It wasn’t pretty. It was even on the verge of yet another disaster in Serie A. The play still wasn’t as good as many people would like to see from Juventus, but when you’re desperate, you’ll take three points any way you can. And that’s exactly what Juventus did on Wednesday night, earning a 3-2 victory in La Spezia.
For the first time this season, you actually sensed Juventus understood how important it was to grab a victory. After blowing yet another lead and falling behind Spezia 2-1 early in the second half, Juventus showed a sense of urgency that fans have been waiting to see for a long time.
There were still plenty of frustrations that came along with the victory, specifically seeing another opener washed out immediately by the opponents, but at the end of the day, Juventus got a win that should take a bit of pressure off both Max Allegri and the players.
It was a massive three points on the road and even though it’s early, it can currently end the talks of Juventus being in the relegation zone as it was enough to move the club up five spots into 13th where it sits on five points through five matches.
As with any midweek game, the clash with Spezia came with some rotation to the starting XI as Allegri made five changes from the draw with Milan. Wojciech Szczesny was still in goal, with Leonardo Bonucci paired with Matthijs de Ligt this time. Danilo stayed at right back and Mattia De Sciglio getting the start on the left side of the defense. Adrien Rabiot played on the left side of midfield again, while Rodrigo Bentancur was joined by Weston McKennie in the center. Federico Chiesa took on the Juan Cuadrado role as a right midfielder with a little more freedom to roam, helping out Paulo Dybala and Moise Kean in the attack.
Spezia just made two changes from its first win of the season when it took down Venezia over the weekend. Thiago Motta stuck with his aggressive 4-2-3-1 shape and was not scared of putting pressure on the Juventus backline which was apparent from the first whistle.
Spezia created the first chance of the game with two unmarked players finding their way into the 6-yard box, but the cross from Daniele Verde went all the way through before Chiesa was called upon to defend the second ball.
That was a theme of the first half for Chiesa as he showed up all over the place on both ends of the field. He was asked to help out on the defensive side more often than we’d expect, but he delivered when needed while still being a threat in the attack. Chiesa had a couple of good link-up plays with McKennie on the right side, but that was the only way Juventus was getting any width into its attack. The left side stayed pretty dormant in the first half without De Sciglio contributing much and sometimes looking lost in possession.
McKennie stayed active, especially in the attack which seems to be the role Allegri wants him to play the most. He had a header that appeared to be on target in the first half but was blocked by a Spezia defender who was pushed in front of the ball by de Ligt. McKennie had other chances to make an impact in the attack, finding himself in a good position several times but never finding the final ball to create a goal for himself or for his teammates.
The opener finally came in the 28th minute when one of Bonucci’s long balls was perfectly placed at the top of the 18 where Rabiot won a header, leaving the ball at the feet of Kean. He controlled the ball, patiently waited for an opening and finished beautifully into the bottom corner to put Juventus into the lead.
However, as usual, it did not take long for the Juventus opponent to respond as Spezia immediately got on the front foot. The defense did not close in on Verde who let a shot rip from the top of the box, forcing a good save from Szczesny. But, it was again the second chance that caused the most problems for Juventus. Emmanuel Gyasi picked up the ball in the corner before cutting in on his right foot and seeing his shot deflect and loop over the Polish goalkeeper for the equalizer in the 33rd minute.
The rest of the first half made Spezia look like the better team as Juventus struggled to deal with the pressure on its defense and no one wanted to do much going forward. Dybala continued to have some bright moments but he was often left doing the work on his own or just trying to do too much when the help was arriving late.
In the second half, Juventus appeared to come out of the locker room with the right mindset of needing the win but Spezia took advantage of that and jumped out in front for the first time with a superb solo counter attack from Janis Antiste. He caught Bonucci being too aggressive at the midway line and ran down a long ball before cutting in on the veteran defender and beating him and Szczesny at the near post with the help of another deflection.
19-YEAR-OLD JANIS ANTISTE GIVES SPEZIA THE LEAD OVER JUVENTUS pic.twitter.com/7MfeaYYZhr— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 22, 2021
The response to the goal was nothing special from Juventus. There was a lot of frustration shown when shots got blocked, not a lot of synergy between the attack and whenever players did look threatening, they never could do anything to actually threaten the goal.
Meanwhile, the hosts continued to threaten on the counterattack. Simone Bastoni could’ve had a pair of assists in the span of just a couple of minutes as he bombarded down the left wing to lead those Spezia counter attacks. His first was put right across the face of goal but no one was home to tap it in. His second found its way to Antiste who saw his attempt cleared off the line by halftime substitute Manuel Locatelli.
The play may have sparked Juventus a little bit or at least woken up Chiesa because the leveler came just a minute later. Chiesa found Alvaro Morata inside the box and made the run to get the ball back from the striker but instead found the ball at his feet after Morata’s shot was blocked. His quick reactions allowed him to meg one defender before bursting to the ball and beating the goalkeeper with a little poke into the back of the net in the 66th minute.
FEDERICO CHIESA FINDS THE EQUALIZER FOR JUVE pic.twitter.com/SXeVdVLkYl— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 22, 2021
The goal certainly brought Juventus back to life and Chiesa continued to be the heartbeat of the attack, forcing the issue and finally putting some pressure on Spezia’s defense. Another corner came for Dybala to deliver and it was Juventus who capitalized on a defensive mistake this time. Alex Sandro won the initial ball in, but Dimitrios Nikolaou got a touch to it and was set to clear the ball away. However, the defender could not get a good clearance out and de Ligt saw an opening, lashing at the ball and finding the bottom corner to put Juventus in front, to the delight of a very relieved Pavel Nedved.
66': Chiesa ⚽— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 22, 2021
72': de Ligt ⚽
Two goals in six minutes. Juve turned it on in the second half pic.twitter.com/SmzlaMeg2W
For the final 20 minutes of the game, the “Juventus with a lead” returned to the field and it was nearly just as disastrous as ever. Spezia created the opportunities to level the game again, forcing Szczesny into his best save of the night in the 85th minute. It was quickly followed by a corner kick finding the head of an unmarked Kelvin Amian, but fortunately for the Juventus defense, the header went well wide.
Juventus saw the game out with some nice gamesmanship and some excellent holdup play in the corner in the final moments.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY – 6.5. Szczesny did look uncomfortable at times, but he will rightfully feel unlucky being beaten by two deflections. He made a couple of big saves when needed as well. Not his best, but certainly not his worst.
DANILO – 5.5. There was not much to say about Danilo as he never ventured too far forward. He got bailed out by a couple of his teammates throughout the game, including nearly being at fault for a late equalizer without Szczesny’s save. He also needed plenty of help from Chiesa backtracking into the defense.
LEONARDO BONUCCI – 6. It was an absolute disaster from Bonucci on Spezia’s second goal. He was out of position the entire play and got cooked by a teenager. He does earn some points for providing the ball leading to the opening goal and his passing was still a catalyst for most of the night.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT – 7.5. There was not much to speak about of de Ligt in the defense — which is certainly what you want to say about your defenders. He had the first real chance of the game for Juventus, putting a loose ball just over the bar in the first half. He made sure not to miss his second chance, putting away Juve’s first winning goal of the Serie A season.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO – 5.5. It may not be entirely de Sciglio’s fault but it was clear he did not belong on the left side. He couldn’t come close to contributing to the same style of play that makes Alex Sandro and Luca Pellegrini so effective. Just looked lost but also no major mistakes so there is that.
FEDERICO CHIESA – 9. It was all about Chiesa in the second half. He was the source of that sense of urgency which ended up winning the game for Juventus. His goal was special. Would have liked to see more chances created in the first half, but he was asked to do a lot of tracking back and he still did that pretty well.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR – 6. The Uruguayan left a lot to be desired in the first half and that’s why he was subbed off after only 45 minutes. Not a bad game from him, but the connection from the defense to the attack was non-existent at times and that falls on Bentancur in this game.
WESTON MCKENNIE – 6.5. McKennie had every chance in the world to either get a goal or an assist in this game. He is playing in a more attacking role as Allegri wants and he found himself in great positions throughout the night. He linked well with his teammates but just never found the right ball or final touch when it mattered. His first full 90 of the season.
ADRIEN RABIOT – 7.5. Rabiot was very tame through most of the night, calmly getting done what was asked of him. The one time he may have been a little out of position was when he was the furthest man forward, winning a header and grabbing an assist for Kean’s goal.
PAULO DYBALA – 7. Probably deserved a goal for his play. He certainly tried to get it, controlling the attack for the middle 30 minutes of the game. It was almost to a fault, however, maybe trying to do too much at times when he saw an opening.
MOISE KEAN – 6.5. It was a lovely touch and finish to get his first goal for Juventus since 2019. But after the goal, he was very stagnant and seemed to be waiting for his substitute for the next 30 minutes. Great moment, tough night.
ALEX SANDRO – 6.5. Much more lively on the left side, brought in some extra width. Probably should have started if it wasn’t going to be a rest day for him.
MANUEL LOCATELLI – 7.5. A goal-line clearance is just as good as a goal. He was lively on both ends of the field and did a lot of the dirty work in the midfield on his own during the second half.
ALVARO MORATA – 6.5. Helped create some chances. You could tell just his presence worried Spezia a little more than Kean did. Brought more movement into the attack.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI – 6.5. Didn’t get to do too much but walked away with a classic Chiellini head wrap so that counts for something. Also had some nice dribbling in the corner to kill the game off.
DEJAN KULUSEVSKI – NA. Only got to see about 10 minutes. Did draw a booking for M’Bala Nzola.
We were very close to seeing another few days of Allegri bashing, but a win has saved him a little bit of time. Still, this was not his best night as some of the same problems from the rest of the league games showed up in this one.
Juventus still appears to be dreadful when playing with a lead. Spezia was arguably the better team from the 30th minute to the 65th minute then against in the final 20 minutes after de Ligt’s goal. That has to fall on the manager a little bit.
After Spezia’s first goal, Allegri was doing his best to keep his team calm but that’s obviously not what is needed when your team is desperate for a win and the score was 1-1. Calm wasn’t the answer, urgency was and that finally arrived for about 10 minutes in the second half.
As for his decisions, bringing on Alex Sandro at halftime was definitely needed but it’s hard to give the manager credit for fixing something that was his fault to begin with. The Morata for Kean sub was obvious but needed and immediately changed the flow of the attack, resulting in a pair of goals. In the starting XI, he was asking Chiesa to do a lot of defensive work which is fine sometimes but it also hurt the attack when Kean or Dybala were put on an island without an outlet to the wing. Meanwhile, McKennie is being told to be an attacking player instead of working back as a midfielder should. Still plenty of questions around those tactics which seem to be weekly as long as Allegri is using the 4-4-2.
Juventus will have an opportunity to jump a couple of more spots in the table when it hosts 12th place Sampdoria on Sunday with an early kickoff. You may see a few more changes to the lineup as rotation will be needed to find some fresh legs for next Wednesday’s Champions League matchup with Chelsea.