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Simeone stays hot, Hellas Verona hands Juventus second straight defeat

Two crucial mistakes gave Hellas Verona an early advantage and Juventus took too long to respond, falling to ninth in the league table.

Hellas Verona FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

It did not take long to realize it was not going to be Juventus’ best night on Saturday. Two early goals from Giovanni Simeone put the visitors behind the eight ball right away and the sense of urgency once again was too little, too late for Juventus as it dropped a second consecutive match, with Hellas Verona grabbing a 2-1 victory.

There was plenty of the same mistakes and frustrations Juventus has dealt with all season long that eventually allowed the hosts to grab an early advantage. But it was not just about the Juventus’ mistakes as Verona looked the better and more dangerous team for much of the first half and probably for most of the match. Things never seemed to be in sync for Juventus, defensively, in the attack or especially in the midfield.

It was another widespread squad rotation from Max Allegri as he continues to try to work through the busy schedule since returning from the October international break. Juventus was playing in its fifth match in a two-week span and Saturday’s starting XI resembled that. Wojciech Szczesny returned to his starting spot between the posts with Leonardo Bonucci being joined in the center of defense by Giorgio Chiellini this time. Alex Sandro is still searching for his rest as he was put back to start at left back with Danilo still on the right. Juan Cuadrado was back in his normal spot on the right side of the midfield with central midfielder Adrien Rabiot starting on the left again.

The heart of the midfield definitely looked different with Arthur and Rodrigo Bentancur starting together for the first time this season. It was the first time since the season opener Allegri went with a starting midfield that did not feature Weston McKennie or Manuel Locatelli. Federico Chiesa was out due to muscle fatigue, so Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala took the reins of the attack again.

Verona has been busy too though and also made plenty of changes from its midweek draw against Udinese, inserting six new starters into the lineup including an entirely different back three in the 3-4-2-1. The lineup did have 10 of the 11 starters from the team’s big win over Lazio a week ago.

The start of the match really looked like a refreshed squad for both sides with plenty of energy making it an end to end game in the first 10 minutes.

Verona had the first big chance of the game coming off a giveaway from Bentancur. The ball moved into the penalty area and eventually deflected to Darko Lazovic right on the edge of the six-yard box but his shot from a tight angle was comfortably saved and held by Szczesny.

Less than a minute later, Morata had the first real opportunity for the visitors. Dybala got the ball in some space and did well against his defender to get to the end line to play a ball across the face of goal. Morata’s run caused some chaos and he had a chance to shoot but he chose to go for the backheel which went directly into the legs of goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipò and eventually cleared away.

Hellas Verona was the first to take advantage of the frantic start as some pressure cause a massive mistake from Juventus. Arthur attempted to play his way out of the press but his first touch failed him and he eventually panicked himself into a poor back pass. The ball was played past Sandro and through the back line to an onrushing Antonin Barak. His shot was well saved by Szczesny, but the rebound went straight into the path of Simeone who made no mistake to score the opener in the 11th minute.

Just three minutes later, Verona threatened again. Juventus defense is caught up field a bit and Simeone picked up a pass from Lazovic before dribbling into space. Bonucci kept tracking back, never pressuring the ball and Simeone made him pay with a perfect bending strike into the top corner for his sixth goal in the last two matches and his second career brace against Juventus.

Juventus looked stunned and took a long time to respond with any kind of threatening attack. Verona continued to be the team looking the most likely to score next with its attacks breaking the Juventus defensive line much easier than anything going toward its own goal.

It wasn’t until the 35th minute for Juventus to have another half chance created when Morata and Dybala finally began to link up more. A quick one-two between the forwards resulted in a good shooting opportunity for the Argentine but he was always leaning back and shot ended up well high of the target in the end.

That was a theme for Dybala through most of the night as he never appeared to be scared of shooting but struggled to find the target more often than not. He finished with eight shots, seven of which were off target including one off the crossbar in the final moments of the first half.

The frustration grew through the first 10 minutes of the second half with Dybala and Morata connecting well together but a lack of real chances coming for either of them. Allegri made his first changes in the 56th minute when he brought back in his core midfielders, McKennie and Locatelli, who quickly made an impact. McKennie had a chance within two minutes, getting on the end of a free kick from Cuadrado and ushering the ball toward the net to force a reaction save from Montipò.

Cuadrado had several opportunities in the second half to deliver free kicks into the box but rarely resulted in a big chance in front of goal. His final contribution came on a set piece just in front of the corner flag but it was just headed straight into the air by a defender, eventually finding the arms of Montipò once again.

Juventus finally found the breakthrough in the 80th minute when Danilo saw a completely unmarked McKennie at the top of the box. Once he received the pass, he recognized his space and had no other choice but to shoot, finishing with a powerful strike into the roof of the net to cut the deficit in half. It was his second goal in as many matches.

The tempo was turned up a notch after McKennie’s goal with Juventus suddenly believing an equalizer was available. Morata had the next opportunity with a great 40-yard run into the box but it was just a little bit too much indecision that took him into a tight angle and he could not wrap his foot around the ball so his shot eventually just skipped into the side netting without threatening the keeper.

Verona was refusing to sit back on its lead and continued to move forward in search of a third goal but it did leave the door open for Juventus to rush toward a defense before it was set. Unfortunately for the Bianconeri, those opportunities never came and Verona always had time to get back before eventually settling into a block at the 18 for the final seven minutes of the game.

Dybala did create one more chance for himself, dribbling on to his left from 25 yards out. He finally got a shot on target that seemed destined for the top corner, but it was Montipò who made one final save — his best of the day — to keep Dybala off the score sheet and claiming all three points for the hosts.

The victory pushed Hellas Verona’s unbeaten streak to three straight matches and it has lost just once in its last eight league ties. The three points also pushed Verona to eighth place in Serie A, tied with Juventus on 15 points and ahead on goal difference plus the head-to-head tiebreaker.

LA PAGELLE

WOJCIECH SZCZESNY – 6.5. He really had no chance on either goal. Even though the first one came off a rebound, it was a great save to begin with and it was impossible to control the bounce from that range. Not a disaster, could’ve been more than two honestly, but his three saves helped out at least a little.

DANILO – 6. So yeah, he got an assist, which was surprising, but it came from the easiest pass of the night for anybody. It started rough for Danilo when he cleared the ball away from Szczesny’s arm for an unnecessary corner kick. He was caught up field on the second goal. Not as solid defensively as usual.

LEONARDO BONUCCI – 5. Was not a rock at the back like he needed to be. Dribbled past a couple of times, only made one tackle and finished with zero blocked shots. Was a disaster on the second goal. And the distribution that usually saves him? Just 3 for 9 on long balls.

GIORGIO CHIELLINI – 6.5. Three interceptions, three clearances, two blocked shots, two tackles and all of that seemed to come in pretty important moments. He looked pretty rough with the ball at his feet though which hurt some decent possession spells, especially when Juve finally decided to chase the game.

ALEX SANDRO – 6. He may have looked a little lazy on the opener, but the more I watch it, the more I realize it wasn’t on him even a little bit. He was pretty good moving forward, connecting on a couple of crosses, making one key pass and even getting a decent opportunity on goal in the first half.

JUAN CUADRADO – 6. A pair of key passes and a 91 percent pass accuracy was nice but he was always looking to pass. That can be good but without the threat of running at the defense, it makes his passes a little easier to defend. He had just one off-target shot and attempted one unsuccessful dribble.

RODRIGO BENTANCUR – 4.5. It’s no wonder he has fallen out of favor for the first XI. He wasn’t good enough with his distribution to be a deep-lying playmaker, but he never made any threatening runs forward, either. Had just 74 percent accuracy on his passes and the only defensive stat he recorded was being dribbled past once.

ARTHUR – 5.5. So, the giveaway on Verona’s opener was obviously awful and deducts major points, but he recovered rather well and was definitely the better of the starting midfielders. On the ball all the time, decent distribution which included two key passes and drew six (!) fouls in his 70 minutes.

ADRIEN RABIOT – 5. A really good disappearing act for the Frenchman. And when things are going this poorly, you can’t blame him for just trying to avoid the ball completely so he doesn’t make a mistake of his own. Almost like he’s not meant to play on the left wing.

Hellas Verona FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Emmanuele Ciancaglini/CPS Images/Getty Images

PAULO DYBALA – 7. It really is a shame he somehow never found the back of the net but I’m still giving him a rating bump anyway. Imagine playing with that midfield today. You’d be frustrated enough to shoot at every given opportunity too. He was his same threatening self when no one else was.

ALVARO MORATA – 6. The positive outlook is he was much better than he was at midweek. He linked much better with Dybala this time and actually looked for his own shot. Better pressure, too.

SUBS

MANUEL LOCATELLI – 6. So much for getting this guy a rest. He was needed and he made a difference with the team being better just with him in there. Still seems a little off with his decision making, had a chance to shoot for an equalizer late but must’ve seen a reason to lay it off instead.

WESTON McKENNIE – 7. Another difference maker from the midfield. Brought the energy, still doesn’t have the perfect technique with the ball, but a simple turn and a great finish for the team’s lone goal.

FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI – 6. He gave more to the attack in 25 minutes than the starting midfielders did. A key pass, a successful dribble and a blocked shot isn’t bad in limited time.

DEJAN KULUSEVSKI – 5.5. He still doesn’t seem to be where he was last season. Lost possession three times and gave away two cheap fouls to slow down any Juventus momentum (one of which I’m still not sure was a foul and would’ve put Kulusevski in instead but all the same).

LUCA PELLEGRINI – NA. Urgency doesn’t seem to suit him too much. Crosses were easily blocked or dealt with in the box. Couldn’t dribble past anybody. Hard to grasp a rating in just 12 minutes.

Hellas Verona FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

MANAGER ANALYSIS

This is a tough one.

The two goals for Hellas Verona were direct results from poor execution and it’s hard to blame Allegri for either of them. However, Juventus’ response was basically nothing for about an hour after the goal. No urgency shown in a game that was really a must win and I think that has to fall on the coaching staff for either not having the team in the right mindset to respond or at the very least, not making the changes to tactics to start forcing the issue. 80 minutes to find at least two goals really shouldn’t have been a problem.

The squad rotation is going to raise questions, but once again, Allegri is having to rotate the hand he has been dealt which clearly isn’t a great one. No rotation would be a lot of the same results with just worn down top players and a handful of injuries. I will say I hope this is the final time we see a Bentancur-Arthur midfield because that was rough. And also, just to be consistent, Rabiot should not be playing left mid in a 4-4-2 and Allegri should not even be playing a 4-4-2.

Good for Allegri on realizing the subs needed, specifically in the midfield because Locatelli and McKennie were difference makers, even if they aren’t at their best right now, either. A bit surprised we didn’t see Kaio Jorge again after his pretty good performance in the midweek match, especially when chasing two goals.

LOOKING AHEAD

Juventus may need a break, but it’s not coming anytime soon with two more matches over the next seven days. The Old Lady will return home Tuesday for the competition they seem to favor a little bit more, set to square off against Zenit as Juventus attempts to hold on to the top spot in Group H. They’ll be back to league play next Saturday when Fiorentina comes to visit.