Juventus Already Facing Critical Early Juncture In Their Season
By Adam Digby (@Adz77)
If, as former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once quipped, a week is a long time in politics, then two months in football must be an eternity. That is roughly the amount of time which has elapsed since Juventus last won a trophy, and yet the club already finds itself under the most intense scrutiny.
Indeed, despite leading the Bianconeri to a league and cup double last term – and also reaching the Champions League Final – Coach Max Allegri is facing immense pressure due to the team’s poor recent results. “Allegri is lost: we cannot go on like this!” proclaimed Sunday’s edition of TuttoSport, the Turin-based daily newspaper slamming his decisions during the previous evening’s loss to Napoli.
That 2-1 defeat at the Stadio San Paolo was Juve’s third in just six Serie A matches, already equalling their tally for the whole of last season. Seeing bitter rivals Inter make a perfect start to 2015/16 only compounded the issue, with the reigning champions already slipping ten points behind Roberto Mancini’s men and table-topping Fiorentina.
With that noted, it is of course very simple to look at events this summer as the root cause of the issues blighting La Madama, with the exits of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez undoubtedly having a major impact on the side. Yet even overlooking the fact that all three actively wanted to move on, lamenting their departure serves little purpose to the team today.
Injuries to key figures within the current squad have certainly added to their woes, robbing Allegri of not only a number of high quality stars but also some much needed on-field leadership. A trip to Naples is a daunting enough prospect in its own right – previous boss Antonio Conte never led Juve to victory there – but to do so without the likes of Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira, Mario Mandžukić and Stephan Lichtsteiner makes it an almost impossible task.
Yet just as during the trip to AS Roma last month, the Bianconeri lost by a single goal, never seemingly close to winning either encounter but also not played out of contention at any point. In both cases, the game was decided by individual errors, something which has clearly blighted the team this season. Against Frosinone it was a moment’s inattention from Andrea Barzagli, arguably the club’s most reliable defender and against Napoli it was sloppy passing from the usually assured Hernanes.
The coach too has made errors, and while it is impossible to know his fitness level, leaving out Juan Cuadrado against Napoli appeared to be a mistake. The Colombian has been excellent since arriving from Chelsea, while Hernanes has also looked uncomfortable in the deeper role he was used in for that match, looking far more relaxed in a more advanced role.
“We want to leave alibis aside, but certainly the calendar is packed and with so many injuries we’re never able to field the same XI,” Director General Beppe Marotta said this weekend when asked about Allegri’s choices. “The Coach is put in a difficult position and cannot choose his favoured line-up.”
In turn, Allegri has defended his senior players from criticism, bristling when it was suggested at a recent press conference that it looked as if they had lost the hunger that has long been a hallmark of this Juventus. “The less we talk about this the better,” the visibly annoyed coach responded. “It makes no sense. The team have shown their qualities and a goal from a 93rd minute corner shouldn’t change that, and an individual player doesn’t lose his quality in the space of a week.
One member of the side who has struggled despite those reassurances is Paul Pogba, with the midfielder failing to deliver his previous high standards. Desperately trying to lift the team after asking to wear the prestigious no.10 shirt vacated by Tevez, he is perhaps guilty of attempting to shoulder too much of the burden during this difficult period. Making some poor decisions during games, the former Manchester United man has regularly misplaced passes, shot from distance too often and given away possession far too cheaply.
“Nobody is asking Pogba to score three goals per game or win matches single-handedly,” Allegri said recently. “We just ask him to play the way he knows, a little more carefree and make the mistakes of a normal 22 year old.” Just a few days later, the young star netted twice in a win over Genoa that remains Juve’s only Serie A triumph thus far. He also shone in the Champions League victory over Manchester City, thriving in a tough contest that pitted him directly against Yaya Toure.
That the team as a whole was able to throw off their poor domestic form to claim a 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium gives much hope for the immediate future. It was the kind of performance seen regularly last term, and a sign of what this side is capable of when everyone is healthy and working together. Pogba’s delightful pass to Mandžukić –who netted with a deft finish – showed the best of both men, while Alvaro Morata’s game-winner highlighted just how important he is to Allegri’s preferred style of play.
Fighting to win the ball as Juve sought to quickly transition from defence to attack, the Spanish striker hit an unstoppable shot beyond Joe Hart to secure the club’s first win in England since 1996. It was a game that also saw the Bianconeri score twice from only three efforts on target, a far cry from the Frosinone stalemate last week which saw them net just once from 36 shots. That set a new ten-year high for the club according to Opta stats, an indicator of how well they played only to fall short of victory yet again.
That was clearly not the case against Napoli, and that display prompted Patrice Evra to accept the criticisms that had been levelled at the team. “I’m not looking for excuses, we are all responsible,” the veteran defender told Sky Italia. “This defeat hurts” he added, going on to say that “anyone unable to handle difficult moments does not belong at Juventus!”
Allergri went further still, telling reporters that “actions speak louder than words” and that “these moments must be faced and overcome.” With games against Sevilla and Bologna this week, the coach and his players will hope to deliver six points, then head into the international break and regroup.
Anything less would leave the Old Lady in and uncomfortable position, and see Max Allegri facing some difficult questions until she returns to winning ways.