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A ship navigating like a boat — Juventus not being Juventus in Serie A 2021/22 so far

With Juventus yet to convince fans, Jyotirmoy Halder looks at the reasons for the Bianconeri’s unimpressive performances under Massimiliano Allegri.

 

Amid the evergreen debate as to who deserved to lift the prestigious Ballon d’Or, Juventus visiting Salernitana was initially deemed to be a game where the Old Lady would not only pay tribute to late Andrea Fortunato but also redeem their former self – a much more assertive version of the Bianconeri that hadn’t been seen in a rather long time.

 

In anticipation of a goal-fest, some, leaving all chores, would turn their eyes towards the monitor, with the away fans being the more confident ones of potentially a positive result. The positive result eventually came, but the goal-fest, apparently Juventus’ first in the 2021/22 season, didn’t follow, as the Bianconeri ended up notching a 2-0 victory against the offensively-toothless Salerno counterparts.

 

From Giorgio Chiellini’s goal being chalked off for offside to Paulo Dybala missing penalty in the dying stages of the competition, there was drama, although the majority of excitement hit the shore from the Juve section.

 

The scoreline might have been worse for the Serie A minnows (with all due respect to Franck Ribery and his current comrades). Juventus could’ve taken more advantage of this newly-promoted side, but they somehow failed to do so, adding another page to their topsy-turvy journey in Serie A 2021/22.

 

As a result of this pleasing triumph on a wintry Tuesday night, Juventus now have 24 points from 15 games, having logged seven victories, three draws, and five defeats. However, owing to a miserable start to the domestic campaign, they are currently far from cutting the top four positions and distinctively further from the apex. Unfortunately, not a soul is judging them as a Scudetto aspirant anymore.

 

It is certainly delightful that Juve won the precious three points against Salernitana because the fans of this beautiful game are not used to seeing that particular club dropping points as frequently as they have this season in Serie A. But there is no need to go over the moon with this one result. There is no need to scream that Juventus are back! They have been a-ship-navigating-like-a-boat so far, outlining the inconsistency demonstrated in Juve’s performances from the very beginning of the season. Now, what are the factors responsible for this sort of inconsistency? Let’s make the picture crystal clear.



Overreliance on long balls

Nowadays, playing out from the back with the help of short passes has somewhat set a trend among the heavyweights in Europe. Juventus remain an exception in this case.

 

Goalkeepers always play a vital role in building up an attack from the back. As for Juventus, there is Wojciech Szczęsny, who — despite making a horrendous start to his individual campaign this term — has found the pace with his performances lately. Infamous for losing concentration at times, the Polish international is a decent passer of the ball. If needed, he could initiate a build-up, as depicted during his spells under Maurizio Sarri and then under the management of Andrea Pirlo.

 

But Massimiliano Allegri does look too fond of facilitating a Juve attack through the small passage of plays, rather putting more emphasis on constructing an attack with long balls. As such, Juventus rank second in terms of attempting the long balls this season in Serie A, as shown by the stats from FBref.com.

 

The numbers denote that Juventus have attempted 1593 long balls and got successful in 1111 (to be exact) with an accuracy of 69.7 per cent this season in the domestic league so far. Thanks to that, they are only behind Fiorentina in Italy when it comes to taking the aid of long-range passing as a mode of penetration.

 

In terms of individuals, Juventus massively rely on the long passes of Leonardo Bonucci. The Euro 2020 winner has already recorded 232 long passes, 64 more attempts than their preferred custodian in Szczęsny. After that, Juan Cuadrado (140 long-ball attempts), Matthijs de Ligt (131 long-ball attempts), Manuel Locatelli (129 long-ball attempts), Danilo (124 long-ball attempts), Chiellini (113 long-ball attempts), and Alex Sandro (90 long-ball attempts) make a formidable top eight, where Locatelli remains the only midfielder among a host of defenders assigned with the task of finding bodies forward with the precision of their long distributions.

 

Now, some might say that Allegri is sticking to a plan, a concrete process of playing football. But if that is so, why have not Juventus been the recipient of the fruits yet? That brings us to the next segment.



Missing Cristiano Ronaldo?

Sticking to a plan when it is effective sounds rational, no? But in Juventus’ case, Allegri is seemingly trying to pick a lock with a wrong key. There is no rationality in that; all that is apparent is stubbornness.

 

When the Bianconeri went on to seal the deal for Moise Kean in a last-ditch attempt to sign a replacement for departing Cristiano Ronaldo last summer, a picture of a Juventini holding a sign, “who needs Ronaldo?”, went viral. In the current situation, he might like to reconsider his choice.

 

The last few months have only strengthened the general feeling that the talismanic Portuguese can’t be replaced at any cost — the performances of Moise Kean and Alvaro Morata have been a definite testament to that. Amid a number of injury concerns, Kean has played 331 minutes across nine appearances in Serie A and found the net only twice.

 

While the former Everton striker has been uninspiring, there is no sophisticated way to exaggerate how poorly Morata — who, of course, scored the second goal against Salernitana in midweek — has fared in front of the goal for the Old Lady this season. From 14 league appearances thus far, the Spaniard has scored only thrice, with his other two strikes coming against Napoli and AC Milan earlier in the 2021/22 campaign.

 

Furthermore, it is also not about scoring goals or piling up numbers but helping the team out in difficult situations. Playing usually in a two-man forward-line, Morata has been dreadful while holding the ball upfront; his overall play has hardly made any influence positively on Juve this term, making the core offensively vulnerable. As things stand, Morata averages 0.97 shots on target per game, which is a disgusting number for a first-choice striker of a club of Juventus’ ilk.

 

A team that looks to penetrate an opposing defensive line through long balls needs a target man who can shield the ball against the brute strength of the defenders. Neither Kean nor Morata is that man for the Piedmontese club, or at least we have not got any real sense of believing so yet.



Awful numbers when it comes to pressing and closing down opponents

Playing possession-based football is one thing; pressing the counterparts with the highest level of intensity is another. The modern zealots of the game demand both, but the avid Juventus followers get neither.



If anything, the club, led by the pragmatic approach of Allegri, has recorded an alarming number when collectively pressing the opponents in Serie A this season. Before diving deep into the matter, let us primarily gauge the magnitude of the concern.

 

Per the data from FBref.com, Juventus are the 10th-best team with 47.9 presses per 90 minutes into the defensive third in the league this campaign. When it comes to pressing the opposition midfield, the number reads 55.1 presses per 90 minutes, making Juventus the 17th team in Serie A and ultimately exhibiting how erratically they have put pressure on an opposing midfield this term. Juventini, are you shocked?

 

Well, to elevate the despondency, the number becomes more miserable for the Bianconeri players when the task converts into closing down opponents in the final third. As per the current standing, Juve sit at the 19th position in the table with an appalling total of 26.8 presses into the attacking third per game. What does this mean? It means that Juventus hardly consider pressing the opposite defenders into their own half.

 

The lack of pressing means more leeway for the opponents to conduct their build-up freely. And as such, Juventus don’t win balls in the opponents’ half too often; and hence, we don’t see turnovers from this Allegri team in this day and age.



Conclusion…

It is not as if Juventus don’t have energetic players. From Juan Cuadrado to Manuel Locatelli and Federico Chiesa, Allegri has an adorable squad at his disposal. For creativity, there are productive suppliers such as Manuel Locatelli and Paulo Dybala. But it has usually been Allegri’s tools that have proved to be faulty.

 

Alvaro Morata looks tepid in his positions; Moise Kean has not got enough chances yet. Players such as Adrien Rabiot and Alex Sandro have been shockingly inconsistent of late, with the former going completely anonymous in some matches this term. The central region of the defence looks steady, although the injuries to Danilo and Mattia De Sciglio has not helped the Old Lady’s cause in recent times.

 

While sacking another manager is not an option despite Juve’s poor form in the domestic league, drastic changes — in regard to the players’ attitude as well as some tactical standards — need to take place within the team as soon as possible. Then, the January transfer window will surely provide the struggling club with an opportunity to reassess its options.

 

It wouldn’t be surprising to see some players that are considered surplus to the gaffer’s requirements being offloaded and some — regarded as necessities to ensure aid straightaway — being brought in promptly.



By Jyotirmoy Halder

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