STADIO ENZO RICCI (SASSUOLO): Things don’t seem quite right with Juventus Women this season. A glance at the Serie A Femminile table shows them on eight points from four games, and that’s just one behind AS Roma, Fiorentina and Sampdoria’s (the Blucerchiati are still to play in Matchday 4) nine, but to have dropped points twice in four games is beyond unusual for the Bianconere.
To contextualise things a little more, Joe Montemurro led his Juventus side to a fifth straight Serie A Femminile title in 2021/22 by picking up 59 points in 22 outings – five more than second-placed Roma. Then, from 22 matches, they dropped points on just three occasions by drawing twice and losing once. The previous season, under Rita Guarino, Juventus won every last one of their 22 matches to take maximum points in another title-winning campaign.
So it is noteworthy that a side so dominant now find themselves having fallen short twice already this season, and their 1-1 draw at Sassuolo on Saturday saw the Neroverde claim their first point of the season after their own struggles. What’s perhaps more of a surprise then is that one of their wins – after comfortably beating Serie A Femminile newcomers Como on the opening day – came against the side most likely to challenge them for the title in Roma.
Juventus have enviable depth, but is their attention elsewhere?
Despite their tough start to the 2022/23 season so far, Sassuolo remain a decent side under Gianpiero Piovani and are one capable of causing problems for any side on their day. They’re not a team anybody would relish facing, and less so with a side that’s at anything less than full strength.
Juventus‘ trip to Emilia-Romagna came sandwiched between two legs of their Women’s Champions League qualifier against HB Koge and they would have liked to have travelled to Sassuolo with a more comfortable first-leg result than the 1-1 draw they managed. They now know that they have to win on Wednesday, September 28 in Turin.
Montemurro made a lot of changes to his XI. Sara Gama, Sofia Cantore, Lisa Boattin, Julia Grosso, Annahita Zamanian, Agnese Bonfantini and Martina Lenzini all started on the bench. Sassuolo, on the other hand, ended up having to name a somewhat-injured Giusy Moraca among their substitutes after starting midfielder Giada Pondini pulled up in the warm-up.
At times in the first half Juventus‘ depth was nothing but enviable. The Bianconere looked as though they could get away with fielding so many ‘second-string’ players; hand a start to the still-recovering centre-back Cecilia Salvai, fresh back after 271 days out injured; and still get away from the Stadio Enzo Ricci with three easily-claimed points.
Cristiana Girelli headed them in front midway through the first half and Sassuolo didn’t look to have any answers. Juventus were cruising and they could afford to start planning for the Women’s Champions League.
Sassuolo woke up, and the title race got interesting
Piovani made a change at half time that shifted the momentum. Sara Mella came off for Valeria Monterubbiano, and suddenly Lana Clelland wasn’t completely isolated in attack, and there was now a link between the Neroverde’s midfield and attacking lines.
Sassuolo stepped up a little higher, and Juventus didn’t look so impermeable. Piovani roared for more urgency from the sidelines, and his players duly delivered. Davina Philtjens sent Clelland in on the left, and her driven cross missed Virag Nagy’s head by an inch. More was asked for, and more came. Clelland found space in the box a minute later, slipped Monterubbiano through to the byline and her cutback was finished by Philtjens; a deserved leveller.
Both teams ended the game with just 10 players on the pitch as both Valentina Cernoia and Asia Bragonzi saw red for separate incidents, but Juventus looked a threat and the side most likely to steal a late winner, even with a numerical disadvantage for 15 minutes.
Sassuolo, in getting their first point, showed us for the second time already this season that Juventus are perhaps more vulnerable than they’ve been for a while. Although you wouldn’t rule out the possibility of them winning every game between now and the season’s end and claiming another title, it looks as though the door has been opened for Roma to mount a serious push this season.
If the Bianconere continue to drop points at this frequency, some other contenders might just join the party as well.