Juan Cuadrado gets his groove back as Juventus dance past Internazionale
Juan Cuadrado just wants an excuse to cut a rug. Reflecting on the importance of a good celebration during an interview for La Repubblica last week, Juventus’s Colombian winger observed that “with our national team, we always say that we only score goals so that we’ll have a reason to do the dance we’ve been practising. It works, though, right?”
In principle, perhaps. In practice, Cuadrado had not given himself many opportunities to show off his moves lately. Since returning to Juventus in the summer, he had found the net just once in 22 games.
There are mitigating circumstances to consider; almost half of those appearances were made off the bench, and a handful of the starts he did make were at wing-back (the rest further forward, on the right wing). Besides, Cuadrado has never been a particularly prolific player. Now 28 years old, he has only once hit double figures in a season – back at Fiorentina in 2013-14.
And yet, he has shown an aptitude for popping up with goals at pivotal moments for Juventus. It was his 93rd-minute strike against Torino that seemed to turn the tide of their entire last season, snatching a win from a derby that looked destined for a draw.
At the time, Juventus were foundering in the bottom half of Serie A, with a meagre 12 points from 10 games. Their previous match had ended in defeat at Sassuolo. Morale was on the floor, and we cannot say for certain how they might have responded to another setback.
What we do know is that Cuadrado’s strike kicked off an extraordinary run of 25 wins from the next 26 league games, carrying his team to its fifth-straight Scudetto. That goal – together with others against Bayern Munich, Fiorentina and Frosinone – must at least have been in the back of Juventus directors’ minds as they weighed up whether to bring Cuadrado back from Chelsea after his loan expired in the summer. Well, that, and his irrepressible enthusiasm.
The Bianconeri did not necessarily feel that they needed Cuadrado. They had signed Dani Alves to alternate with Stephan Lichtsteiner on the right of Massimiliano Allegri’s anticipated 3-5-2 formation, but the Colombian himself was desperate to return to a club where he felt happy and well-integrated. Juventus finally cut a deal with Chelsea for a three-year loan on the last day of August.
“I did everything I could to get back to Juventus,” said Cuadrado soon after returning. “Thanks to God I am here. It was moving to hear the roar from the fans at J-Stadium and see Curva … I am truly very happy.”
When Cuadrado struggled to make it into this season’s starting XI, however, reports quickly emerged claiming that he was unhappy. He was seen scooting out of training at Vinovo after learning that he had not been called up for a match against Cagliari. Juventus were forced to respond by stating that he was dealing with private family issues.
Cuadrado finally began to break back into the team in late September, and within a month had popped up with another crucial goal – a brilliant solo effort that allowed Juventus to steal a scarcely merited 1-0 win from their Champions League group game away to Lyon. But it was not until last month that he found a fixed role in Allegri’s starting XI.
Following a limp defeat at Fiorentina, Allegri resolved to find a way to put his five greatest attacking talents – Gonzalo Higuaín, Paulo Dybala, Miralem Pjanic, Mario Mandzukic and Cuadrado – all on the pitch at the same time. The formation would be a 4-2-3-1, with the Colombian on the right wing.
The gamble paid off handsomely. Juventus beat Lazio, Milan and Sassuolo in consecutive games – scoring twice inside the opening 25 minutes on each occasion. In switching up their personnel, they had also succeeded in finding the aggression that had been missing. The Italian media enthused about the potential of this upgraded ‘Five Star Juventus’.
Sunday night’s game against Internazionale, though, would be a test of a different order. Not just for the historical weight of this fixture, the Derby d’Italia, but because the Nerazzurri themselves were in the midst of a great revival. Prior to a midweek Coppa Italia defeat against Lazio, they had won nine matches in a row.
The Inter manager, Stefano Pioli, had already impressed by bringing cohesion and commitment to a group of players who had appeared to lack both qualities during Frank de Boer’s unhappy spell at the helm. But on Sunday he demonstrated his tactical savvy as well, rearranging Inter into a 3-5-2 that provided his team with extra cover in marshalling Higuaín but still left room to hit out aggressively on the counter.
The consequence was a hugely entertaining first half, played with great tempo and quality. Inter dared to throw men forwards, and came close to a lead on several occasions. Roberto Gagliardini swept a shot just over the bar, Mauro Icardi sent a flick just wide of the far post, and João Mário left Gigi Buffon blowing out his cheeks with a drilled effort that just barely failed to sneak inside the left upright.
Juventus, though, were just as threatening at the other end. First Dybala tested Samir Handanovic with a scissor-kick, and then he looped one of his trademark curling shots onto the crossbar. Inter’s keeper was called on again to push a Miralem Pjanic free-kick onto the woodwork.
And then, along came Cuadrado. There was less than a minute left to play in the first-half when Pjanic’s corner from the left was cut out by an Inter player and headed away to just beyond the D. Cuadrado was waiting to meet it with a sensational, violent drive that rocketed straight past Handanovic and into the corner of the net.
At last, Cuadrado had his excuse to boogie. He slid on his knees over to a nearby cameraman, shook his shoulders and began to groove. This was his first league goal in almost nine months, but a strike this good almost felt worthy of that wait.
It certainly satisfied Juventus, who held on to win 1-0. Cuadrado’s goal had changed the complexion of the match, allowing the hosts to sit back and defy Inter to break them down. Pioli’s team lacked the nous to do so. Despite seeing more of the ball, they looked more likely to concede on the break than to find an equaliser.
Instead, with grim inevitability, they allowed their frustrations to boil over, Perisic talking his way into an injury-time red card. Mauro Icardi was fortunate to avoid one after kicking a ball in the direction of referee Nicola Rizzoli.
Inter did have some legitimate grievances. They had a pair of strong penalty shouts turned down, and manager Stefano Pioli was not wrong to point out at the end that “episodes like this make the difference”. It is also true, though, that his players’ loss of composure could prove even more damaging to Inter’s ultimate goal of Champions League qualification. Both Perisic and Icardi have since been handed two-match suspensions.
As for Juventus, they just keep on rolling. Their home winning streak in Serie A now stands at 28 matches, but this one was far harder-fought than most. This was a day to be grateful for that decision to bring Cuadrado back from Chelsea. And most definitely a day for dancing.
Results: Atalanta 2-0 Cagliari, Bologna 1-7 Napoli, Chievo 0-0 Udinese, Empoli 1-1 Torino, Genoa 0-1 Sassuolo, Juventus 1-0 Inter, Milan 0-1 Sampdoria, Palermo 1-0 Crotone, Pescara 2-6 Lazio. Tuesday: Roma-Fiorentina.
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