Show of hands, folks. Who would have been happy with a draw at the Wanda Metropolitano after the horrid show Juventus put forth against Fiorentina last weekend?
If your hand is not up, then you are lying, plain and simple. Juventus came into Wednesday’s Champions League group stage opener with more than a few key injuries to vital players, right after putting forth their worst display of the young season to face a tough, resilient Atletico Madrid team away from Turin.
To come out of the match with a point is a dam- near miracle. Still, like pretty much every single Juventus match this season, there’s a caveat.
A 2-2 draw feels a whole heck less sweet when you were up 2-0 at one point in the second half. For the second time in three games, Juventus allowed a solid lead slip through their hands. And unlike the Napoli game in which they got bailed out by a last-second Kalidou Koulibaly own goal, there would be no miracle tiebreaker this time.
There’s a lot to discuss, so let’s get right to it.
Panic Button Update: Juventus defending on set pieces
Juventus has allowed five goals in all competitions so far this season. Leaving aside the fact that those five goals were conceded in four games, which is not great, four out of the five were scored on set pieces.
It does not take a master analyst to realize that is less than ideal.
As the team continues to adapt to Sarriball, an often forgotten part of it was the defensive side of the system, a system that relies heavily on zonal marking. It’s fair to say the team is still a long way from fully grasping the ins and outs of the new way of defending.
As we have preached over and over again, it’s still too early, it’s going to take a while to see the system fully implemented yada – yada. This is still not a full on panic button situation, but definitely something to monitor as the season progresses.
Panic Button Status:
Winner: The Leonardo Bonucci Re-Redemption Tour
Last year’s Leo Bonucci Redemption Tour was a disappointment, to say the least. The bookmarks from his first season back at Juventus were mediocre play, a tumble down the pecking order for the captain’s armband and his comments on the Moise Kean racial abuse front (that continue to age terribly).
However, this season has been completely different for Bonucci. He was named captain after Giorgio Chiellini’s knee injury and became the de facto leader in the clubhouse. Not only that, but he seems to be regaining his pre-AC Milan form in the field, proving to be a steady presence in the backline while Matthijs de Ligt acclimates himself to the Italian game.
At the Wanda we saw a vintage Bonucci performance, performing reasonably well in defense and unleashing one of his trademark long passes that ended up kickstarting the play for the team’s first goal of the evening. I’m not fully ready to say Leo is officially back, but these few games have been as good performances as we have seen from Bonucci since his return.
Winner: Sami Khedira, irreplaceable lynchpin
The facts are the facts: Both times Juventus has suffered a late game collapse, the collapse has started the minute Sami Khedira gets subbed off.
I don’t know how or why this is happening, especially on Wednesday night with Khedira being essentially anonymous during his entire stint on the pitch. But, I don’t make the rules, it’s happening and a player that the vast majority of people thought was surplus to Juventus plans this season is now somehow a key piece for Maurizio Sarri.
Rules are rules, and he never gets subbed off from now on. I don’t care how we make that happen, but it’s happening, people.
The Jonny Square Experience
If this wasn’t the full Juan Cuadrado, man...
A horrid first half in which Cuadrado added nothing and at times was actively detrimental to the team was followed by a superb second half, highlighted by a screamer of a goal.
I’m done trying to decipher that dancing Colombian man. It is the official stance of the Grab Bag to embrace chaos, take the good with the bad and live in acceptance of whatever Juan Cuadrado decides to do that day.
He might lift the Champions League trophy by the end of the year after scoring a hat trick in the final and he might get red carded at a pivotal game costing Juventus the season. I would not be surprised either way at this point.
Developing Story: Mexico vs. Juventus
So far, Juventus has faced two teams with Mexican players: Hirving Lozano from Napoli and Hector Herrera from Atletico Madrid. At the time of their matchup, they both started on the bench and they both made their team debut during said game, with Lozano coming at halftime and Herrera coming on during the second half at the 76th minute.
They both went on to score goals and play big roles in the comeback. As a Mexican national and a huge fan of our national team, to see Mexican player thrive is objectively good. But to see them thrive against Juventus is, well, less good.
They don’t look poised to face any other Mexicans down the road, unless something truly catastrophic happens and Juve gets bounced to the Europa League where they could face Sevilla, Wolves or Porto all of whom feature Mexican players.
Two games don’t make a pattern necessarily, but I would double mark Herrera and Lozano on every single possession for the reverse fixtures. Just in case.
Parting Shot of the Week
As mentioned previously, in a vacuum Juventus secured a solid result in their toughest visit of the group stage of the Champions League.
In context this was a disappointing result considering they were about five minutes away from escaping Madrid with a much needed win. The path to win that elusive big eared trophy is just starting.
All things considered this was not a terrible first step.
Just, defend a set piece one time for me won’t ya?
See you next weekend.