Luckily, Federico Gatti’s goal at the death spared Juventus the nightmare scenario of going into the return leg having to push to score for the entire game, which led to the direct opposite outcome in the first half, when they were a tad more aggressive than usual. It’s extremely concerning how the short blanket syndrome is so manifest ten months into the season. The team can’t keep it together in the back if they raise the temperature just a little on the other end. And the standard reaction when the adversaries exploit that is to get scared and stop attacking when logic would suggest otherwise. It takes the interval or way too much time for the strategy to get back on track.

It’s also appalling and maddening how the offense continues to be very uninspiring and disjointed despite a host of quality attackers on the pitch at the same time and how nobody ever populates the box besides the striker. Players too frequently decide to take matters into their own hands rather than interplaying with others. Scoring on set pieces is a skill, but it has been the saving grace all too often.

Everything still hangs in the balance and, while Sevilla are outstanding in Europe, the expectations were surely much loftier after a healthy win against Atalanta, where the Bianconeri turned the opponents’ game plan against them and were brilliant defensively. Hopefully, Gleison Bremer will be 100 percent for the return leg because it’s very noticeable and hurtful when either he or Danilo isn’t playing.

While he hasn’t been as shut down as at Torino, his influence is glaring if he’s out. It’s unfortunate for Leonardo Bonucci to go down with another injury, and somebody will eventually leak that he dealt with something more severe than what has been reported so far this season since he has basically never been available, but at least it will prevent the coach from fielding a player that clearly isn’t fit just for his experience. Plus, Daniele Rugani has been surprisingly serviceable in the last instances he was called upon, even if he was facing physical opponents that used to give him fits.

Paul Pogba deserves a mention not just for the assist, which was incredibly valuable, but for his determination to come back this season. Nobody would have blamed him if he threw in the towel after the latest setback, maybe gotten a clean-up surgery, and decided to give himself a few months to gear up for 2023/2024. Despite all the physical problems, the baggage, and the fact that he can play only in short spurts, it’s still clear that he’s not an average Joe, and his class is very much there.

The Old Lady could and should punt this game and field a reserve-filled lineup, as a top-four finish is nearly secure after the result against La Dea. That would be the case if nothing were going on outside the pitch, though. A new point deduction is coming on May 22nd, obviously on a match day, because the sports justice has been very calculated in doing as much collateral damage as possible.

Unless something unexpected happens, but it appears that the lawyers have no more aces up their sleeve after the definitive convictions of all the previous apical executives, the team will drop below fourth place, but, since it should be inferior to the previous one, it could still salvage a spot in Europa League if they finished strong. UEFA could come down with a ban afterward, but that’s a matter for another day and is beyond anybody’s control. The road to the top continental competition goes through the second-tier cup. A potential date with José Mourinho and Paulo Dybala in a final is anxiety-inducing given the respective track records on those stages.

Probable Lineup

3-5-2: Perin; Gatti, Rugani, Danilo; Barbieri, Fagioli, Paredes, Miretti, Iling; Kean, Milik. 

Absences: Bonucci (thigh strain), De Sciglio (ACL tear), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear). 

Cremonese have long seemed headed for relegation, and they will still probably be unable to avoid the drop, but they have given themselves a puncher’s chance thanks to a decent late surge. They basically have to win every game and get a lot of help, but they aren’t completely doomed just yet.

They have spent the entire campaign in the red area, which takes its toll, so it’s noteworthy that they are still kicking. Hiring Massimiliano Alvini, who’s a sympathetic figure and played very stylish football in the lower leagues, turned out to be too big of a gamble due to his inexperience in the top flight, especially paired with a roster that’s not really up to snuff besides a pair of players.

They eventually handed the reins to the veteran Davide Ballardini, but the coaching change needed a couple of months to really show some effects. They never lacked grit and determination, but their defense has been too leaky, and their attack sputtered for too long for them to build any pace. They have done it recently and displayed signs of improvement on both ends.

They haven’t had much injury luck up front, as they have quality weapons, but they haven’t been able to use the same duo consistently, allowing it to grow organically. Cyriel Dessers came in with the expectations of carrying them after his heroics with Feyenoord, but he has had a rough impact with Serie A, and he’s often been in and out of the lineup with nagging issues.

David Okereke has been fine for his role, as he’s extremely quick and a good playmaker, but he too has dealt with a few physical problems. He was influential at Venezia last year. They had high hopes for his pairing with Dessers, but they rarely played together, and the results were mixed. Instead, the speedster has shown great chemistry with Daniel Ciofani, who’s an old-school bruiser and has shouldered their frontline as of late. They might be in a better spot had they turned to him sooner.

They have experimented with multiple schemes, eventually settling on a hybrid 4-2-3-1/3-5-2, with one center-back adapting to the defensive flank, a wing-back playing a few meters up the pitch, a box-to-box in the hole and another wide, and Okereke starting his actions from the left. It’s odd looking, but it has worked out and gives them balance and structure.

Alex Ferrari and Emmanuel Aiwu can play as right-backs, so Lorenzo Sernicola moves up, while Johan Vasquez can star as left-back, with Emanuele Valeri advancing, but that has mostly happened while the Nigerian attacker wasn’t available. Marco Benassi, Pablo Galdames, and Charles Pickel, who’s suspended for this one, can easily adapt to more dynamic roles. It’s a mishmash, but it makes some sense. It also allows Sernicola and Valeri to attack at will, and they are two of their most energetic and impactful contributors.

Other than Aiwu, who has had multiple blunders, their other center-backs have been okay, but the defense will go up a level if Vlad Chiriches finally manages to string together multiple starts in a row after battling a few muscular injuries. He and Luka Lochoshvili form an impressive duo on paper. Marco Carnesecchi is in a tough spot since he has to bat away a ton of shots in each game, but he still showed his worth and lived up to expectations. Atalanta would be correct in giving him the starting job, but it wouldn’t be surprising if a big team with an aging starter scooped him up and perhaps loaned him to a minnow for another season.

Their midfield has just enough creative juice to feed the attack when Soualiho Meité, Michele Castagnetti, and Galdames have a good day and aren’t run over by the enemies. That often happens, though, and they’ll miss Pickel’s aggressiveness and stamina. While it has become trendy for low-table teams to have proactive styles, their strategy is more typical, as they generally sit back and play the counter-attacking game, where Okereke and their wingbacks excel, and Ciofani and other players keep up just fine. They tend to modify their tactics and XI as the game progresses depending on what it requires, but that has rarely led to the consequences they hoped. For instance, they have often conceded after removing a midfielder or attacker to insert a defender and bunker up as they were content with the result.

Probable Lineup

4-2-3-1: Carnesecchi; Ferrari, Chiriches, Lochoshvili, Valeri; Meite, Castagnetti; Sernicola, Galdames, Okereke; Ciofani. 

Absences: Tsadjout (thigh strain), Dessers (tendon injury).