All smiles again: Ronaldo secures Pirlo crucial first trophy as Juventus coach

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In Italian football, nothing is overlooked. Everything is analysed. Even smiles.

On Sunday night, Cristiano Ronaldo's wry reaction to seeing Juventus fall 2-0 behind to Inter was deemed a cause for concern by some.

"I didn’t like his smile," former Bianconeri midfielder Alessio Tacchinardi told the Gazzetta dello Sport on Tuesday. "It seemed like a sarcastic grimace of surrender."

On Wednesday night, though, Ronaldo was grinning from ear to ear, as he celebrated Juve's Supercoppa Italiana triumph over Napoli.

His happiness was understandable, too.

After an ineffective display at San Siro, Ronaldo made the crucial breakthrough against Napoli, his predatory instincts once again on show as he pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area to put Juve 1-0 up midway through the second half in Reggio Emilia before Alvaro Morata sealed victory in the dying seconds.

It was not Ronaldo's smile which drew most attention afterwards, though. This time around, observers were struck by his coach's joy at the full-time whistle.

The normally poker-faced Andrea Pirlo was beaming after the game, and with good cause. The first trophy of his career could well prove the most important.

Pirlo was under mounting pressure going into the game. Sunday's loss to Inter has left Juve 10 points behind Serie A leaders AC Milan, meaning the Old Lady's bid for a 10th consecutive Scudetto is in jeopardy.

Serie A table GFX

Also, it was not so much the result at the Giuseppe Meazza that caused such concern, it was the nature of the performance.

Captain Giorgio Chiellini conceded that Juve had been "outplayed in every area of the field", and "didn't win a single duel". Pirlo himself admitted that his side "couldn't have played worse".

He insisted, though, that the backlash was excessive, the criticism over the top. He was confident that his team would reply in the best possible fashion against Napoli, and they did.

They undoubtedly benefited from some good fortune. A corner was deflected into Ronaldo's path for the opener, while Lorenzo Insigne missed a third successive penalty against Juve, this time dragging the ball wide despite sending Wojciech Szczesny the wrong way.

However, Juve had more of the ball, and they used it better too. They also suffered from their own setbacks, with Federico Chiesa forced off through injury midway through the first half, robbing Pirlo of a potential matchwinner.

Of course, Ronaldo remains arguably the most decisive footballer in the world today, so it was no surprise to see him once again step up to the plate in a final. He deserves his prominent place in Thursday's headlines for a ninth goal in his last 10 finals at club level.

However, there were other key contributions.

Arthur had arguably his best game since joining from Barcelona in midfield, while Szczesny made two hugely important saves from Hirving Lozano: one midway through the first half when the game was still scoreless; and the other just moments before Morata's breakaway goal.

It was Juan Cuadrado who created the killer second goal, which was truly remarkable. The Colombia international had only been cleared to play on the afternoon of the game, after testing negative for Covid-19 following a spell in self-isolation.

Pirlo had not expected Cuadrado to last the 90 minutes and yet there he was, in injury time, surging out of defence before teeing up Morata for a tap-in.

Juan Cuadrado Juventus Assists GFX

Perhaps we should not have been surprised. Cuadrado has arguably been Juve's most consistent performer this season.

He now has nine assists in all competitions – no other defender in Europe's 'Big Five' leagues has more than six – and has also been fantastic defensively.

There were plenty of positives for Pirlo, then, and he will be heartened by Ronaldo, who has now netted 32 goals in his last 32 appearances in all competitions, immediately declaring his belief that the Scudetto remains within Juve's reach.

The former Italy international will know that there is still work to be done; still issues that need to be addressed. The problems exposed by Inter have not suddenly gone away, particularly the imbalance in midfield, but he is right when he says his work has been hindered by injuries and illness.

"Since the start of the season we’ve been trying to play this fluid style of football but, unfortunately, every week someone is missing, so it’s difficult for us to keep the same line-up with any regularity," he reasoned.

"After the game at Inter, we didn’t deserve that much criticism considering all we’ve done this season, so I am glad they got this trophy tonight."

He certainly should be. It may 'only' be the Supercoppa Italiana, but silverware is the only currency they bother counting in Turin.

Pirlo has indeed been hired to bring more panache to Juve's play but, at the end of the day, winning really is all that matters to the Bianconeri.

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Indeed, it was telling that club president Andrea Agnelli took to social media after the game to point out that the Old Lady has now lifted at least one trophy in each of the past 10 years.

"Not bad," the club president wrote, "But the best trophy will always be the next one."

Still, the Supercoppa will definitely do for now. At the very least, it has put a smile back on Ronaldo's face. And the right kind of smile too.