You could tell this was going to be a letdown of a game the minute the pre-game coverage started Wednesday night and a sea of empty white seats was noticeable at the Juventus Stadium.
Morale was not at its highest — that’s an understatement, sure. And we can excuse the lackluster showing in the stands against Salernitana because that’s not the hottest ticket in town, I get it. But it was rare to see such an empty stadium in the first home game for the European campaign — especially with Benfica being the away side and the match being tipped as the most important one of the group stage by the coach himself.
Turns out, people who decided to not spend their hard-earned euros were the only winners outside of Benfica of the night. Juventus’ supremely lackluster and disappointing showing in a 2-1 defeat against the Portuguese side is the latest negative result for a team that looks more hopeless by the day.
In a lot of ways, this feels like the beginning of the end for a team that never even left second gear to begin with.
LVP: Leo Bonucci
Bonucci is, in a lot of ways, the biggest example of what ails Juventus.
There’s blame to be put in the management and the coaching — we’ll get to that, don’t worry — and the general dysfunction that is currently felt in Turin. But one of the many things that went wrong with the Bianconeri on Wednesday night was how evidently slow and old and just not that good anymore so many of the players who lined up in black and white looked. No one fits that description more than the very captain of the team.
Bonucci was a great defender, no doubt about it, and he will be rightly remembered as such. But Bonucci in his current form is not a Champions League starter on a credible team, he is just not. Father Time remains undefeated, there’s no shame in that, but it’s something that has to be addressed.
He doesn’t have the pace anymore and he doesn’t have the physicality to impose himself against the caliber of players that populate the teams with European pedigree. The fact that he is still an automatic starter when fit is significantly more due to the name that is printed on the back of the jersey and the reputation that it entails than the actual output on the pitch.
Speaking of people who are living on reputation alone at this point …
Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Dusan Vlahovic (6 Points)
Max Allegri was not fired immediately after the final whistle of Wednesday night’s game as many people clamored for on social media. But, for all intents and purposes, this is the game that is going to end up costing him his job.
The result alone is bad enough as it left Juventus with zero points after two matchdays in the group stage, making qualification for the round of 16 of the Champions League unlikelier than ever. If Juventus fail to make it to the next round, it’s hard to foresee any scenario in which the Italian manages to retain his post.
(Maybe if they were leading the Serie A table? And how unlikely is that?)
But even if you don’t take into account the result, from a pure PR standpoint this result is a nightmare for Allegri. After speaking with the media in the run-up to the Paris Saint-Germain matchup, Allegri went out of his way to state that this meeting with Benfica was the most important matchup of the group stage. And he was right! Juve, currently, has no business competing against PSG, but they didn’t really have to if they took care of things against Benfica in their head-to-head matchups.
Four points out of the two games against the Portuguese giants with victories against Macabbi Haifa should be more than enough to make it to the next round regardless of what happened against PSG. Maybe some key guys come back from injuries for the knockout rounds and you had a shot. Despite people throwing a hissy fit over the statement, Max Allegri was 100% correct.
All of this context makes the performance even worse. Not only did Juventus lose the game but they were played off the pitch, especially in the second half. This wasn’t a scenario in which you can talk yourself into a different result if this or that had gone differently. This wasn't VAR screwing you out of a goal or a bad ref call changing the game.
Benfica was flat out better — not a little bit better, but significantly better. The second half was arguably the nadir of the 2022-23 season, with the 2-1 final score line being somehow complimentary to a Juve squad that was consistently under siege and only escaped humiliation thanks to — yet another — virtuoso Mattia Perin performance.
Yes, there’s a lot of injuries — Manuel Locatelli, Adrien Rabiot, Paul Pogba and Federico Chiesa are not nothing — and yes, there’s a bunch of guys that have no business being in a Juve jersey. But to openly claim that this is the biggest game of your campaign and lay an egg this big is inexcusable.
Firing the coach is not going to immediately fix all the problems that Juventus currently have — which are a lot! — but at some point there has to be repercussions for the continued lack of results and there is currently no more logical target than the man who clamored to the skies that this is the game that they had to deliver and fell flat on his face.
Put Up or Shut Up
You know what? I’m kind of done with the Dusan Vlahovic martyr narrative.
The third-most expensive ever signing in the winter transfer season had yet another lackluster game as he failed to make any difference in the game and was legitimately outplayed by Arek Milik. And I know what you are going to say “He doesn’t get any service! What’s he supposed to do!”
The answer is something, anything. You are a supposed superstar, the club is not force feeding you chances, ok, what next? You are just rendered useless when that happens? You are completely unable to make something happen by yourself? Milik — a striker playing in the exact same system — has only one less goal and should be even with the multimillion euro man if VAR was only mildly competent. Marko Arnautovic has two more goals and he plays for a team that just fired their coach not one week ago.
(You know who also doesn’t get a ton of service? Erling Haaland, but he makes it work somehow. For proof watch the game he had against Borussia Dortmund, he had maybe even fewer touches than Vlahovic did but when it came time to be effective, he was.)
Make runs! Open up space for teammates! Distribute! Do something to warrant the superstar tag that the team and the fans have quickly bestowed upon you. Because if the only way my guy is effective is when being force fed the ball, there’s a number of guys out there that can do the same job for a significantly lower price tag.
Parting Shot of the Week
In a weird moment of self-flagellation, after the game, Juve players walked disheartened to the Curva Sud to be loudly booed by the fans when the game was over.
The Juve tifosi in the Curva whistling to the players pic.twitter.com/CL9IxCUOUW— JuveFC (@juvefcdotcom) September 15, 2022
There was no attempt to ask for support or to say anything to the Juve faithful. The only purpose of that walk was to get jeered for a few minutes. They looked like a team that was completely done with the season, a team with no fight left in them. Which I’d get if this was a final or we were in the month of April or May, but we are in September. The season is not 15 games old and nobody seems to be having a good time.
Juventus has consistently been worse every year for a good five seasons now. There are no easy fixes to get out of this mess. If a season playing Europa League — or no European football — is what it takes to truly start fresh again and try to build the next great Juventus team the right way then so be it.
See you Sunday.