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More dropped points against Venezia leave Juve up to their necks in aqua alta

Another lead thrown away, another poor night from both players and coach, and another night that could lead to a complete detonation of the team next season.

Venezia FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

Please stop the ride. I want to get off.

Because if this is all we see for the rest of the season, the collective sanity of everyone who works here at BWRAO is going to be severely compromised by May.

Saturday was yet another chapter of the exact same whack-ass story we’ve been watching for the last two or three seasons. Stop me if you’ve heard this general outline before:

  • Juventus don’t look especially great but eke out an opening goal.
  • Juventus go into the half with a precarious 1-0 lead.
  • Juve either make a dreadful mistake or, as has more recently been the case, decides to turtle up with more than half an hour left on the clock, eventually resulting in an inevitable goal.
  • Juventus in no way manages to get themselves back into gear and hardly ever looks like scoring again.

It’s a mind-numbing grind that by this point feels like the footballing equivalent of Groundhog Day, and it happened again, resulting in a 1-1 draw against a Venezia team that, after a strong start to the season, had lost their last three games by a combined 10-3 — including a humiliating collapse last week in a local derby against Hellas Verona that saw them cough up a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3.

Against that defense — which, as an added bonus, had both of its center-backs on yellow cards for the last 39 minutes of the game — Juve only managed to put six of their 20 shots on target, and only once did they look anywhere close to responding after Mattia Aramu’s impressive curler put the home side level in the 55th minute. The team looked devoid of ideas, and when Massimiliano Allegri decided to make a triple sub with 14 minutes left that curiously took off the only two players who had actually been causing any danger on the night, things went from bad to worse.

By the time the whistle blew and Juve headed back to their boat for the ride back to the mainland, they had dropped yet more points they couldn’t possibly afford to lose, moving them further and further toward a financial abyss in the coming offseason. If they were residents of Venice, the famous acqua alta would be up around their necks right about now.

Allegri started the match in the 4-2-3-1 that had started to really bear fruit since Allegri switched to it at the end of November. Wojciech Szczesny took back the starting gloves after taking the Champions League match off in midweek, and he was screened by the returning Mattia De Sciglio, Matthijs de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci, and Luca Pellegrini. Manuel Locatelli and Adrien Rabiot formed the double pivot in midfield. De Sciglio’s return to the starting lineup allowed Juan Cuadrado to shift forward into the wing, joining Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi behind Alvaro Morata.

Venezia coach Paolo Zanetti countered with a 4-3-1-2 setup. Sergio Romero (no relation) started in goal for the newly-promoted side, with Tyronne Ebuehi, Mattia Caldara, Marco Modolo, and Ridgeciano Haps arrayed in front of him. Domen Crnigoj, Ethan Ampadu, and 19-year-old American Gianluca Busio started in midfield, with Aramu deployed behind Thomas Henry and Dennis Johnsen.

The game started cagily but tilted toward Juve’s favor. Dybala got things going with the night’s first shot in the eighth minute, trying a half-volley on a defensive header that went tamely at Romero. That he didn’t get much on it might’ve been an early warning, because four minutes later the Argentine was heading for the sideline, replaced by Kaio Jorge after aggravating the muscle injury he was withdrawn for in midweek.

Without Dybala to orchestrate from the trequartista spot, the team lost a huge part of its creative spark. Kaio’s introduction — somewhat strange considering the presence of Moise Kean on the bench and the fact that the young Brazilian had only been on the field for 44 minutes combined over the course of the season — saw the team revert back to the 4-4-2 that had been so ineffective for much of the season. Even so, the kid nearly scored with his first touch of the game when de Ligt headed a corner back across and Kaio stabbed at it from two yards away, somehow ballooning it over the crossbar.

Juve maintained the edge in possession and racked up a prodigious corner count over the first 21 minutes (seven, to be exact), but precious little in the way of true threat to Romero’s goal. It took until the 27th minute for Juve to get another true chance, with Pellegrini jinking inside and feeding Morata in the box. The Spaniard had a tight angle, but he fired on target, forcing Romero to parry, but there wasn’t any hope for a rebound as the ball bounced to his teammates as opposed to an attacker.

But five minutes later, Pellegrini and Morata combined again, this time to far greater impact. The left back worked over Ebuhei and got himself the room to find Morata at the near post, who had ghosted in front of Caldara. The Spaniard produced a carbon copy of his last score, sticking out a leg and catching the keeper by surprise at the near post with a flick from the outside of his foot. The ball squeezed through and, after a somewhat tense VAR check to ascertain whether there had been a handball in the buildup, Juve had the breakthrough.

Venezia FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Morata almost had a second the very next time Juve went downfield after play restarted, but his shot from De Sciglio’s square went right at Romero. Kaio Jorge found himself sliding onto the end of a supply from Bernardeschi, but couldn’t hit it flush and Romero made another easy stop. Minutes later the Brazilian teenager ate a tackle that looked more like a WWE-style spear from Modolo, who frankly was lucky to come away with just a yellow card. Then, in the closing seconds of the half, Locatelli released Cuadrado downfield, creating a three-on-three break with Morata and Kaio in support. The Colombian carried the ball all the way into the right channel before going for goal himself, twisting it just outside the post when he had both strikers ready to tap in.

Juve went into the locker rooms with both the score and the flow of the game in their favor. It felt like another push after the break could give Juve the goal that would put the game away.

Did they look for that goal? Of course not, because this is a Max Allegri team.

Juve were in defend-and-counter mode from the off, allowing Venezia to put in a period of extended pressure and allow Busio to line up their first shot on target in the 50th minute. That shot was confidently held on to by Szczesny, but five minutes later there was nothing the big Pole could do to stop Aramu. The Venezia No. 10 started the move with an early cross from the left and then drifted in to the center of the field. The cross around a few times before leaking out to the right. Locatelli chased after it a little too lackadaisically, allowing Haps to pop a hopeful ball across the top of the box that Aramu had all day to line up. The ball curled past Bonucci — who either misjudged where to go to try and block it or simply bailed — and in off the hand of a despairing Szczesny.

Venezia looked the more likely to score the next goal in the moments after the equalizer. Busio, who was excellent all night in midfield, was perhaps a little too unselfish when he was put into the left channel when he left the ball for Henry, allowing Pellegrini to scramble the ball clear. Henry then flew one wide from distance, and it looked like the momentum was firmly in the home side’s control.

It could have — and perhaps should have — shifted shortly thereafter. Modolo got incredibly lucky when Paolo Valeri declined to flash him a yellow card for bringing Morata to the ground as he set out to chase a ball in the air. Valeri was similarly lenient to Ampadu, who had only just been booked for a foul on Bernardeschi, when he clipped Cuadrado only moments later. Zanetti quickly got the Wales international off the field for his own sake, but couldn’t do the same for either of his center backs, both of whom were playing under caution.

With both of those defenders carrying a card, one would think that challenging them and forcing them to either pick up their second card or pull out of a given challenge would be the way forward. The problem was they never did that. Most of Juve’s attacking moves for the rest of the match involved trying to break down the wings and cross — poorly. The one glimmer came in the 65th minute when De Sciglio crossed on the overlap and Rabiot flicked it along the ground. The defense tried cleaning up but the attempted clearance went right to Bernardeschi, who hit a piledriver from 12 yards out that Romero somehow threw a hand up to deflect over.

Venezia FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Gianluca Ricci/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

After that, Juve simply looked out of ideas. Kaio Jorge had one last shot blocked by Modolo in the 71st minute after Morata intercepted a pass. After that, about the best they could do was an embarrassing dive by Morata that he was frankly lucky not to be booked for. Soon, his strike partner Kaio was withdrawn — along with Bernardeschi and Pellegrini, the two players who had done the most to advance the attack in Dybala’s absence. The triple sub with 14 minutes left was 1) executed far too late and 2) thoroughly reduced Juve’s offensive firepower in a moment when they needed all they could get, making for a mystifying moment from Allegri.

With three minutes left the manager used his last change to give Matias Soule, his only other attacking option, a more proper debut than his cameo against Salernitana. Even then, it was a change that should’ve been made earlier. The teenage Argentine certainly didn’t lack for confidence, actually taking a free kick from just above the penalty arc in stoppage time and taking a long-range rip way over, but nothing was going to work this time, and when Valeri blew for time, Juve had thrown away yet more points.

LE PAGELLE

WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Only had to face four shots on target and dealt with all but the goal with confidence. He got a hand to Aramu’s goal but there was so much power on it (and he was unsighted to boot) that it’s not a mark against him that he couldn’t keep it out. Good command of his box on crosses.

MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6. Pretty solid on his side and racked up two key passes going forward. Not the most dynamic of players, he did his job pretty well today, and his presence is nice in allowing Cuadrado to move further forward.

MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 7. De Ligt — DE LIGT — was tied for the team lead in key passes in this game, which is simultaneously impressive and indicative of the serious lack of creativity in this team right now, especially when Dybala is off the pitch. He also had six clearances and was one of the reasons Venezia never won.

LEONARDO BONUCCI - 5.5. I want to think that Bonucci misjudged the ball when Aramu’s shot carried past him. It’s what I want to think. But it’s entirely possible that he was also turning the wrong way on purpose. It’s been a thing he was prone to since rejoining Juve from Milan. That moment dropped his score, which would’ve been pumped up a little based in part on a 95.1 percent pass completion with 11 of 14 long balls.

LUCA PELLEGRINI - 7.5. Pellegrini is quickly making his case to supplant Alex Sandro as the primary left-back. He tied for the team lead with three key passes, and all of them were excellent. Compared to the Brazilian, who replaced him, he was night and day. He also had three clearances, including once taking the ball away from Henry when the striker had the opportunity to turn and shoot in the box. His removal from the game was frankly mystifying.

MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5. Was way too slow in trying to get to what was eventually the cross that led to the equalizer. Completed 86.4 percent of his passes, but wasn’t able to keep the team calm and collected during that crucial 15-minute stretch at the beginning of the half. Rough game, and he’s looking pretty well beat.

ADRIEN RABIOT - 5. Selfish when he shouldn’t have been and gave the ball away all over the place, although he made up for it in a minimal way with a team-high five tackles. If the Frenchman wants us to see the “real Rabiot,” then he’ll have to put him forward pretty damn quick.

JUAN CUADRDADO - 6. Looked to try to create when Dybala was out but couldn’t quite put the right finish on his balls, whether they be passes or shots. Still, the effort was there, and he completed three dribbles, tied for the team lead. By the end of the game he was really the only attacking outlet.

PAULO DYBALA - NR. Hopefully this isn’t serious, because without Dybala this attack just doesn’t go.

FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 6.5. Was one of the only players on the field still creating in the second half. He had a pair of key passes and found the target on two of three shots, including that thunderbolt that would’ve been the winner if not for a crazy save from Romero.

ALVARO MORATA - 6.5. This was a pretty good game. His goal was extremely well taken, and he made a couple of good moves drifting in from the left-hand side. Did what he could with the service he had to create danger.

SUBS

KAIO JORGE - 4. That point-blank miss early on was glaring, and he never seemed to get into the flow of the game. This was more minutes than he’s seen all year combined, and it was certainly unsuccessful. This was a performance that exemplified the fact that the 19-year-old Brazilian is very much a long-term project.

ALEX SANDRO - NR. Introduced just after my minutes cutoff for getting a number grade (them’s the rules) but he was pretty damn terrible coming in for Pellegrini, losing the ball on multiple occasions and not creating any danger from the flank.

MOISE KEAN - NR. Had nothing in terms of service to get anything done. The fact that he’s listed as taking seven touches was frankly a surprise — I thought it had been less.

RODRIGO BENTANCUR - NR. Was ... kinda there? Did nothing special.

MATIAS SOULE - NR. Brought on in the waning moments of the game and showed some supreme confidence in going for goal late, including taking a late DFK away from Cuadrado and initiating his own form of Wall Time.

Venezia FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

MANAGER ANALYSIS

Allegri bottled this game, badly.

Sticking with the 4-2-3-1 was a good move, but he had no Plan B after he lost Dybala, and it was back to just hoping that 11 professionals playing sandlot football would run into enough goals to win the game. He could do nothing but revert to the 4-4-2 that’s done absolutely nothing over the course of the year.

His in-game subs were head-scratchers. It was interesting and a little refreshing to see Kaio Jorge come on for Dybala, but also a little odd given the presence of Kean. Perhaps Allegri was hoping that Kaio’s skillset, which is more like that of a second striker, would make for a better like-for-like replacement. Perhaps Kean simply needed the rest. Regardless, the Brazilian simply isn’t a creator, and he clearly wasn’t on the same page as his teammates. The triple sub he made with 14 minutes to go was simply baffling, as it removed the two players who had made the biggest contributions to the attack. Had he replaced Bernardeschi with Soule, it might have made a little bit of sense, but instead he put on Bentancur, who just isn’t the kind of player who you throw on when you need to score goals. He was also way too late making his changes — an unfortunate problem of his that has not gotten any better.

At the end of the day, this was yet another instance where Allegri didn’t give his players a plan, nor did he put them in the best position to succeed, and, unsurprisingly, they didn’t.

LOOKING AHEAD

There are only two more games before Christmas. The team gets a rare full week of rest before their trip to Bologna on Saturday, then they finish the andata with a home game against relegation-threatened Cagliari the following Tuesday. Two games that they should — emphasis on should — be able to win.

But with recent history ... who knows?