A Champions League elimination in that fashion is a proper gut-punch, also because it kind of came out of nowhere. The team seemed to have found their groove and, while they had inopportunely let the opponent hang around in the first leg, there were not many signals pointing toward an imminent disaster. Yet, it happened again, and Juventus are once again left wondering what went wrong, although it was different from the previous two instances.
The Old Lady never really pulled the strings against Olympique Lyonnais and Porto, while they were decently in control for most of this season’s Round of 16 games. It was not a matter of underestimating the opponents either, as it might have been the case in past editions. Maybe overconfidence was a slight factor, but not that big.
Juventus only partly fell victim to their atavistic problems tied to international competition. They tend to rear their ugly heads all too often, like, for instance, the glass jaw when things start going wrong or the fact that most of the positing trends transpiring in domestic play go awry in Europe. But the issues were more mundane and stemming from this brutal campaign rather than entrenched in the past.
The lack of production up front continues to be a problem. Dusan Vlahovic improved things, but it is tough to ask the strikers to be perfect when they just have a handful of opportunities in each fixture. The squad and the coach have major issues reading the various phases of the game and dictating when to press the issue and when to hold back. There were a few stretches along the 180 minutes where they could have broken through by raising the tempo, but they elected not to so do for unknown reasons. If you prefer waiting around for good things to happen rather than being proactive, you wind up on the wrong end of things more often than not. It is not true that bouts always get decided in their final stages.
It is undoubtedly a devastating look for Massimiliano Allegri, the management, the prestige of the club, and its finances. It is was a pipe dream to think that Juventus were serious contenders this season. Still, it was entirely fair to expect something better and a more graceful exit. Other than because of their familiarity with him, the bigwigs appointed the veteran manager because he was supposed to have the acumen and experience not to be outwitted in this kind of fixtures and erase the naivety of the last two years. Instead, he did not make much of a difference.
It is challenging, but it is paramount to quickly move past the disappointment. The coach kept the line-up choices close to the vest this time, other than saying that Arthur would start, which might not even necessarily be true. Manuel Locatelli is out with COVID-19, so whoever is in better shape between Federico Bernardeschi and Paulo Dybala will get the nod, and either Adrien Rabiot or Danilo will play centrally. Mattia Perin, Luca Pellegrini and Moise Kean have good chances to relieve the starters. Giorgio Chiellini might get a test run.
Juventus (4-4-2): Perin; Danilo, De Ligt, Rugani, Pellegrini; Cuadrado, Arthur, Rabiot, Bernardeschi; Vlahovic, Kean.
Absences: Chiesa (ACL tear), Bonucci, Alex Sandro (calf injuries), McKennie (foot fracture), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear), Locatelli (COVID-19).
Salernitana underwent a proper revolution in January, as they finally got a new owner, which brought along a new management and coach. They have turned the roster upside down. Their performances have improved significantly, however victory has continued to elude them.
At least they picked up points through multiple draws. They have lost just once in the last six matches, sharing the spoils with Spezia, Genoa, Milan, Bologna, and Sassuolo. They have stopped pretty good teams too. On the other hand, most of the positive results have come at home and their only loss in the past month was an ugly 0-5 romp at the hands of Inter in San Siro.
They are definitely peskier, and they are unlikely to give up considering the character of the new boss. Taming them might take time and patience, and especially proper intensity, considering that they usually came out guns blazing. However, they continue to have visible holes despite the January overhaul. The results of the two games that were originally postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak, against Udinese and Venezia, will be pivotal for their chances to avoid relegation. They look doomed right now, but they would be back in the thick of things if they got four points out of those.
Nicola has devised some sort of 4-4-2/4-2-3-1, but it is not a wide formation as they play with one true winger, Simone Verdi, who likes to move around a lot. Grigoris Kastanos and Federico Bonazzoli gravitate between the space behind Milan Djuric and the right flank, not allowing defenders to have clear reference points. The striker has been their best performer overall so far. Bagging seven goals for a team that created so little offensively for so long is impressive. Moreover, he has routinely missed time with injuries, and they did not commit to him being their go-to guy until recently.
Djuric and Bonazzoli complement each other exquisitely. The former takes up a lot of real estate and keeps centre-backs busy with his massive frame, while the latter exploits the creases and is a very crafty finisher in the box.
Verdi had a blistering start after joining, but he has not been as effective in the following outings. He is one of those players that fare better the more touches he gets. He is a menace on set pieces, but his play has left a little to be desired in other areas. He and Kastanos form an intriguing duo of playmakers and shooters. Franck Ribery is back for this one, but he has had very little continuity due to physical problems. They might be better off using him like Diego Perotti, who plays about 20 minutes per game, but at a high level.
Their attack got better in the previous window, thanks to Verdi but primarily due to the new strategy, and not necessarily because of the newcomers. Djuric, Bonazzoli, and Kastanos were already here, and Lys Mousset and Mikael have not unseated them, and their cameos have not been flashy.
The same can not be said about the defense, even though it changed almost completely. They brought in a new goalie, Luigi Sepe, two center-backs, Federico Fazio and Radu Dragusin, and a right-back, Pasquale Mazzocchi. However, they remain one of the most combustible rearguards in the league. Not because of blunders, even though the ex-Roma veteran’s slowpoke pace has hurt them at times. It is often too exposed for reasons that are not entirely clear, as the formation is not that offensive-minded. Their offside trap is daring given the traits of their contributors. Maybe the filter by the midfield is inadequate, but they have tenacious players there, like the two Coulibalys and Ederson.
They will probably be a pain in the neck in the first quarter of an hour, and Juventus will have to match their fire in the early going to avoid being blindsided. Considering their energetic style and the fact that it is sandwiched between a Champions League game and the international break, there are all the makings of a trap game. Still, they were manhandled the last time they visited a top team, so taking care of business might not be too challenging if performing with the juice and attention.
They have recovered some pieces as Mazzocchi is back from an ankle sprain and Ederson will not miss time despite leaving the last match early. It is still possible their gaffer will bring them off the bench, though. They have a couple of doubts in the back too, as Norbert Gyomber and Matteo Ruggeri are in contention to start.
Salernitana (4-2-3-1): Belec; Mazzocchi, Dragusin, Fazio, Ranieri; Radovanovic, Lassana Coulibaly; Kastanos, Bonazzoli, Verdi; Djuric.
Absences: Mousset (ankle sprain), Schiavone (thigh strain), Strandberg (sports hernia), Veseli (muscle fatigue).