Two more matches against top sides, and two more losses for Juventus, although the displays were different. Playing at home and on the road makes a little too much difference: it’s understandable but shouldn’t happen in a team that fancies itself to be top-end. In hindsight, it would have been better to have the passion shown against Napoli, where the defeat was partially underserved, in the Inter clash. Instead, the side let one of the two seasonal objectives slip away without putting up much of a fight, which was discouraging.
One of the two contenders was bound to be left disappointed, but the Nerazzurri showed much more sense of urgency in the span of the two legs. The Old Lady eventually paid the price for not getting a better result at home, where they didn’t put pedal to the medal when they had the opportunity to, as they were in better shape physically and mentally a few weeks ago. Even though Wednesday’s opponents had well-documented woes in Serie A, their showings have generally been fine and their attitude on point. They have been hurt for the most part by fluky goals and lack of precision by their strikers. Instead, the litany of problems of the Bianconeri is a lot longer and varies in every bout, which makes them harder to solve and leads to believe there are serious flaws at the top.
It has been one of the weirdest seasons in the club’s history, and Massimiliano Allegri has been an impeccable leader during the first wave of calamities when Juventus faced the risk of being a relegation struggler if they didn’t put together a winning streak and they avoided that. But it had to do more with an emotional reaction, which he successfully stoked, than with the quality of the displays, which have been subpar for two years. The choral play is non-existent, and the offense simply hinges on the inventiveness and solo actions of a pair of players. There’s no plan b if they get shackled, and the squad rarely revs up.
Absences are no longer an excuse because Angel Di Maria and Federico Chiesa have been available for multiple matches. As is the case for Dusan Vlahovic, they aren’t put in position to succeed since they have to start actions way too distant from the box since the center of gravity of the team is too low, especially in challenging bouts. The tactical adjustments produce more confusion than anything of interest, and the pace is too often sloth-like, while many contributors would be in a much better spot with more frenzy.
While Sevilla are dangerous for their familiarity at the continental level, the bracket broke in Juventus’ favor, allowing them to go far without facing an English powerhouse or other super-duper teams. Therefore, their lack of competitiveness at the highest levels hasn’t reared its ugly head in Europa League just yet. Taking it home is the only way to partially salvage the campaign. Everybody quickly realized that the Bianconeri’s tally in Serie A is only temporary, and whatever they’ll accomplish will be for naught due to the upcoming sanctions. The hope is that it won’t take the entire summer to get there, but the distasteful feeling that will indeed be the case, adding insult to injury since it would freeze the transfer market strategies, is palpable.
The next two domestic fixtures should provide an opportunity to bounce back, but there’s no walk in the park in the Serie A, and the squad seems gassed. It might be time for a game with heavy rotation, like Milan did once or twice, rather than these limited alternations that don’t seem to benefit anybody. The Next Gen players are twiddling their thumbs since they missed the playoffs. It’s not the ideal scenario for youngsters, but a few centerpieces need a breather. Di Maria will get a forced one due to an ankle knock, further magnifying the offensive woes. The gaffer can go in a few directions to replace him, including going with two center-forwards since Vlahovic is available after a quick pit-stop midweek. Gleison Bremer, who looked terrible versus Inter, could get the day off to get right after a thigh issue. The formation could easily turn into a 4-3-3 if Chiesa does start as rumored.
3-5-2: Szczesny; Gatti, Danilo, Alex Sandro; Cuadrado, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Chiesa, Milik.
Absences: Di Maria (ankle contusion), Kean (thigh injury), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear).
Bologna might experience a lull since they don’t have much to fight for down the stretch because the season has gone better than expected. It wasn’t a given, as they could have headed in the other direction after the emotional and slightly controversial decision to sack Sinisa Mihajlovic. Thiago Motta wasn’t a lock to pan out since he’s a peculiar coach that needs his player to fully buy into his methods and schemes, which take time to gel. They won the gamble, and multiple great runs placed them at the edge of European contention.
The gaffer eventually settled on a malleable 4-3-3/4-2-3-1/4-5-1, which changes depending on the phases of the game and the position of a midfielder, either Lewis Ferguson or Nicolas Dominguez, that alternates between playing as a no.10 or box-to-box. Marko Arnautovic has missed a lot of time with multiple injuries, and they would have been dead in the water if it happened last year. Instead, they have been able to make up for his absence and the missing production in clever ways. In addition, since their tactics are free-flowing and dynamic, he might not be totally suitable. His prolonged absence led to adjustments that made them more unpredictable overall.
Joshua Zirkzee got more minutes but hasn’t truly exploited them just yet. He’s interesting since he combines sizes and technique, but he still looks pretty raw and hasn’t been particularly impactful. Nicola Sansone has been more effective as a false-nine and bagged key goals, but he’s out for this one due to a calf injury.
The alternative to having a big center-forward is utilizing Musa Barrow there, who’s one of the most mercurial players in the league. He can dominate matches with his constant motion and attempts from distance, but he can also just as easily disappear and try to take every opponent on, turning the ball over at will. The boss hasn’t totally been able to fix him, while he instead he did a number on Riccardo Orsolini, who had pretty much the same flaws but has been able to channel his skills and energy in making useful plays. On the other hand, he’s been dealing with a lingering injury, and his playing time has taken a hit because of that, even though he’s clearly their best attacker.
It took them a couple of months but they eventually recovered nicely from selling two cornerstones like Arthur Theate and Aaron Hickey. Jhon Lucumi has proven capable and offers solid guidance to Adama Soumaoro, who is occasionally unfocused. The pairing gives them plenty of muscularity in the back. Juventus loanee Andrea Cambiaso is having a fine campaign, even though he got hurt a couple of times. Motta toyed a lot with his versatility, since he can feature on both flanks and doesn’t mind running through the middle, de facto serving as a midfielder in certain situations.
Stefan Posch has been a revelation as a fullback, and they tilted their scheme to cater to him. He was supposed to be a center-back, but the manager doesn’t stick to labels and is not shy in inventing new roles. This was his most brilliant innovation, as the Austrian international is a force down the flank and major threat on set pieces. The coach did something similar with Michel Aebischer, who used to be a central midfielder but now stars more frequently as a winger. The results aren’t as brilliant as in his teammates’ case but, with Orsolini ailing, they would have been in trouble if they hadn’t unearthed this solution. Nikola Moro and Ferguson also saw some playing time there. In addition, they signed Georgios Kyriakopoulos in January, who can feature either as a fullback or winger, providing them with another versatile piece. He’s a great crosser and decent shooter and might move up in the formation if Cambiaso is ready to start.
Motta is now the belle of the ball in the wave of new-age coaches, and he deserves the praise. He avoided relegation with Spezia in a dire situation and worked wonders in Emilia. Their roster is fine but not markedly superior to multiple outfits currently below them in the standings. When the product is greater than the sum of its parts, a lot of the credit goes to the coach. Moreover, he has experience at the highest levels as a player, which never hurts, although he might come off as abrasive and too demanding in a locker room full of prima donnas. It’ll be interesting to see if a top team rolls the dice with him or if Bologna will enjoy him for another season. They are always a trap game because of their intensity and boldness.
4-2-3-1: Skorupski; Posch, Soumaoro, Lucumi, Cambiaso; Schouten, Dominguez; Orsolini, Ferguson, Kyriakopoulos; Barrow.
Arnautovic (foot injury), Sansone (calf strain), Soriano (knee sprain).