So, Juventus did a thing against Napoli where they scored and then continued to try to score after already leading by a goal, and again after a second goal. This is highly irregular for Juve, but I was glad to see it happening, especially against Napoli and on the second matchday of the Serie A season. I, for one, could get very used to seeing this Juventus on a weekly basis, and I’m sure many Juventini would agree with me. But I couldn’t feel this good about a Juventus performance without a touch of pessimism, and here it comes.
This first paragraph was written at halftime.
And, the funny thing was, I didn’t have to imagine any pessimism myself since I witnessed it with my own eyes in the second half.
Then with a sweet, sweet moment of karma or just pure luck, Juventus were happy once again. But let’s not get sidetracked, let’s stay focused on the fact that Juve looked like two different teams over two halves.
This could be a symbolic moment for the new Juventus under Maurizio Sarri, a changing of the guard or turning of a brand new leaf. What’s worrying about this polar change after halftime is that Juve changed for the worse. If the team’s performance switched from bad to good at halftime, it could be called poetic, but the way things actually went is worrying — but also very genuine. It’s natural for teams to revert back to old form during transition periods and the last twenty minutes against Napoli felt very much like the Juventus from a year or two ago. Although Max Allegri is gone, it won’t be easy to completely erase his mark on Juventus, especially for the core players who’ve spent years under the former manager.
It’s a bit premature to judge Juve with just two games in the books and essentially two completely opposite games at that. But if one thing’s clear, it’s that Juventus have some issues that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. After 135 minutes of strong and unwavering defending, Juve’s defense seemed to melt faster than gelato in August. Now the ESPN+ announcers would like to believe it was Matthjis de Ligt’s fault, you know, the 20-year-old debutant with zero experience in the Serie A or with his defensive partner. While there was certainly a falling out at the back, it’s wildly unfair to blame the young Dutchman.
Hopefully, the second-half performance at the Allianz Stadium was nothing more than a fluke or a slight growing pain for an unfamiliar group of defenders. But if Juve’s collapse eventually proves to highlight deeper issues in the team, this season will be slightly more troubling than imagined. Personally, the largest area for concern I have is Leonardo Bonucci, a player that has been great while partnered with the far superior, Giorgio Chiellini, who will be out of commission for at least six months after major knee surgery. Bonucci anchoring a defense is a scary sight, as proven during his time with AC Milan two seasons ago.
In the first half, young de Ligt was comfortably bossing the backline and occasionally barking orders at Juve’s makeshift captain. I thought this to be a good sign and it was since the defense had almost no mistakes. But something completely turned off after Juve put their third goal past Napoli and it may just be a habit of complacency that’s hard to shake and hopefully this habit will be broken sooner rather than later.
Again, something that’s worrying now but may simply be a bump in the road that will smooth out as Juve’s defense grows more confident and familiar with each other. Either way, only time will tell and with the international break underway, time will be plentiful. And it’s no doubt Juventini, myself included, will need some time to fully process what exactly happened on an obscure Saturday night at the Allianz Stadium.