It was shaping up to be another dismal night at the Allianz Stadium.
After two awful performances that produced back-to-back 2-1 defeats and all but torpedoed Juventus’ chances to get themselves back into the race to reclaim their title, the Bianconeri came off their 4-2 midweek victory over Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League and looked to be laying an absolute egg against Fiorentina.
The defense had looked tight enough. There had been one or two nervy moments, but a unit with two short-notice replacements in Mattia Perin, who was covering for a Wojciech Szczesny rib injury, and (gulp) Daniele Rugani, a last-minute replacement after Giorgio Chiellini pulled up with (tell me if you’ve heard this one before) a leg injury in warmups kept La viola—and in particular potential transfer target Dusan Vlahovic—to a total of six shots.
But the attack? Yeah, the attack needed some major work.
Fiorentina certainly came out intending to take the game to Juve, but after an initial ten-minute flurry Juve worked their way into the match, but they couldn’t find the last ball to create meaningful chances. There were more than a few nice passages of buildup play that deserved to have a shot at the end of them, but whether it was a miscommunication, a bad ball, or simple bad luck with good defending, they couldn’t get themselves into the right spots to challenge Fiorentina keeper Pietro Terracciano. Even after Nikola Milenkovic ended a night of persistent fouling early with a clear second yellow with 15 minutes left, it wasn’t until there were four minutes left in normal time that Juventus actually put a shot on target (although that doesn’t count the thunderclap Federico Chiesa hit off the bar just after Milenkovic got his marching orders).
It looked like a game Juve simply had to win was going to go by the wayside in a flurry of badness.
But then, there was Juan.
Oh, F$%&in Juan.
Having come on with 12 minutes left (we’ll get to that), Juan Cuadrado had been the supplier of Juve’s only shot on target, and as the game ticked into stoppage time it looked like his former team was going to come away with at least a point for the third consecutive game against Juve. But the Colombian knows a thing or two about late goals in this shirt, and just as the game ticked into stoppage time he stuffed the ball in at Terracciano’s near post, thanks in part to a deflection off the boot of Cristiano Biraghi. It was a clutch goal that gave Juve all three points from a game they didn’t necessarily deserve it from.
These are the kind of results that can determine a team’s fate come season’s end. It’s highly unlikely to have any bearing on the title race, but it kept the team within a point of the top four. With their two league opponents coming out of the international break both direct rivals for a Champions League place, the team could put themselves solidly in position to run from ahead by Thanksgiving.
But if they do, they’re going to have to play far, far better than they did today.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- All bow down to Juan Cuadrado, scorer of late goals.
- A lot of players need to step up their game after this performance, but it has to be said that the man on the touchline didn’t have a great evening either. Massimiliano Allegri’s continued insistence on playing Adrien Rabiot on the left side of this 4-4-2 is baffling. It is clear that it doesn’t work, yet he keeps on doing it, even though he had three wide players on his bench, one of which, Federico Bernardeschi, was coming off one of his best performances in years. His in-game management also left a lot to be desired. Despite a clear need for energy and inventiveness, the only substitution he made until the 78th minute was the apparently injury-forced introduction of Luca Pellegrini at halftime. Cuadrado needed to come on far earlier, as did Kaio Jorge and one of either Bernardeschi or Dejan Kulusevski. Tonight was certainly a case of Bad Max as opposed to Mad Max.
- I can’t be the only one who thinks this team is crying out for a 4-2-3-1, right? There is a surfeit of wingers and Allegri knows Dybala can operate in the hole in that formation. What’s keeping him from pulling the trigger on that move?
- Over the last two years Juve have had more than a few games when they’ve played against a team’s second-string (or lower) goalkeeper, only to barely test him at all. Terracciano was not looking particularly solid on this night, and he was working with the added handicap of a poke in the eye that required treatment multiple times. It was a classic case of “make the shaky keeper work as hard as he possibly can”—except they didn’t. Again. It’s weird.
- One person who did have a good night was Weston McKennie, who was probably Juve’s best player today. He tied for the team lead in key passes with his midfield partner Manuel Locatelli, and he led the game in both dribbles and tackles (five each). After a period of adjustment following Allegri’s return, the Texan is starting to turn the screw a little bit and play the kind of game that we had been seeing this time last year before he got hurt and his form dropped. He pushed hard into the attacking third, gave good defensive work, and generally imposed himself in midfield once Fiorentina’s initial 10-minute push petered out. He’s looking like the best midfield partner to Locatelli in a double pivot.
- A lot of people probably had their hearts drop into their feet when Rugani was forced into the lineup at the last minute, but he didn’t play too badly, making a tackle, two clearances, and, most importantly, no costly mistakes. It won’t be ideal if he has to play a lot, but he did pretty OK today against one of Serie A’s most in-form strikers, and worked well with Matthijs De Ligt by the end of the game.
- The fact that it’s been two years and change since Luca Pellegrini was acquired by Juve and he’s still only one year older than Dusan Vlahovic is another in the running indictments of how Juve have handled younger players in terms of giving them chances. We should have a definitive idea as to Pellegrini’s place in this team by now, instead of the mystery we currently have.
- That being said Pellegrini played pretty well in the second half, and if both Alex Sandro and Mattia De Sciglio are still out when the internationals are over he’s going to have to step up big time.
- Given the opponents we have coming up after internationals, let’s hope Chiellini and Sandro are back soon.
- Milenkovic should’ve been sent off 15 or 20 minutes earlier than he was. He was fouling everything that moved and had committed at least one bookable offense before he actually ended up in the book in the 66th minute. Referee Simone Sozza was a little stingy with the cards today, as Riccardo Sottil also deserved a yellow shortly after he came on.
- Someone needs to check the crossbar Chiesa hit. It might need to be replaced. Holy smokes the power on that shot—to say nothing of the mid-air adjustment he made to get it off in the first place.
- Juve’s ex-Fiorentina contingent comes back to haunt the Viola once again.
- Before Cuadrado scored, the CBS broadcasters were making a big deal of whether or not this team would be able to withstand Lazio and Atalanta after the break playing like this. I don’t much care for this particular broadcast team, but their assessment in this case is correct: No. No they won’t.
- First three games coming out of the break: at Lazio, at Chelsea, vs Atalanta. That’s gonna be a gauntlet, and it could go a long way toward deciding where in the table Juve finish the season.