You know that as a team you have hit rock bottom when you allow the opposition to make history. Fulham – on the verge of relegation only two seasons ago – would never have dreamt of having the chance to play against heavyweights Juventus. They not only played them but pummelled them gloriously to leave the Bianconeri’s dream of a trophy in a heap of mess.
There is very little to say that has not already been said. After Fabio Cannavaro’s dismissal, Juventus’ back-line consisted of four full-backs, none of whom are regular starters, a third-choice goalkeeper and only two creative players within their ranks. What was their chance of winning? It should have been exceptionally high. This is, after all, a side that still boasts a squad packed with young talent, expensive midfielders and World Cup winners. Furthermore, they had a three goal advantage over Fulham within two minutes of the game and yet once again, the same old record played and Juve failed to hold on to a lead.
Tactically, Alberto Zaccheroni made very poor decisions on the night. It was clear that a defence line held together by an ageing Azzurri central defender was not going to cope with the pressure of Fulham’s strikers and it was to be expected that the team were going to concede a few. Therefore, Zaccheroni should have attempted to go all out on attack, score a second away goal and put the home side into a troubling situation where victory meant that they had to put away five goals. Yet, after Fulham scored their first and Canna was sent off, Zac decided to bolster the defence at the expense of a creative attacking midfielder. It did not matter how many players the Coach put in at the back – none of them would have been able to cope and none of them were familiar with the position of centre-back. Fulham was going to score, the only chance the Old Lady had to progress was if she outscored them.
Clearly that was never going to happen when practically the entire team was defensively inclined and when David Trezeguet was the man dealt the responsibility of scoring when down to 10 men. It was vital that Juventus brought on a player like Vincenzo Iaquinta, a player capable of running, a player young enough and energetic enough to hassle for the ball and a player who would work his socks off for the team but with Iaquinta allegedly sustaining an injury during warm up, there was no-one left. An injury during warm up – fiction writers would be hard-pressed to come up with better storylines than this. Outscoring the opposition was not going to happen when Juve only had a static forward up-front, defensive midfielders that can barely string together a pass, and a sole creative force on the pitch after Mauro Camoranesi was taken off. Why Christian Poulsen was overlooked in favour of Felipe Melo is still mystifying, at least he could have provided better crosses.
Perhaps, you can make excuses for Zaccheroni on the above. No-one could take Trezegol’s place and another defender was perhaps needed to make up for Cannavaro’s dismissal. However, removing Mauro Camoranesi to make way for Paolo De Ceglie was the icing on the cake and a move that would have made Claudio Ranieri proud. It was official – Juventus were going to play for extra time. Despite having conceded three, Zac somehow believed that the improvised back-line would sustain the pressure to make it all the way to penalties. A baffling substitution and perhaps one that has cost him the additional year that la Gazzetta dello Sport reported he had negotiated with the Juve board.
As for the fans, they certainly cannot be blamed for requesting the dismissal of their dismal Management. A record number of injuries that have yet to be investigated, two Coaches who have both been kicked out of Europe by the same score-line and a poorly conducted transfer campaign have brought the Old Lady down to her lowest point of the season. Losing to Bayern Munich is tolerable but squandering a lead to Fulham is beyond comprehension and yet the fans still clapped off the winning side despite their suffering.
The referee was incredibly biased, injuries have evidently taken their toll and the years of poor decision-making by Management have come back to haunt this team, but this star-studded team should still have done better. Credit has to go to Fulham who played a fine game. They were spirited, they attacked the poorly-guarded flanks well, they overwhelmed the fragile defence and they were hungry for a win. Their group dynamic and determination to succeed should prove the power of a collective effort to this Juventus board. Stars do not make a team, a cohesive unit will always succeed and the Azzurri proved just that in 2006.