo’s departure to Manchester was announced just hours before Juventus were defeated at home by Empoli in their first Serie A encounter.
The international break provided much-needed rest for coach Massimiliano Allegri, who returned to the helm after a two-year absence, but his shell-shocked team was trounced again when they returned to action, this time against Napoli, and then held to a draw at home by AC Milan.
The great Juventus were in the Serie A relegation zone at the end of matchday four.
It was clear that Ronaldo’s deadly finishing was badly missed – but it was more than just goals.
Juve’s primary priority for the previous three seasons, since since the prolific Portuguese arrived from Real Madrid, had been getting the most out of their No.7.
“The team played for [Ronaldo],” centre-back Leonardo Bonucci remarked earlier this week. However, the Euro 2020 winner said that the players were guilty of expecting Ronaldo to perform miracles anytime they were in a tight situation.
“We were all playing with a great champion and wanted him to do well, so perhaps we lost that drive to all suffer and sacrifice ourselves together, because we expected he would figure it out,” Bonucci told reporters.
Bonucci feels Allegri has already handled the mentality issue, claiming that the players’ enthusiasm and perseverance in piling up six consecutive wins in all competitions demonstrates that they have found the “Juve spirit that existed before Ronaldo’s arrival.”
“The coach has done a fantastic job of restoring that character and humility,” he gushed. “Now we’re all working together to get the job done.”
Juve’s 1-0 victories in their previous four games indicate that Allegri has addressed the defensive flaws that plagued the team before to his return in the summer.
Prior to Manuel Locatelli’s strike in the derby against Torino at the start of this month, the Old Lady had not preserved a league clean sheet since a 3-0 loss to Spezia on March 2.
Of course, one of the main reasons for Juve’s sudden stinginess is that they are playing a more negative brand of football, often sitting deep against decent footballing sides in the hopes of catching their opponents off guard or scoring from a set-piece.
Such a strategy can only work for so long. After all, Juve is still catching up in Serie A. They are climbing the table quickly, but they are still in seventh place, seven points behind Napoli. It is up to them to close the deficit, and they will only be able to keep winning games if they score more goals.
As a result, Paulo Dybala’s return from injury for this weekend’s Derby d’Italia is a huge boost. Despite missing five games due to injury, the Argentine is still Juve’s equal top scorer in all competitions with three goals.
Remember, it was Chiellini who tipped Dybala to lead the Juve attack after Ronaldo’s departure.
Despite the financial and tactical difficulties that the Portuguese posed, the Bianconeri could always count on him to score goals (Ronaldo had six in United’s first eight games). They can’t count on Dybala to stay in shape.
However, the expectation is that his comeback would at least alleviate the pressure on Federico Chiesa, who kicked off Juve’s season with a magnificent performance at Spezia on matchday five, as well as scoring the game-winning goal in their 1-0 Champions League triumph over Chelsea.
The Italy winger still has to score more goals, but there’s no disputing that he’s one of the best big-game performers in the world right now – which bodes well for Sunday’s match at San Siro.
Of course, if Juve is to keep their winning run going against Inter, who have scored nearly twice as many goals in the league this season as the Bianconeri (23-12), they will have to put up another remarkable rearguard effort.
That doesn’t only refer to Chiellini and his colleagues doing their duties. Allegri’s notoriously unreliable and uneven midfield will be called upon to shield his back four and defend from the front.
Nonetheless, based on recent events, Bonucci may well be proven correct: Ronaldo’s goals may be gone, but Juventus’ fighting spirit appears to have returned.