European football has been the big bugaboo for Juventus this season, and the latest dud came at the most inopportune time, as the team had turned the corner in previous fixtures. Nothing is lost, and the Bianconeri can easily prevail in Nantes, but a large home victory would have made things easier. Instead, the poor result will most likely affect the next two Serie A matches, as it will be necessary to exert extra energy to qualify. It’d be a massive disappointment if the Old Lady didn’t even make it past the playoff after stressing the importance of Europa League ad nauseam.

There was some bad luck, and that final call was controversial, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that the team once again decelerated after getting an early lead, which has happened countless times. It’s particularly damning in a two-legged clash, which could have been settled in the first one by having the right amount of energy and determination for a good hour. Instead, the Bianconeri started to cruise control too early, maybe convinced they could hold the opponents in check. The goal was fluky but not underserved. Afterward, they laid siege with rare ferocity, but it wasn’t enough.

The inconsistency not only match-to-match but also during the same contest has remained unfixed throughout the campaign and seemingly affects every player. There’s really nobody that has been constantly great in every bout. Even Danilo and Manuel Locatelli, arguably the most solid contributors, have had some so-so displays. The effectiveness of the wingers and the forwards comes and goes depending on the overall pace and their form. The defense, while generally stingy, can come apart at any moment and doesn’t exude a ton of confidence despite its decent number. Maybe it’s a matter of coaching or lack of familiarity, as the XI has constantly changed due to injuries, rotation, and whatnot, but the team and the tactic still largely feel like a work in progress. That shouldn’t be the case seven months into the season.

There was little doubt, but using Angel Di Maria and Federico Chiesa together works, no matter the scheme or which role the latter covers, but it’s not a remedy to cure all ills. Furthermore, using the Italian starlet as a wing-back is unnecessarily burdensome for him and the rest of the formation, which has to adjust to his defensive shortcomings. It’s puzzling that it was the move in meaningful matches rather than easier ones. 4-3-3 was right there with that lineup Thursday. Filip Kostic has to rest sometimes, and Juventus pay the price for not addressing the wing-back positions in January, but Samuel Iling-Junior has proven perfectly capable any time he has been called upon.

The former Fiorentina star should either play as a second-striker or in a trident, and the 3-4-2-1 seen against the Viola should be the way to go when both attackers are fit enough to start because the midfield is already a weak spot under normal circumstances, even more so when depleted. Leandro Paredes can’t find a way out of his struggles, which impacts everybody else. At this point, the less he plays, the better, although he can’t be cast aside entirely due to lack of alternatives. It may be time to dig somebody else out of the Next Gen squad for depth purposes because it’s getting dire. Granted that the past month was hectic and unconventional with all the turmoil off the pitch and in the front office, but Weston McKennie should have been replaced. Enzo Barrenechea made the squad, and hopefully, the game will break right for him to get minutes.

Chiesa is out due to fatigue, while Gleison Bremer because of a suspension. Leonardo Bonucci isn’t ready to start, so Daniele Rugani will quarterback the defense. Moise Kean has been announced as a starter, but it remains to be seen whether in place of Dusan Vlahovic or Angel Di Maria. Mattia Perin will man the sticks.

Probable Lineup

Juventus: 3-5-2 Perin; Danilo, Rugani, Alex Sandro; Cuadrado, Locatelli, Paredes, Rabiot, Kostic; Kean, Vlahovic. 

Absences: Bremer (suspension), Chiesa (fatigue), Pogba (knee surgery), Milik (thigh strain), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear). 


Spezia pulled the plug on Luca Gotti at the first sign of troubles, as Hellas Verona going on a run created panic down low in sides that previously thought to be in a comfortable position. They surely have been poor lately, but that was mostly the product of several absences. They lost to Roma and Napoli, on top of Bologna, in their ongoing sticky patch, and then the two-goal lead they squandered against Empoli did the boss in.

He probably gets penalized again for his quiet demeanor, as teams prefer a rah-rah guy that can galvanize the squad in trying times when they start slipping, while he’s more of a pure tactician. It had happened at Udinese too. He might be one of those coaches more suitable for the top half of the standings than the bottom one. He probably could have been able to turn it around if given more time, as they should get some pieces back soon.

They haven’t had M’Bala Nzola in recent games, and he’s basically three-thirds of their offense. They don’t have a real replacement, and they had perfected how to feed him and exploit his characteristics, and he had repaid them in spades. They signed Eldor Shomurodov late in the January window, but he’s not a physical center-forward, and he hadn’t played consistently in months. He, Emmanuel Gyasi, and Daniele Verde can deliver on their day, but neither is a consistent goal poacher, and they look toothless sans him. The marksman will make his return to the squad list in this one, but he’s a long shot to be in the XI.

In addition, Simone Bastoni, who’s a big weapon with his dynamism, shooting, and crossing out of the midfield, is shelved with a meniscus tear, and his substitute Szymon Zurkowski got hurt right after joining. Emil Holm, who was a standout in the first half of the season, has been a shell of himself lately due to a sports hernia, the same injury Dusan Vlahovic dealt with. His contribution inevitably took a nosedive, considering that his style is predicated on energy, stamina, and continuous sprints. They might have finally decided to shut him down for a to let him heal. Juventus would be wise wrong to target him to succeed Juan Cuadrado, and he probably wouldn’t be too expensive.

The management underestimated the situation as well, as they cashed in on Jakub Kiwior during the winter. The free was proper, but the defense took a big hit. They signed Przemyslaw Wisniewski in a corresponding move. He was shining in Serie B but has little top-league experience and has been in Italy for just a few months. He hasn’t been great in his first showings.

Their woes are very understandable, considering that they couldn’t lean on four of their main linchpins in the last month or so for various reasons. They were unable to recalibrate their team and find new certainties. They turned to a caretaker manager, Gotti’s lead assistant Fabrizio Lorieri, so there shouldn’t be dramatic shifts in this one. The next manager will have trouble moving on from 3-5-2 too, which is the scheme the roster has been built for. However, they have versatile pieces that give them flexibility depending on which posture they wish to have.

If Holm cannot start, they can either advance Kelvin Amian, who’s at his best as a braccetto, but only if they trust Wisniewski enough, or field Ethan Ampadu in the back three, as he can star there or in the midfield. They deployed Gyasi wide in the past game, which is the way to deploy all their best players, but it’d be an aggressive message for a tilt of this magnitude. Salva Ferrer would be a natural choice, but he has never gotten the nod recently. Verde bagged a great brace against Empoli and should stay in the XI, but it remains to be seen who his partner will be. Kevin Agudelo can also play up front, and he’s at his best when he’s given the freedom to pick his spots, but they don’t have many options in the midfield.

Whatever they choose, they’ll likely be more muscular than in recent outings, and they are usually fierier at home. They have always played Juventus tight in recent encounters, and this could easily be a trap game since it’s sandwiched between pivotal clashes that may distract the Bianconeri.

Probable Lineup

Spezia: 3-5-2 Dragowski; Amian, Caldara, Nikolaou; Gyasi, Ampadu, Bourabia, Agudelo; Verde, Shomurodov. 

Absences: Esposito (suspension), Bastoni (meniscus tear), Holm (groin injury), Moutinho (ankle sprain), Zurkowski (back hernia), Zoet (PCL tear), Sala (thigh injury).