Once the game started, they ... did not do that.
Instead, Juve proved to be second-best for large chunks of the game. After opening the scoring on another stunning direct free kick for Dusan Vlahovic, they proceeded to provide a textbook example of playing down to one’s opposition. For long passages, they looked like they could barely make a pass, and Spezia had them sealed into their own half for lengthy stretches — especially in the first half — and made some almost comical giveaways that a better team would have easily cashed in on. It had all the classic hallmarks of a game that Juve would be punished for allowing a far lesser opponent to stay in the game.
Fortunately, Spezia are just that bad, and they never took advantage of the opportunities that Juve were constantly gifting them. Of the nine shots they took on the day, none of them found the target, and seven of them were blocked. Juve kept their goalkeepers — plural, thanks to a nasty-looking injury toward the end of the first half — unworked despite the sometimes frenetic nature of the defending, and come stoppage time Juve finally managed to produce a shot in open play, sealing an ugly victory with a 2-0 scoreline.
Massimiliano Allegri spent some time in his pre-match press conference talking about the need for recovery in a crazy stretch of games, but he kept the team that played Roma mostly together. Wojciech Szczesny started at the base of a 4-3-3 formation. The most notable change from the weekend was Federico Gatti, who made his Serie A debut in central defense alongside Bremer. Danilo and Mattia De Sciglio framed that pair, while Fabio Miretti, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot made up the midfield. Moise Kean made his first start of the season on the left side of the trident, joining Juan Cuadrado and Vlahovic.
Luca Gotti took over at Spezia after his dismissal at Udinese late last year. He sent his charges out in a 3-5-2 setup. Bartlomiej Dragowski started in goal, protected by Petko Hristov, Dimitrios Nikolaou, and Jakub Kiwior. Emil Holm and Arkadiusz Reca were the wingbacks, flanking Simone Bastoni, Mehdi Bourabia, and Viktor Kovalenko in midfield. M’Bala Nzola and Emmanuel Gyasi paired up up top.
Juve started the game with the lion’s share of the attacking football, but without much in the way of shot creation besides a blocked effort from Rabiot. That changed when Cuadrado was bundled over in the eighth minute, leaving Vlahovic standing over a free kick that was eerily similar to the one he scored on Saturday. The big Serb made sure the finish was just as similar as the start, belting a gorgeous strike that slammed into the back of the net past a flying Dragowski to give Juve the lead.
But after taking the lead, the Old Lady started grinding the gears. They started making mistake after mistake in possession, but were bailed out by Spezia’s inability to make them pay for it. In the 16th minute Gyasi looked to have broken through the line to lob Szczesny, but Gatti had smartly stepped forward to catch him in an offside trap and the assistant immediately raised his flag.
Vlahovic became more and more of an isolated figure at the top of Juve’s formation as Spezia found their footing and took the game to the Bianconeri. There was an occasional spark, like when Miretti had a shot blocked after a strong run or when Vlahovic rose for a header of a corner only to put the ball over, but for the most part Spezia moved the ball on the attack with relative impunity.
There was a scary moment at the end of the first half on a Spezia corner. Szczesny had gone up to claim the corner but let it slip through his hands. As he came down, his right foot landed on Rabiot’s and his ankle twisted badly. Juve’s defense cleared the ball while the Poland No. 1 writhed in pain in the box, signaling the bench immediately that he was in trouble. Eventually he was stretchered off the field and replaced by Mattia Perin.
Juve should’ve had the opportunity to double their lead in first-half stoppage time when Cuadrado pushed his way into the box and was bumped to the ground by Hristov. The Bulgarian clearly bodied the winger off the ball without coming near the ball, but referee Andrea Colombo let the obvious foul go, and VAR official Luigi Nasca somehow contrived to agree with him, in yet another indictment of the state of Italian officiating.
Things didn’t get much better as the second half began. Miretti was denied with a block after a great first touch on a Locatelli entry pass, but for the most part it was still Spezia making noise with possession as Juve continued to scuffle. Relatively quickly Allegri decided he’d seen enough, sending on Filip Kostic and Angel Di Maria to try to rev up the attack, but the two struggled to inject much into the side either. It took another set piece for Juve to get close, when Vlahovic sent a bullet header into the ground at Dragowski’s feet, only to see Dragowski somehow get down to claw the ball off the line.
The match settled into a dire slog, with Juve trying desperately to conjure up something to finish the game off with while Spezia repeatedly failed to take advantage of a Juve team that was all over the place in front of them. It wasn’t until the 82nd minute that either team had a true chance when Rabiot and Danilo combined to send the latter down the right side, only to blaze over as he charged down the field.
The game was finally put beyond doubt as stoppage time began. As it had been most of the game, when something good happened, it came from the feet of Miretti, who dipped his shoulder to slip past his man after De Sciglio fed him and scampered downfield again. Miretti hit a gorgeous pass from the wing to Arkadiusz Milik just behind the penalty area. Milik, who had just entered in the 84th minute, took an excellent turn and then struck the ball back against the grain, beating Dragowski and putting the finishing touch on what had been an entirely unnecessary slog of a match.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 6. Had little to do before he got hurt late in the first half. That injury looked really nasty, but Allegri in his post-match press conference said that the medical staff had ruled out any fractures, but that doesn’t mean he’s escaped any serious ligament damage. Here’s hoping.
DANILO - 6. If I told you that three people tied for the team lead in shots, you probably wouldn’t have thought Danilo was one of them. But he managed a couple of headers off corners as well as that miss late on. Also relatively solid defensively.
FEDERICO GATTI - 6.5. A solid first outing in the top flight, registering a tackle, two interceptions, and four clearances. He also showed some really good instincts for timing, stepping up to execute a perfect offside trap and jumping a couple more passing lanes.
BREMER - 7. A huge day in the back on a day Juventus needed him there. His defensive stats were insane, racking up three tackles, four interceptions, and seven clearances. He topped that all off with two blocked shots. He was simply fantastic, and showed exactly why Juve pipped in front of Inter to sign him.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6. Relatively solid defensively, and even had a key pass going forward. Seemed to click better on the overlap once Kostic was on the team.
FABIO MIRETTI - 7. Anything good that happened after Vlahovic’s free kick happened because Miretti made it happen. While all three of the shots he took were blocked, he led the team with four key passes, and he also drew three fouls. His assist to Milik was simply fantastic. Defensively he made three tackles and an interception. If there was one knock on him it was his passing accuracy, which was only just above 50%, but he is proving his worth every single day.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. Racked up three tackles in front of defense and notched a key pass. With Leandro Paredes inbound, he might be freed up to operate to his true potential.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. Did a lot of the midfield dirty work, with two tackles and two interceptions to go along with a pair of blocked shots. He also had the highest pass completion of anyone who wasn’t in defense with a 93.9 number, and led the team with four dribbles.
JUAN CUADRADO - 5.5. Simply didn’t have the kind of burst and creativity we’re used to seeing. He did manage to make three key passes, but it just felt like a lethargic day overall,. and it was a justifiable decision to sub him out so early in the half.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 7. That free kick is gorgeous, and it could give Juve a few goals that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. He worked really hard off the ball, but the service just isn’t doing him any kindnesses. Also tracked back to the tune of two tackles and a clearance.
MOISE KEAN - 5. The majority of the attack built on the opposite end, and when he did get involved early it didn’t go so well. He did track back well and registered two tackled, but he clearly needs to do more.
MATTIA PERIN - 6. Had very little to do once he came on as Spezia simply didn’t put the ball on target. He’s gonna get a big dose of playing time it looks like.
ANGEL DI MARIA - 5. He looked like he was still getting up to speed after the groin injury he suffered in Round 1. Didn’t really make much of a contribution overall.
FILIP KOSTIC - 6. Only made nine passes, but two of them led to shots. He flew up and down the field, picking up two tackles, two clearances, and an interception in the defensive phase.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - NR. His first goal in a Juventus shirt was a beaut, with a fantastic turn and his shot cutting back against the grain. He’ll be a fantastic addition as a backup to Vlahovic.
ALEX SANDRO - NR. Made a weird mistake as soon as he came on, but made up for it with a good defensive header when he was left alone with two guys in the box.
I don’t really know how to approach this game from the manager’s point of view. On one hand, this had all the hallmarks of Allegri’s worst tendencies. The team dropped back hard after going ahead, holding on to a one-goal lead for dear life. They couldn’t get out of their own half for a distressing amount of time, and it felt like they forgot how to pass the ball to each other.
Part of the problem was that the team’s spacing was all over the place, either too close to each other or way too far away. It wasn’t quite the octagon possession style that we saw in Genoa, but that’s because Juve didn’t have as much possession. The end result was that the defense was often scrambling to clean up a mistake. They did so, although that was as much a factor of Spezia simply being bad and unable to take the opportunities as it was the Juve defense being up to the task. Juve had to block seven shots over the course of the game.
The spacing issue is 100 percent a coaching problem that needs to be addressed, as are the concentration lapses when it comes to passing the ball. If Juve had been playing a better team, things would’ve been far different. Allegri isn’t the first coach to have to deal with this team playing down to its competition, but he needs to figure out a way to stop it from happening, because Juventus can’t afford dropped points against guys like this.
Two of those aforementioned better teams are coming up next. On Saturday, Juve will head to Florence to take on Fiorentina. Then Champions League play begins on Tuesday with a huge trip to the Parc des Princes to take on Paris Saint-Germain. After that is another potential trap game in the form of Salernitana.