Imagine a movie about a castle raid. There’s a home force, all walled up inside their fortress, their quivers ready inside those little slit windows out of which they shoot furiously, and there’s an attacking force, arrayed splendidly and as prepared as possible for the impending siege. But in this movie the attacking force, rather than “storming” the castle, per se, sends two or three guys to kind of poke around the perimeter. Maybe they have some surveying equipment, some vials to test the composition of a certain soil, some ways of really analyzing the weaknesses of the structure.
The rest of the attacking force waits around while this little party tries to find a weakness. For a long time they don’t. Then, toward the end of the movie, with a stroke of luck, they do.
If Juventus’ 2-0 win over Frosinone were a movie about laying siege — or politely occupying — to a castle, that would be the movie. It wouldn’t be very interesting, but it would be a movie about taking over a castle.
For exactly 55 minutes, there was very little urgency to the attack. The Bianconeri looked somewhere between listless, frustrated, and fatigued as they repeatedly poked around the defense. The alarmists will surely be coming out in force after this game — certainly during it, as the U.S. announcers were, talking about how embarrassing Juventus was — but the fact of the matter is that Frosinone never threatened even a single time and the breakthrough was, frankly, just a matter of time. The home side finished with three shots, none on target. Juventus finished with 30, eight of which were on target. Frosinone did outplay Juventus in the early minutes and earn a couple set pieces on corner kicks, but after the first half hour they essentially offered nothing moving forward.
For all these reasons, and for the reasons Max Allegri mentioned, it’s somewhat difficult to identify one important trend or takeaway from the game. But disparate though the performances were, once you peel away the first layer of the game there were some things to excited about and some things not to be so excited about.
1. Juan Cuadrado wasn’t any worse than Alex Sandro, who I thought was terrible
Juan Cuadrado’s performance at right back was knocked by both Danny and Sam, but I thought Alex Sandro was just as bad — if not worse — than the Colombian. First of all, the Brazilian had the luxury of running into the empty void left by Cristiano Ronaldo, leaving the left back very few obstacles in his movements forward. Sure, Cuadrado didn’t send in a single accurate cross, but Sandro — allegedly a natural fullback! — was hardly better, attempting nine crosses and only connecting on one.
Cuadrado ran at the defense more aggressively than Sandro did, too. I don’t think either player played well, but touting Sandro’s performance as considerably better than Cuadrado’s doesn’t make sense to me.
2. I wasn’t worried until the 75th minute, so I only worried for six minutes
This was always a game that was going to be difficult for long stretches, and so I didn’t worry. Hopefully the pitch will open up against Bologna on Wednesday — a game comfortably at home in Turin — but I just didn’t ever have the feeling (until right at the end) that Juventus weren’t going to win this game. Judging by the game thread, though, the alarmists were out in number (shocking, I tell you!).
3. For 55 minutes, the midfield was a mess
Rodrigo Bentancur was not good! Miralem Pjanic was fine to good. Emre Can was fine to good.
But for nearly the first hour the midfield trio didn’t look like they knew what they were doing. The passing was almost entirely lateral, and Ronaldo seemed like the only player who was willing and hungry to go at the defense.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo is Russell Westbrook
And maybe that’s the lesson from this entire game: Ronaldo is going to be hungry no matter what. And that’s something Juventus need. The Bianconeri have won seven Serie A titles in a row — Ronaldo hasn’t won any. The dude wants goals and he wants to win. In some ways he reminds me of Russell Westbrook in the NBA, a player who furiously attacks no matter what. Sure, both guys can whine about something temporarily, but there’s essentially never a prolonged stretch of sulking. When the time comes to attack, they attack. They flip the switch instantly. Great as Gonzalo Higuain was for Juventus, he didn’t have that kind of motor.
5. Evidence file No. 465 from an early season: Joao Cancelo is Juve’s best fullback and Federico Bernardeschi is the best
In just a few minutes in the game, Cancelo looked more dynamic than Alex Sandro and Cuadrado put together. The new acquisition is more creative in his movements, better with the ball at his feet, sends in what actually could be called “crosses,” and really is a constant threat.
Then there’s our new favorite guy, the stylish bulldog owner Federico Bernardeschi. What more is there to say about No. 33? I think the most encouraging element of his performance in this game was the fact that he looked threatening and creative at different positions. He came on playing in the midfield and then switched over to the right wing. He’s a player who seems more and more indispensable.
6. One way or another, Mario needs a rest
Mario Mandzukic is very good still and a very good complement to Ronaldo’s ball-centric game. But damn does the Croat need a rest — soon. For the second straight game No. 17 looked very ineffective, very lifeless, very not himself. He was quietly instrumental in his country’s run in the World Cup, and now he’s back in a striker role after last year’s left wing situation. He’s playing a lot of minutes. He needs a break.
Unfortunately for Mario, Juventus are currently down a forward with Douglas Costa’s suspension, so the options are limited. But the following things could be done to get Mandzukic a rest:
- A 4-4-2 with Dybala and Ronaldo up top
- A 4-3-3 with Ronaldo as No. 9 and two dudes on the wings (Cancelo left wing? Eh . . . )
- Any formation with Moise Kean substituted for Mario as the striker (do it!)
- Trying Dybala as a false nine with Ronaldo as the left winger and Bernardeschi as the right winger
Onto Bologna. I expect more than a single goal.