Arkadiusz Milik knew the penalty but still committed the crime, ripping off his shirt and throwing it in the air as he headed towards the Juventus supporters behind the goal. They came tumbling down the stand towards him, delirious and disbelieving. In the 91st minute, their team had won 2-1 at home against Salernitana. Now, in the 95th, Milik had scored to put them 3-2 ahead.
Come back worth canceling. Milik was shown a yellow card 10 minutes earlier, so his celebration would earn him a red. Even after the referee, Matteo Marcenaro, showed him, the striker continued to send five team-mates on his way towards the tunnel.
Salernitana may not be glamorous opponents – a team that spent most of last season in the relegation zone – but Juventus needed this. They had collected just two wins from their first five Serie A games, before being beaten by Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. It is thought that this was the season when they returned to the forefront of Italian football. Massimiliano Allegri said in July that his team had a “duty” to win the Scudetto.
Milik’s goal felt like an assist, Juventus recovering from two goals down, rediscovering their defining characteristic: the ability to win when they didn’t deserve it. And then, they were removed via VAR review.
Marcenaro was sent to the monitor and film was shown of Leonardo Bonucci behind the Salernitana defense and Milik heading over from a corner. The Juventus player tried, unsuccessfully, to make contact. In Marcenaro’s interpretation, Bonucci was interfering with the play. This is up for debate, as the ball already appeared to be beyond goalkeeper Luigi Sepe. It was less controversial that this camera angle was wrong – Antonio Candreva, who moved out towards the corner flag and was playing everyone inside, completely missed.
One controversy became submerged in the next. A bench-clearing scuffle resulted in further red cards for Juventus’ Juan Cuadrado and Salernitana’s Federico Fazio, as well as Allegri himself. None of them could serve their suspensions as unhappily as Milik: they were sent off for celebrating a wrongly disallowed goal. He posted a video showing Candreva’s position on his social media channels on Sunday, saying he had “no words”.
The Polish striker has been a bright note in this disappointing start to the season for Juventus, joining on loan from Marseille at the end of the transfer window and scoring in each of his previous two league appearances. He knows he has had mixed success since leaving Napoli to join the French club last year, fruitful patches interspersed with dry runs and nagging injuries.
He is seen as a backup to Dusan Vlahovic, another tall and muscular No. 9 who can fill a similar role, Milik’s fast start could increase calls for the two to play together. Despite scoring four goals in his first four league games, and having another goal disallowed for offside on Sunday, Vlahovic has often looked isolated in attack.
Allegri had appealed for patience in his pre-match press conference, reminding reporters that Paul Pogba, Ángel Di María and Federico Chiesa were all injured and insisting that a whole new season would start after the World Cup. Juventus won five of nine league titles in a row during his previous tenure, but he didn’t always get off to a fast start in those seasons, either. In 2015-16, they picked up five points from their opening six games, but finished on 91.
Still, there are concerns among supporters. Allegri’s re-hiring last summer was supposed to return to the “just win” mentality of the 2010s, abandoning the idealism that led the club to hire Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo. As Allegri repeated: “We don’t need to be nice, pleasant losers, but unpleasant winners.” Fail to win, however, and you’re left with the worst of both worlds.
The lack of enthusiasm for this team was evident from the empty seats at the Allianz Stadium. Salernitana’s travel support provided a contrast. Officially 1,300 packed out the away section, but there are many others who showed their loyalty as their team roared to the front early.
Salernitana had never in their history had a two-goal advantage at half-time in a Serie A match, but this was richly deserved. Again and again they caught Juventus out with long balls, and a right-to-left pass from Dylan Bronn found Pasquale Mazzocchi, who made a triple stepover that froze Weston McKennie before whipping in a cross for Candreva to score at the back post . .
The second came from the penalty spot, Krzysztof Piatek replacing in injury time in the first half. The same striker deserved a chance when his shot hit the arm of Gleison Bremer after playing more directly down the right.
Bremer got Juventus back into the game with a thumping header at the start of the second half, but Salernitana did not wilt. The hosts were rattled and scrambling but were still on track until Tonny Vilhena awarded them a penalty in the 91st minute following a clumsy challenge from Tonny Vilhena. Bonucci’s effort was deflected by Sepe but the Juventus player did well to find the rebound.
Then came Milik’s header, mistakes in the VAR booth and red cards galore. By the time the dust settled, both teams may have considered it a missed opportunity. Juventus were wronged, but Salernitana came close to a famous victory.
It feels a world away from where Salernitana was at the end of 2021, when 16 fans made a 1,000-mile round trip to attend a match canceled due to Covid. At the time, they were upside down and on the verge of being thrown out of the league due to the conflict of interest they created by sharing an owner with Lazio.
The situation was finally resolved with Daniele Iervolino taking over, before hiring relegation escape specialist Davide Nicola as manager. Salernitana collected more points from the next 14 games than from the first 23 and reached safety with one to spare.
This season they are aiming higher. After falling out with Salernitana’s highly-acclaimed sporting director Walter Sabatini, Iervolino was replaced by Morgan De Sanctis and began a squad overhaul. Fifteen players have been added, for an outlay of more than €40m. Nicola was retained and given the opportunity to show that he can do more than a rescue job.
So far, results have been impressive. Salernitana’s only loss was against Roma on the opening weekend. Heading into Sunday’s game, they may have better possession stats and more shots on goal than their opponents.
New people are coming in fast. Piatek was making his first start, but his strike partner Boulaye Dia already has three goals and two assists. Giulio Maggiore, a 24-year-old signed from Spezia, more than held his own in the midfield battle with Argentina international Leandro Paredes.
“I think this was two lost points for us,” Piatek said after the final whistle. Salernitana were lucky not to lose, but disappointed not to win at the same time.