Captain, Giorgio Chiellini, summed it up perfectly, his post-game comments after the late defeat to Manchester United could realistically have been the title for this. He told the collection of journalists “we have been threatening a mess like this for a while”. There isn’t a Juve fan in the world who can disagree with that and even before Alex Sandro’s own goal or Juan Mata’s excellent free kick, the game was playing out just as we all thought, and feared.
The stage had been set for Juve to proudly stride in to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 with four wins from four games and a minimum fuss; Cristiano Ronaldo’s delightful strike just after the hour was a deserved reward for a display of ruthless efficiency, and while it had taken Juve a little longer than usual to move up through the gears, United had offered little to suggest they would be the ones leaving the Allianz Stadium with the three points. However, the second goal never came as the home side failed to kill the game off and subsequently gift-wrapped a victory for the visitors. Juventini have seen all this before, too often, and now twice in the last three weeks.
Time and again over the last 18 months Juve have proven to be masters of their own downfall, their shockingly deft inability to kill teams off when they’re in the ascendancy is seriously holding Juve back from being a truly world-class team and last night’s disintegration is the last straw.
We can go back to last season, and it’s no exaggeration to say we could go back even further, and see a few examples of Juve’s ineffectiveness. Last season’s home game with Internazionale saw the away side visit Turin with an almost perfect winning record, Juve produced a very stern and unrelenting display by managing 19 shots on goal but ultimately failing to capitalise as the goalless draw was both frustrating and undeserved for either side. There have also, even more irritatingly, been several examples of this over nonchalance against smaller sides in Serie A. Last season Crotone and SPAL gained a point from Juve, while the worst side to have ever played in Italy’s top division, lovable pantomime team, Benevento, despite failing to win any of their first 18 games, lead Juve at halftime. Juve would go on to have 27 shots on goal and 63% possession, but only managed a 2-1 win at home. The away match was a lot closer than it should’ve been as a laboured and soulless display, along with two Paulo Dybala penalties, earned Juve a 4-2 win. A win, yes, but Benevento should have been put away with a minimum of effort as noted by several Sports Betting Communities such as Betting.com.
This season, footballing powerhouses Sassuolo, Parma and Frosinone have been deserving of more than the defeats they eventually suffered, only marginally because of their own play but also because of Juve’s complete lack of a killer instinct. The warning shot of the impending full-blown, big game collapse was only a few weeks ago against Genoa. 21 shots on goal for Juve and 64% possession, the result? 1-1. At no point during the game, other than a flurry of attacks from the Rossoblu in the first half, were Juve under any pressure, there wasn’t any feeling that the result was in doubt. However, and this is the key which underpins this entire repugnant trend, Juve simply flopped, an alarming pretentiousness and relaxed feel to their play cut through the side and the important second goal never arrived.
Last night, in fact, it can be argued over the two games versus United, the English side showed nothing that would suggest anything other than two Juve wins would be the outcome. Juve were vastly superior in every aspect; the interchange of possession and movement between the midfield three, in both games, and in particular that of Rodrigo Bentancur, were too much for United.
The solidity of Juve’s Italian colossi at the back were more than able to deal with the sporadic and limp nature of United’s forays forward. With just under five minutes left last night, Juve were in complete and utter control. Yet again though chances had been missed; Sami Khedira, Juan Cuadrado, Miralem Pjanić and Cristiano Ronaldo all missed relatively easy goal scoring opportunities. Juve had failed to put a team out of sight, had failed to capitalise on the dominance and failed to make the task, whether that of three points in Serie A or qualification for the next stage of the Champions League, infinitely easier.
The virulence towards the team after last night’s performance, or at least the ridiculous inability to finish the game well ahead of time, was justified. One can argue that teams, especially those visiting Turin, will raise their game to another level and may well set out to frustrate Juve, ordinarily, this requires the patience, timing and zeal of a bomb disposal expert and more often than not the team will eventually make the breakthrough. Given the sheer dominance Juve has over these teams, the fact they ease into a one-goal lead should be more than enough to allow the momentum to build in their favour and give them an easy victory. Yet, at this point, a frighteningly leisurely and almost lazy attitude permeates through the side, as if a one-goal lead is enough to dispel any confidence the opponent has.
Truly great teams have a real cunning and unrelenting swagger to their game, take Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side, one can lose count when trying to tally the number of four, five or six-goal victories they’ve gained over the past couple of seasons. Their level of uncompromising play shouldn’t be too difficult for Juve to emulate, unfortunately, we have seen it less frequently than we should.
No doubt fingers will be pointed at individuals, the lack of goals from very good chances and the deficiency of composure in defence. This matter isn’t one which an individual can fix, it requires a more collective kick in the arse of those on the pitch as the blame lies squarely, at the feet of those in black and white. To blame the manager is, at least where last night is concerned, quite frankly ridiculous. Allegri set out Juve in their normal manner; to press United in midfield and in wide areas, to use the full backs to their full potential and to have the centre-halves step up 20 or 30 yards when Juve has the ball. Nothing new or inventive there, it is a tried and tested method, especially when we are at home.
Many argue the substitutions were wrong or poorly timed, most criticism was reserved for the substitution of Mattia De Sciglio for Andrea Barzagli. Again, moving to three at the back is nothing new for Juve, the extra one or two players in midfield, depending on the flow of the game, prevents the counter-attack and outnumbers the opposition. Barzagli may be reaching the twilight of his career but his introduction last night was one which has been made on countless occasions, he may have given away a free kick which Alex Sandro turned in to his own goal, but it is laughable to suggest the goal was Barzagli’s fault given there were ten Juve players in the penalty area when Mata’s free-kick was swung in.
Mario Mandzukic was brought on in injury time to salvage something from the game, many feel this was too late. No one knows just how match fit he was after only recently returning from injury and this will have influenced Allegri’s decision on when to introduce him. More than that, the attacking trio of Cuadrado, Ronaldo and Dybala were working fine; their usual sharp, dynamic attacking caused Chris Smalling and Ashley Young, in particular, problems all evening. Aside from some wayward finishing and some unbelievable bad luck, the Juve forward line had a good evening.
Blaise Matuidi replaced the recently injured Khedira after an hour, in fact, Matuidi was recovering from injury himself so neither could have expected to play a full game. Matuidi’s energy is infectious and brings a lot of pace to the Juve midfield, his introduction was arguably the best of the three, but a swathe of criticism came his way for giving away the free kick which led to United’s equaliser. For all the energy he brings to the midfield he does lack a certain composed element but that is something that comes with Matuidi, to solely blame him or Allegri is again, astoundingly myopic.
These childish outbursts from certain elements of Juve fans who have become increasingly used to success are embarrassing. Many act as though winning is a right which Juve has had bestowed upon them over the last decade, nothing could be further from the truth. Victories, and ultimately trophy wins, are earned. Most fans who take to social media after a game a spout their elitist nonsense should remember this side has been built from the ashes of Calciopoli, it is still under construction and there will be times when we do not progress at the rate we would like, this, however, doesn’t mean it is open season on Allegri. Last night’s defeat wasn’t his fault, he was right to deploy his substitutes at the times he did, his tactics, in particular, that of the midfield three, were correct. The only element missing from the game was that of decisiveness, of urgency and the need to stifle United’s inevitable charge late in the game. That is down to the players to rectify.
Allegri deserves a lot of praise for helping to build and shape the next decade at Juve and he will be rightly remembered as a legend when his time with the Bianconeri comes to an end. Whether that legacy includes a couple of UEFA Champions League wins is another matter altogether. Allegri needs to help the team channel their arrogance into a more clinical edge before the timidness and toxicity of self-doubt seeps through the side.
Juve have longed to dominate Europe they way they have Italy, but until the attitude of the players changes and they purge this carelessness from their game they will simply be the team who are consistently their own worst enemy.
Juve are about to embark on their toughest run of games so far this season, all the teams in the bottom half have been played and in the main, dispatched with ease. Now the real tests of visiting Milan, the Derby d’Italia, the Derby della Mole, trips to Fiorentina and Atalanta, home games against Roma and Sampdoria and, as they made a mess of last night, Champions League Round of 16 qualification are all on the agenda before the New Year. The ability to control and win these games will have a great influence on how Juve approaches the rest of the season after Christmas. Any negligence which has been previously unpunished by Serie A’s lesser lights may well be uncovered by the aforementioned opponents and Juve, despite their record-breaking start to the season, could well be left rueing another enormous missed opportunity because of their own flaws.
[Images from Juventus.com]