Juventus’ win in its Champions League second round match against Celtic resulted in a case of sour grapes from a majority of British football fans on social media.
Antonio Conte’s side was solid in its 3-0 win in Glasgow but most Scottish and even English fans were quick to focus on some controversial incidents. This resulted in stereotypical comments on websites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Instead of focusing on how well Gianluigi Buffon played between the sticks and Claudio Marchisio’s display in midfield, there was too much focus on Juve wing-back Stephan Lichtsteiner and his tussles with Celtic forward Gary Hooper.
Fans resulting to stereotypes resembled the style of football Celtic played. Their view on Italian football is dated and so is the philosophy of teams from the British Isles. The stereotypes and football philosophy are at least 50 years old.
The Italian giants weren’t at their very best but they attacked when they needed to. The bianconeri did enough to win, which was the most Italian aspect of Juve’s display. Against a stronger team, that approach could backfire but the Italians dealt well with most of Celtic’s crosses.
Juve’s approach was an old one but it can work sparingly. In other matches under Conte, the bianconeri have showed they can attack for 90 minutes and play better football than Juve teams of the past.
Buffon made some good saves but Marchisio was Juve’s man of the match. If Alessandro Matri’s goal didn’t stand, the midfielder made sure that the ball was in the net for the first. He scored the second goal after a twist in the box and low shot and created the third for Mirko Vucinic.
Matri has been in good form for Juve recently and he kept it up in the CL. He read Federico Peluso’s long-ball better than Nigerian defender Efe Ambrose and his shot went over the line before one of the defenders cleared the ball. He also assisted in Marchisio’s goal with a one-touch pass.
Celtic didn’t entirely follow the British stereotype by the book but the predictability was still present. Neil Lennon used the 4-5-1 formation as opposed to the 4-4-2 and his players did keep the ball on the ground instead of hitting hopeful long-balls.
One of the main problems in Celtic’s play was that there was too much emphasis on wing-play, a common trait of British teams. Full-backs Mikael Lustig and Emilio Izaguirre played well for Celtic but their crosses didn’t put Buffon, Barzagli and co under serious pressure.
It was evident that Greek striker Georgios Samaras was a loss for the Scottish club. His height was missing as well as his work ethic and technical skills. He could have given Leonardo Bonucci a hard time or if he played on the left-wing, Lichtsteiner might have struggled.
Lennon’s men rarely attacked through the middle. Serbian-Australian playmaker Tom Rogic wasn’t included in Celtic’s CL squad but come next season, Lennon should consider including him. Rogic is young but he has flair and can be as great as Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano and Harry Kewell.
If Celtic missed Samaras and some unpredictability, what the Scots didn’t need was a defender still feeling jetlagged after the African Cup of Nations. Ambrose was out of sorts, failing to score from a header and being at fault for two of Juve’s goals.
Despite Celtic’s shortcomings, that hasn’t stopped British fans for labelling the Italian team as ‘cheats’. If Juve’s effective display alienated them, then two particular incidents caused a stir. The man-marking by Juve was clearly not to Celtic’s taste.
Gary Hooper marked Buffon during a corner in the first half, which was a clever tactic by the forward. Potentially, he could have prevented the Juve keeper from trying to catch the high ball or make a save.
Lichtsteiner was quick to react to it, getting in between Hooper and Buffon and opened his arms wide open. The Swiss defender constantly shoved the English forward, who tried to get in Buffon’s way and Spanish referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco gave both players yellow cards.
In the second half, Simone Padoin limited Scott Brown’s presence in the penalty box during a corner. The manner in which Padoin marked him resembled a rugby tackle but his arms were a few centimetres away from Brown’s body. Despite not physically grabbing him, enough was done to put him off.
These two incidents provoked British fans to write stereotypes about Italian football. Former England international Michael Owen said on Twitter that Juve resorted to “dirty Italian tricks”. The man-marking was over-excessive but Juve didn’t score three goals because of dirty tricks.
Owen might have also failed to take into account that Lichtsteiner, the player who caused the most outrage for the British fans, is from Switzerland. Would Owen dare to make a generalisation about the Swiss based on Lichtsteiner’s excessive marking?
If it wasn’t the marking that angered the British fans, they believed that Juve was outplayed, especially in the first half. You couldn’t convince UK members of Facebook’s “Soccer Memes” page otherwise.
The Scots might have had more possession but they weren’t very dangerous in the final third. Buffon’s saves were mostly routines for him. Kris Commons had Celtic’s best chance in the first half with a bicycle kick and in the second half, the weak Ambrose effort was the closest the Scots had to scoring.
Scotland wants to be independent from the United Kingdom. If Scotland was already independent from the rest of the UK, would the English be so critical of the Italians? Maybe they would only for the sake of being anti-Italian.
The Scots and the English had contrasting styles in the 19th Century. Scottish players passed the ball around whereas the English were like rugby players, running past players with the ball, heading towards the goal.
Their styles have been similar for decades and the English fans are hurt by the loss. Andy Murray is a Briton when he wins in the tennis and a Scot when he loses but Celtic’s defeat against Juve was seen as a loss for British football.
Celtic’s loss confirmed that the simplistic ideals in British football do not ensure success and dominance. Being tough and playing fast is good but coaches need greater tactical nous and players need better ball control. Having technical skill doesn’t mean you have to showboat.
Lennon showed against Barcelona that he can make his players defend for the majority of the game. Juve took an early lead on Tuesday night but Celtic did start attacking from the first whistle. They decided to take the game to Juve, which ended up backfiring.
Complaints have been made about the referee from the British but how about what the Celtic players did to the Juve players? Brown fouled Pirlo and nearly squashed him. Forrest slid in and fouled Pirlo after he passed the ball. How about Wanyama’s incidents with Arturo Vidal?
If the Celtic players and staff still see the bianconeri as cheats because they are Italian and because of the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, why don’t they ask UEFA for French referee Stephane Lannoy to take charge? He usually favours non-Italian teams when he referees against Italian sides.
There is one more leg to play but Celtic doesn’t have the personnel that Chelsea had when the Blues overcame a deficit against Napoli last season. Juve could be a stereotypical Italian side and close the match or do what they do best: play football for 90 minutes.
Celtic will need to attack Juve in Turin. The Scots will give their all. Celtic Park provided a great atmosphere and Juventus Stadium should do the same. Juve is leading on aggregate and if Juve remain ahead after two legs, it will be a triumph for the intelligent approach of the Italians over the simple British way.
No stereotype can cover that up.