Throughout Juventus’ eight-year title run in Serie A, one of the things we could always count on the most is that defensive solidarity and consistency was going to be there more often than not. We all know of the images of Giorgio Chiellini celebrating last-ditch clearances with more vim and vigor than we he scores the rare goal to ensure that Juventus stayed in the lead. Or how the likes of Gigi Buffon or Wojciech Szczesny cherish a clean sheet just as much as the win itself because it meant the defense did its job as well as it could have that given day.
The thing is, though, as we have watched this team try and win a ninth straight league title, Juve’s defense has become less reliable than the season or two before this one. The amount of shutouts isn’t getting close to what it was the season before. And because of that, the need to hold off opponents rather than simply suffocate them defensively has become more and more of a constant thing than the season before.
During its first Scudetto-winning season of the current run in 2011-12, Juventus allowed all of 20 goals in 38 Serie A games.
Through 21 league games this season, Juventus has allowed 21 goals.
Twenty-one goals. Twenty-one games.
That’s ... not the Juventus that a lot of us has come to know and pretty much assume is the backbone of a club that has dominated Italy’s top flight for so much of the past eight seasons. And that average of a goal per game is so un-Juventus-like that the last time the club averaged something even close to that figure was all the way back before the Scudetto run started when Gigi Delneri was screaming at Milos Krasic on the sidelines because he wouldn’t do what was told of him and Juve was on the back end of back-to-back seventh-place finishes. In that 2010-11 season, Juve allowed a whopping 47 goals in 38 games before things turned for the better. A lot better.
For some context, here’s Juve’s defensive record under Antonio Conte in Serie A:
- 2011-12 season: 20 goals allowed, plus-48 goal differential
- 2012-13 season: 24 goals allowed, plus-47 goal differential
- 2013-14 season: 23 goals allowed, plus-57 (!!) goal differential
Here’s Juve’s defensive record in Serie A during the four seasons under Max Allegri:
- 2014-15 season: 24 goals allowed, plus-48 goal differential
- 2015-16 season: 20 goals allowed, plus-55 (!!) goal differential
- 2016-17 season: 27 goals allowed, plus-50 goal differential
- 2017-18 season: 24 goals allowed, plus-62 (!!) goal differential
- 2018-19 season: 30 goals allowed, plus-40 goal differential
As you can plainly see, for seven of Juventus’ eight Scudetto-winning seasons, they’ve allowed somewhere in the 20s each year. The thing with last season is that, on top of allowed the most goals they’ve allowed in nearly a decade, Juve was much, much less of a stable defensive team like they were when their goal differential was absolutely insane.
And that has continued into this season.
We figured there would be some kind of adjustment period following Chiellini’s ACL injury in August. It not only meant Juve was going to be without its best defender for the next six months, but it also thrust Matthijs de Ligt into the spotlight much, much faster than Sarri or probably anybody else at the club really wanted to see happen. The young Dutchman has taken his lumps, but has shown some much-improved form after he made way for Merih Demiral for essentially the entire month of December and into the new year. And even with Bonucci playing better than he did during his first season back in Turin, it hasn’t resulted in the same kind of defensive prowess that we’ve seen in previous years.
This is 500 or so words before we mention that Juventus’ best right back is actually a right winger and that the player they swapped for Joao Cancelo over the summer, Danilo, is far from the kind of defender you want starting on a regular basis.
It just seems so weird to think that in two games against Napoli and another against Lazio, Juventus’ defense has allowed a whopping nine goals. And, as we sit here with the first game of February on the horizon, Juventus’ defense has recorded a TOTAL of six shutouts. Clubs like Hellas Verona, Sampdoria and Udinese have more clean sheets than Juve does this season.)
As much as we talk about the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala having to be two of the best players on the field if Juventus wants to achieve its lofty goals, if squad doesn’t get right defensively then all of those hopes are going to go up in smoke. Maybe even faster than one of Sarri’s heaters that he probably needs to cut back on so there’s no repeat of his early-season bout with pneumonia.
Although, if Juve’s defense continues to leak in goals, then Sarri’s probably going to have a whole lot of heartburn to go along with his constant smoking habit.