Last week’s opening victory against Sassuolo had all the hallmarks of a hopeful season for Juventus. The team looked crisper, more willing to go forward and control the game, and Massimiliano Allegri even made a deft tactical decision in the middle of the game that turned around an ugly opening period.
Seven days later, a lot of that hope is already burning in a ditch.
Everything about Monday night’s drab goalless draw with Sampdoria was bad. The defending was bad, the clean sheet benefitting from no small bit of luck. The finishing—when the chance to finish anything actually arrived — was bad. The passing was exceptionally bad, with Juve often unable to get out of their own half in the first period of play and providing next to nothing for a stranded Dusan Vlahovic, who only had nine (NINE!) touches all game long.
You can talk all you want about the important player Juventus are missing. But the fact of the matter is that even without the likes of Paul Pogba, Angel Di Maria, and Federico Chiesa, Juventus should be able to beat a Sampdoria squad that lost some of their best players in the transfer window without any adequate replacements. Instead, mistakes all over the field — and from Max as well — led to yet another set of dropped points against a team that Juventus should be beating.
Allegri learned from the adjustment he made in last week’s opener and went with a 4-3-3 setup from the start, although he was missing a few of his more important players from that match. Di Maria and Leonardo Bonucci were both additions to the injury list, along with long-term knee rehabbers Chiesa and Kaio Jorge, Pogba, and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. Mattia Perin again stepped in for Szczesny. Danilele Rugani beat out Federico Gatti for Bonucci’s spot in the starting XI, pairing up with Gleison Bremer in the center of defense. They were flanked by Danilo and Alex Sandro in the fullback spots. Weston McKennie, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot roamed the midfield, while Vlahovic was bookended in attack by Juan Cuadrado and Filip Kostic.
Sampdoria manager Marco Giampaolo went with a 4-1-4-1 formation. Former Juventus youth product Emil Audero started in goal, with Bartosz Bereszynski, Omar Colley, Alex Ferrari, and Tommaso Augello arrayed in front of him. Ronaldo Vieira sat at the base of midfield, with Mehdi Leris, Abdelhamid Sabiri, Tomas Rincon, and Filip Djuricic in a strake behind Francesco Caputo in the striker position.
Things got very wobbly very early when Bremer, one of last week’s best performers, got in position to interdict a good diagonal ball from Sabiri only to completely whiff, allowing Leris a clear run at Perin. Juve’s No. 2 keeper somehow managed to make himself big enough and got a knee on the shot, deflecting it onto the bar. The ball then bounced right back to him, allowing him to smother it and end the threat.
Juve’s slow start continued. For the first 10 minutes they could barely get the ball out of their own half, disjointed passing leading to Samp constantly buzzing around the attacking half. Juve finally started to escape with the help of some long balls from the back, and had a golden opportunity handed to them when Augello allowed himself to be jumped by Cuadrado. The Colombian charged towards the goal, and as he got closer the defense sagged away from Vlahovic running down the center of the box. Cuadrado, though, went by himself, going for power and just barely missed beating Audero with it. While the ball squirted past the Indonesian/Italian keeper, he took enough sting out of it to be able to turn and cover it up, leaving the chance begging and Vlahovic frustrated.
Despite the chance, Samp were still the team in the ascendency.
In the 19th minute, Vlahovic very nearly put the ball into the wrong net when he tried to defend a driven corner by Sabiri. His attempt to clear skewed badly, fortunately bouncing off the outside of the post. But Juve were at least getting a few shots in, and four minutes after that latest scare Kostic, who had so far lived up to his reputation as a cross machine, decided to instead cut in and shoot. Ferrari stepped in and deflected the ball, but Audero adjusted and tipped it over the bar. The ensuing corner was headed straight to Rabiot, but the Frenchman skied his shot.
Still, Samp were the team that looked better in all aspects. Sabiri forced a double block of a short corner in the 32nd minute and was a general menace all over the attacking half. Rabiot hit a first-time shot right at Audero, but despite putting more shots on target they went into the locker room decidedly the second-best team on the field.
It was clear that some changes were necessary, especially in midfield, but the only thing that did get altered was the back line, where Mattia De Sciglio came on for Sandro, who had been booked late in the first half. Juve’s level wasn’t raised all that much, while Samp didn’t pose quite the threat they had, leading to a drab first 15 minutes that didn’t give much prospect of the deadlock being broken.
Things changed slightly for the better when Allegri sent on Fabio Miretti just after the hour mark. That provided a brightness in midfield that had been sorely lacking, and the 19-year-old played a critical role when Juve thought they had finally broken the hosts down in the 65th minute. He robbed Rincon of the ball near midfield, charged toward the box, and sent a through ball in for Vlahovic down the left channel. Vlahovic’s angle was impossibly flat, but he had the presence of mind to turn inward and lay the ball into space, where it was met by an impossibly unmarked Rabiot, who stroked it home from 14 yards out. The Bianconeri celebrated, but the joy was only momentary, as VAR official Luca Banti buzzed down to inform referee Rosario Abisso that Vlahovic had been offside during the buildup.
The goal was chalked off, and it seemed to just deflate the team. As the clock ticked on, there was never any indication that Juve were picking up momentum or gaining any sense of urgency. Even with 10 minutes left, players were walking the ball around their own half as if there was time to spare and the job was already done. Neither team threatened much after the no-goal until the game’s late stages, when both teams came close with some substitutes. Nicolo Rovella nearly put the button on a nice layoff by Miretti but put his shot just over the bar, then seconds later Fabio Quagliarella stuck out a foot to flick a Valerio Verre through ball toward Perin’s goal, who watched with relief as the ball bounced just wide.
Between injuries, cooling breaks, and, unfortunately, a significant amount of gamesmanship on the part of the Sampdoria players, Abisso added six minutes to the end of the game, and halfway through that time Moise Kean delivered a smart back post cross that Kostic volleyed toward the goal, but Audero met the ball with a sprawling parry that kept the score level. When Kean and Bremer both attacked the same corner a few minutes later and saw the ball squirt off both of them for a goal kick, the game’s action was essentially over, and Abisso’s whistle blew shortly thereafter, leaving Juve to wonder what went wrong.
MATTIA PERIN - 6. Only had one save to make on the night, but it was a doozy, and one that not many keepers would’ve made. His distribution, on the other hand, left some things to be desired, and his communication with his defenders was shaky at times, which could just be the need to breed some familiarity with players he doesn’t often work with.
DANILO - 6. Made four tackles and three clearances and made an effort to overlap with Cuadrado, although he didn’t have tons of opportunity to make that effort pay.
DANIELE RUGANI - 6.5. Rugani was probably the best player on the field for Juventus on Monday night, which says a whole lot about this game. He led the team with four clearances and attempted 89 passes — more than four and a half times the largest number attempted by the starting midfielders. Didn’t put a foot wrong positionally.
BREMER - 5.5. Whoo, boy, was he lucky to have Perin bail him out. Not bad the rest of the game but his effort on that early ball to Laris was absolutely awful.
ALEX SANDRO - 5.5. Had one key pass going forward and and was the most accurate of anyone on long balls today. Removed after picking up a booking last week
WESTON McKENNIE - 5. Made none of the incisive runs into the box that were such a big part of the attack last week. Just a bad game all around for the US international.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5. Led the game with five tackles, but looked completely out of sorts in the regista position, which he just isn’t a fit for—yet Allegri insists on playing him there. He only attempted 19 passes, and only completed 84.2 percent of them. He needs to be working further forward.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. Was the only midfielder in the starting XI to register a key pass, but between his lack of game sharpness after a light preseason and his general blah-ness in general, Rabiot is clearly not going to be a major difference maker.
JUAN CUADRADO - 5. Looked old and out of sorts, which is not something we’re all used to. His crossing was non-existent, and he wasn’t doing much in the box either.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 5. Had horrific service, but also had problems of his own. Omar Colley Muscled him out of the game, and his control let him down on multiple occasions. He desperately needs better service, and until that happens we’re going to be watching a lot of games like this.
FILIP KOSTIC - 5.5. His crosses sometimes happen for the sake of crosses with no real target, which is mildly frustrating. But he had some very good moves and was one of only two Juve players to have more than one shot on the day.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6. One of the best players on the field today, which, like Rugani, says a lot. He defended very well, making a pair of tackles and using his positioning to close down long balls quickly.
FABIO MIRETTI - 6. Had a pair of key passes and was instrumental in a lot of Juve’s better moves as the game went on.
MOISE KEAN - NR. Made a pair of key passes and actually did some good work once he swapped wings with Kostic.
NICOLO ROVELLA - NR. Should’ve been on earlier, frankly. He finally made the regista position sing a little, and came very close to winning it with his long-distance drive.
Max has some major adjusting to do.
Allegri seems dead set on playing one of his midfielders as a regista, which is kind of ironic because his move away from that role and toward more hard man-types like Mark Van Bommel at AC Milan is what pushed Andrea Pirlo to Juve and started the Streak in the first place. The problem is he insists on shoehorning Locatelli into that role, when that’s clearly not the place that he is best at. It’s been more than a season, and this has become obvious to anyone that may watch any Juventus games.
With Pogba, Chiesa, and Di Maria out, this Juve is essentially the exact same one that floundered to the finish line last year. When the players aren’t any better, it’s up to the coach to make changes and make the team better. The easiest way to do that is to play guys in the proper positions to continue So far in his second tenure, Allegri has abjectly failed at that. Locatelli is playing at a fraction of his potential as a regista when his play has repeatedly indicated he needs to be closer to goal. Denis Zakaria is stuck playing as a box-to-box midfielder when that’s not what he’s best at. He’s a CDM — arguably a Van Bommel type — that is more at home taking people out in front of defense than making runs all over the field.
Allegri needs to realize that his insistence on playing a system with a regista isn’t working. He needs to either scrap the idea of a traditional regista entirely and install Zakaria in front of defense to gain the ball and move it further up the field for Locatelli or, if he totally insists on using it, give the position to Rovella. The young midfielder made the team better after his introduction, and he’s the only true deep-lying playmaker currently on the roster. Barring the addition of someone like Leandro Paredes, using a regista should entail using Rovella.
Unfortunately, Allegri is still obsessing over the potential for young players making mistakes, totally overlooking the fact that a few mistakes are a small price to pay for the energy and creativity that Rovella and Miretti — who he went out of his way to criticize several times after the game today, which is utterly ludicrous — brought to a team that was devoid of it until the hour mark.
This game has put Allegri on the clock. At this point, he’s been making the same obstinate mistakes for a year. If there isn’t an improvement by the World Cup, the future of his position has to be seriously evaluated.
Juve welcome Paulo Dybala back to the Allianz when Roma come in for Juve’s first big game of the season. Then the midweek fixtures begin, as Juve host Spezia on Wednesday before hitting the road again for another big one against Fiorentina.