That’s the last time that Juventus went their first four games in Serie A without winning a game.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, that start came about in a very similar fashion to this one. The ‘61-62 team blew two leads en route to a start of two draws and two losses. As the current Bianconeri trudged off the field after their 1-1 draw against AC Milan on Sunday, they’d done their ignominious predecessors one better. Of their four games, they’ve scored first in three of them. In the first they were up 2-0. But they have completely failed to consolidate those leads. Not only have they not done so, it almost feels as if they have not done so by design. Over their last two league games Juventus have scored within the first 10 minutes and responded by sitting back and doing nothing, inviting good teams in Napoli and Milan to come and get their goals.
Eventually, both did. Juve was frankly lucky that Milan didn’t follow Napoli’s example and completely turn the game around the way the Partenopei did a week ago. The two games were, frankly, almost carbon copies. Despite their lack of attacking ambition, Juve still had control of the game until the last 15 or 20 minutes, before self-destructing — this time thanks to some really awful marking on a corner kick as opposed to the individual errors of last week — and throwing away points that they should have had. The result sees Juve sitting in the relegation zone at 18th, behind the likes of Genoa, Venezia, and Spezia, all of whom have managed to win games before Juventus have.
Massimiliano Allegri made only one change from the team that beat Malmo in midweek. Wojciech Szczesny started in goal behind the line of Danilo, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, and Alex Sandro. Juan Cuadrado, Rodrigo Bentancur, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot spanned the midfield, with Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala tipping the spear up top.
Stefano Pioli came into the game in a major selection crisis. Both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Olivier Giroud were out due to injuries, leaving him without a natural center-forward. Additionally, he was without full-back Davide Calabria, who is finally starting to come into his own but injured himself in training after a good performance against Liverpool in midweek. Forced to improvise, he plugged some guys into his standard 4-2-3-1 in unfamiliar positions. Mike Maignan started Milan’s first game against Juve without Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal in six years. Fikayo Tomori slid over to right-back in place of Calabria, joining Alessio Romagnoli, Simon Kjaer, and Theo Hernandez in defense. Franck Kessie and Sandro Tonali made up the double pivot, while Alexis Saelemaekers, Brahim Diaz, and Rafael Leao supported Ante Rebic in a false nine role up front.
Juve started this match even faster than they did against Napoli. After Milan earned an early corner off a deflected Sandro Tonali shot, and when the initial effort was headed out, Hernandez tried to nudge it back into the mix. But the header was sniffed out by Sandro, who moved it forward for Dybala. The Argentine took a fantastic first touch, slipping the ball past Saelemaekers and putting Morata completely clear on goal. Hernandez rushed to try to catch the Spaniard, but it was no good, nor was Maignan’s attempt to come out, and Morata’s dinked finish had Juve up 1-0 before some fans could settle into their seats.
Milan tried to respond by ramping up the pressure the way Napoli had the previous week, but Juve did a much better job passing their way out of the press than they had in Naples. They clearly assumed a defensive posture, allowing Milan’s defensive line the time to play the ball before applying their own press as the ball got closer to the box. The shortcomings of the lineup Pioli had been forced into became readily apparent. Without the reference point of a true striker, Milan couldn’t make their attack work, and were often forced to play the ball wide and send in crosses, which was also a problem because there wasn’t anyone in the box to compete with Bonucci and Chiellini aerially. The easily-dealt-with balls turned into ample fodder for the counterattack, and the Milan defense had to work to deny some good passes before Morata and Dybala forced Maignan into a pair of saves, the former coming closest with a near-post flick off a Sandro cross that the Frenchman did well to parry around the post.
Every time Milan lost the ball, it felt like Juve would have the opportunity to double their lead. Meanwhile, the visitors only managed a single shot on target, when Tonali hit his own man with an attempt off a free kick from a long way out, then latched on the carom himself and tried again, flying it right into Szczesny’s arms. At the other end, Bonucci headed over off a great free kick delivery from Dybala, then Tomori was lucky not to give away a dangerous free kick when he took down Rabiot as he burst through on goal, but referee Daniele Doveri didn’t have a good angle to see the contact.
Milan’s problems got deeper with 10 minutes to go in the period when Kjaer went down after trying to chase down yet another counter attempt, immediately signaling he needed a replacement. With their top center-back now out, it looked like Juve had an even better chance at putting the game away early. Tomori slid back into the center of defense to make room for Pierre Kalulu, and immediately made his presence felt in the middle of the park when he sealed off Morata after he was put into the channel after another excellent pass. Juve headed into the locker room up a goal, but one had the feeling that they would rue their misses.
Rue them they did. Allegri had clearly meant to defend and counter all night long, but after Morata hit another backwards flick toward goal that Maignan stopped with relative ease, Juve rarely pressed him into action again. The good news was Milan was posing even less of a threat, continuing the cycle of impotent crosses or long-range efforts that flew wide of the target. Rebic only had 18 touches by the hour mark, fewer than any other outfield player on the field, including Kalulu, who had missed the game’s first half-hour.
But the Croatian finally started to make an adjustment, dropping deeper or wider to get himself some time on the ball. With 14 minutes left, Allegri’s strategy finally came back to haunt him. After Rabiot conceded a corner after Kululu’s attempt to head a cross back into the middle hit him awkwardly in the hip, Rebic darted through traffic to shake the marking of Locatelli, while Rabiot simply watched the ball go over his head for the Croatian to glance a free header that bounced past a stranded Szczesny and in off the far post. After not having clear scoring chance all game long, Juve’s strategy of defend-and-counter had once again failed them.
Dejan Kulusevski immediately came in for Dybala, who was having a fantastic game but also looked spent. He combined with Moise Kean, who had come in for an injured Morata on 66 minutes. The young striker had scored a goal to beat Milan under Allegri three seasons ago, but after sitting and defending for 75 minutes, it proved difficult for Juve to pick themselves off the mat and attack. The closest they came to regaining their lead came after Kean stuck out a foot to stab the ball toward goal after a corner kick flew over the box, but the ball bounced just wide. Milan came far closer seconds later when Kalulu ran into the box from deep and was put through by Hernandez, but Szczesny made an excellent reaction save to keep the game tied.
That was the last of the real action, and after three minutes of stoppage time Doveri blew his whistle, bringing Juve’s latest collapse to a halt and dropping them all the way into the relegation zone after their worst start in 60 years.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Was authoritative as Milan put cross after wayward cross in the box for the first two-thirds of the game, and his impressive save on Kululu ended up preserving the point. A major step forward after his horrific start.
DANILO - 6.5. The only player other than Morata to find the target with a shot, and he notched three tackles and three clearances on the defensive end, bottling up a dangerous winger in Leao.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 7. Four tackles and two interceptions to go along with a key pass, and he was successful on 11 of 15 long balls. Had a strong game sharing Rebic with Chiellini and refusing to let him past.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 6.5. Made four clearances and blocked a pair of shots, and completely smothered Rebic as a false nine. Not the reason things broke down.
ALEX SANDRO - 6.5. Had a day with Saelemaekers while the Belgian was responsible for a lot of the defensive duties on the right, notching a pair of key passes before Kalulu’s presence beefed up the defense. Also led the team in dribbles.
JUAN CUADRADO - 5.5. Not your typical excellent day for Juan. After Liverpool (and Andrea Pirlo a year ago) provided a blueprint on how to hurt Milan by attacking Hernandez on Milan’s left flank, he couldn’t provide much on that side, He was dispossessed at least twice by a tracking Leao, and his lack of production was a big reason why Juve’s chances dried up in the second half.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 6. A little awkward with his passing at times, but he was strong in defense, intercepting two passes and interrupting numerous passages of play with his energy and press.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5.5. His range of passing was on impressive display, but losing Rebic on that corner was inexcusable and loses him major points.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. Made a key pass and was the only player other than Morata to take more than one shot, but he got caught ball watching on the game-tying corner right after Szczesny straight up told him to keep an eye on that area.
PAULO DYBALA - 7. One of his best games of the year. He tied Brahim Diaz for the game high with three key passes, assisted on Morata’s opener, and he also dropped back to help out defensively numerous times, regaining and keeping possession in crowds. Deserved more out of his performance.
ALVARO MORATA - 7. Worked tirelessly and hit the target with all three of his shots. His goal was excellent, and here’s hoping the injury that forced him off was just a knock.
MOISE KEAN - 6. Came close to winning the game late, getting into decent positions. The goals keep feeling like they’re coming.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 6. Made three tackles in 19 minutes, but didn’t get as much going in the attacking phase as he comes back from injury.
DEJAN KULUSEVSKI - NR. On just after the match turned, he barely got a chance to make an impact.
There comes a time when a manager has to realize something isn’t working. For Max Allegri, that time has to be now.
Allegri has now been defending and countering for most, if not all, of every game he’s played since he’s been back, and it’s come back to bite him every time, including each of the last two nights. Not only does such a strategy require razor’s edge precision on the part of the defense in order to avoid things like what happened on Rebic’s goal, it keeps the team from being able to get back into an attacking mindset when the team is put in a position that requires them to chase a goal again.
Allegri raged at his post-match press conference about the lack of focus that led to Milan nearly turning the game around in the last 15 minutes, but the fact of the matter is his out-and-out refusal to let the team attack is what put them in that position in the first place. The one part of his post-match presser that was remotely acceptable was when he took responsibility for the team’s subs, but he did it for all the wrong reasons, claiming he should’ve added more defensive players as opposed to Chiesa, Kean, and Kulusevski, but he’s got it backwards — he needed to show more initiative to chase goal No. 2 and close the game out. Milan was playing with a defender out of position for the first half-hour of the game and without their top center-back thereafter, and instead of trying to exploit that, or attacking the aforementioned weakness of Hernandez’s defense, Allegri retreated the team into a shell and let them come at him. That worked fine — until it didn’t.
Allegri has to cut the crap and start being more assertive. Otherwise, points will continue to drop from winning positions and Lord knows where Juve will finish in the table.
Juve will hit the road next for some midweek action, playing a road game against Spezia on Wednesday. That’ll be followed by a Sunday lunchtime kickoff at home against Sampdoria, then a big Champions League clash with Chelsea in Turin on the following Wednesday.