“Angry is an understatement,” Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri said in his post-match press conference late Saturday afternoon.
He said the words in response to a question about Fiorentina’s 29th-minute equalizer, what turned out to be the decisive moment in a 1-1 draw, but he could very well have been describing the macrocosm of the Juventus fan base after a performance almost as dire as the debacle against Sampdoria two weeks ago. The only difference was that Juve actually scored and led for 20 minutes before everything went to hell.
The rest of the game was an embarrassment to the Juventus shirt. That is a term I don’t like to use too often, as I find it thrown around far too much over things that aren’t particularly significant. But Saturday’s performance once Arkadiusz Milik scored the opener was truly, completely, stultifyingly awful on every level. They failed to record a shot — any type of shot — for the final 65 minutes of the game. It was almost as though the team thought they’d put themselves into trouble after scoring, and they dropped deeper and deeper into their own half of the field as the game went on.
Fiorentina, on the other hand, scored their equalizer on a lightning-quick counter and only got more motivated to go for the win. Taking advantage of Allegri’s timidity, they sealed Juve into their own third for large stretches of the first half and almost the entirety of the second. They failed to win the game mainly because of two things: 1) a general inability to finish chances that has been their surprising weakness up to this point, and 2) Mattia Perin, who saved a penalty late in the first half and made a flying save with 90 seconds left in regular time to preserve the 1-1 scoreline.
Only one of the two teams at the Stadio Artemio Franchi was playing winning football on Saturday. It wasn’t Juventus, and there are very few signs that the man in the manager’s office intends to start doing so anytime soon.
Allegri and Vincenzo Italiano sent out dueling 4-3-3 formations to start the match. Allegri made five changes to the team that won against Spezia in midweek. Perin once again started in place of the injured Wojciech Szczesny. Danilo was again moved inside to partner with Bremer, leaving Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro to tend the flanks. Leandro Paredes made his first start in Juve colors after making his move from Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday, flanked by Manuel Locatelli and Weston McKennie. Dusan Vlahovic was given his first day off of the season, being replaced by Milik, with Angel Di Maria and Filip Kostic bookending him in the attacking trident.
Italiano, on the other hand, was dealing with a relatively full deck minus the long-term absence of Gaetano Castrovilli. Pietro Terracciano started in goal, protected by Dodo, Igor, Nikola Milenkovic, and Cristiano Biraghi. Antonin Barak, Youssef Maleh, and Sofyan Ambrabat made up the midfield, while Christian Kouame, Luka Jovic, and Riccardo Sottil filled out the attack.
Both teams had quick opportunities in the early going. Paredes jumped a lazy pass by Biraghi in the Fiorentina third just three minutes in and fed Milik, but Milenkovic prevented him from turning to get a shot away. Just three minutes later Amrabat put a free kick back into the mixer and the big center-back got his head to it, only to see it fly wide.
The opener once again came quickly for the Old Lady. It was the ninth minute when Locatelli found Cuadrado going down the right wing. The Colombian crossed it from the byline just outside the box and found Kostic in the left channel. The Serbia international volleyed it back towards the six-yard box, where Milik met it with what can only be described as a powerslide, redirecting it into the goal off his stomach, although in real time one couldn’t be blamed for thinking the striker had just scored with his manhood.
Unfortunately, that was about it in terms of positives for this game where Juve were concerned. Fiorentina immediately went about taking control of the game, something that Juve happily ceded to them. Within five minutes of the goal Fiorentina had had one shot saved (albeit a rather tame one) and two more blocked.
The result hinged on a long sequence just before the half-hour mark. The catalyst was a huge missed opportunity by McKennie, who was put straight down the right channel by Paredes but instead of taking the clear shot facing him he decided instead to put the ball into the middle, where Kostic’s shot was blocked behind. The ensuing corner was greeted with a strong punch from Terracciano — so strong, in fact, that Di Maria badly misjudged the bounce and watched it go over his head, where it was latched on to by Sottil. He found Kouame with a fantastic through ball that put him clean on goal, and the Ivorian, so hampered by injuries over the last two seasons, shaped a nice shot under the arm of an onrushing Perin to tie the score.
The difference in reaction to scoring a goal between the two teams was stark. Where Juve scoring seemed to make them almost afraid, Fiorentina confidently pushed forward for more.
Cuadrado was perhaps lucky to get away with a rough hip-to-hip challenge in the box with Sottil, who sent a stinging free kick into the wall just a few minutes later. Then, with minutes left in the half, the Viola had a golden opportunity to go ahead when a cross from Sottil struck Paredes’ outstretched arm on its way through the box. Originally referee Daniele Doveri missed the infraction, but eventually he headed to the VAR screen, albeit in somewhat strange fashion, as the ball hadn’t actually gone out of play before he blew his whistle and signaled for the review.
The review was quick, and Jovic stepped up to take the kick. Facing him was Perin, who, it must be said, is not anywhere close to the penalty stopper Szczesny is. In fact, he had let 17 of the last 18 penalties he had faced go by going into the game — but this time he guessed right, diving to his right and tipping the ball off the inside of the post, where it ricocheted across the goal mouth and out of bounds.
It was a massive let-off, the kind of thing that you would expect would buoy Juve’s spirits and deflate Fiorentina as the second half began. Instead, Juve fans saw Mattia De Sciglio trot onto the field in place of Di Maria, who had been raked in the back of the leg by Biraghi just before the half and was removed as a precaution. Juve then proceeded to play like flaming garbage for the rest of the half. Three minutes into the half, Jovic found Barak with a pullback in a patch of open space in the box, but Danilo stood up straight and blocked the shot.
That was only the first salvo of a completely desolate half. Allegri played right into Italiano’s hands, dropping back so deep that it was impossible for Juventus to get out of their own half. Milik was a forlorn figure up top. His teammates were so deep defending that any time he would try to hold the ball up he would be swarmed by defenders before anyone could get there to support him. And that was when Juventus won possession back at all. The good news was that a lot of Fiorentina’s position was relatively sterile. They threw a bunch of crosses into the box, but they were generally inaccurate, and when they did find a purple shirt the headers were often nowhere near Perin’s goal.
Unfortunately, Allegri didn’t do all that much to change the way things were going. Moise Kean and Fabio Miretti came on just after the hour mark, but the next man in after that was Leonardo Bonucci, who came on for Sandro that put five defenders on the field at once. His biggest chip, Vlahovic, stretched a little bit on the sideline but never warmed up in earnest and was left on the bench the entire game. Juventus produced a single, solitary moment of danger throughout the entire half, when Miretti played a fantastic ball down the middle, aiming for a good run down the middle for Kean, but Terracciano got off his line and grabbed it, the only time in the half he had to do something other than take a goal kick.
Fiorentina very nearly got their payoff with a minute and a half left when Amrabat hit a thunderous shot from the top of the penalty arc that was met with a flying save by Perin, who palmed it over the bar. Through four minutes of stoppage time Juve held on for dear life, before Doveri’s whistle put an end to yet more misery.
MATTIA PERIN - 8. Two massive moments that saved this point, for whatever that’s worth. While his distribution still puts your heart in your mouth every now and then, he’s a starting-caliber goalkeeper that can come in as the backup. That’s worth his weight in gold.
JUAN CUADRADO - 5.5. Picked up a key pass and was essential in the buildup for the goal, but he wasn’t able to do much after he moved forward to the wing in the second half. He failed several times to take on his man, and it’s perhaps time to start worrying about whether or not Father Time has finally come for the Colombian.
BREMER - 6. Blocked a pair of shots and made two clearances. His average position was so deep that he didn’t engage in many tackle attempts, but he did that job well enough.
DANILO - 7. Made five interceptions and five clearances to go along with two tackles. He was the glue that held the back together against a sustained onslaught.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. Made three clearances and two interceptions, to go along with a key pass and a 90.5 percent pass completion rate. He’s certainly been worse this year and made no mistakes on a day that seemed made for one of his brain farts.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5. The first instance of him playing his better position didn’t produce the desired return. He was one of only three Juventus players to register a dribble and he was the one who triggered Cuadrado in the lead-up to the goal, but when your mezz’ala is making three clearances in a game, you know something is seriously wrong with how the team is set up.
LEANDRO PAREDES - 5. The Argentine didn’t cover himself in glory in his debut. He had one or two good moments in possession but was mostly backed up against his own box trying to defend, which didn’t go as well as he would’ve liked. The penalty was silly to give away — you should know not to throw your arms around in that position. The good news is that he’s only been here for four days, so there’s a lot of headroom as he settles. Hopefully that’s fast.
WESTON McKENNIE - 4.5. You just have to take the shot in that situation. It was gaping. Just put it across goal — even if it’s saved it’s likely to head towards the players you were trying to play in for a rebound. It’s clear that his confidence is at a low ebb right now.
ANGEL DI MARIA - 5. A shadow of the guy we were fawning over in the season opener. Whether that’s because he’s not fully fit yet or simply needs to shake off a little rust is an open question.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 6. A good poacher’s instincts to get to Kostic’s final ball on his goal and get any part of his body on it. He worked really, really hard after that but simply had no support in trying to get out of his own end.
FILIP KOSTIC - 6. Gets a passing grade for a good assist and he actually led the team in shots — with two. Yikes.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6. Did what he needed to do in defense, making two tackles and an interception in a half’s worth of work. Getting forward simply wasn’t in the cards the way this game turned out.
MOISE KEAN - 5.5. He ended up defending more than anything else, so it’s hard to get angry with him over not posing a threat. Indeed, the run he made for Miretti’s pass might’ve been the team’s most threatening moment since they actually scored.
FABIO MIRETTI - 5.5. Brought a little energy to the midfield and tried his best to break Juve out of Fiorentina’s press but simply didn’t have the help.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - NR. How bad was Juve’s position by the end of the game? In 13 minutes on the field, Bonucci only managed to attempt three passes. He registered a tackle and a clearance in that time, but all he was doing was scampering around in the back trying to get crosses out of the box.
NICOLO FAGIOLI - NR. His first taste of game action came in a tough spot, and he was unable to move the needle for the last five minutes.
Massimiliano Allegri is no longer a winning football coach.
I’ve said that several times over the last year, but if there is any game to hammer that point home, it’s this one. Allegri hewed to the strategy he’s used against practically everyone in his second tenure. Once his team scored, he dropped back. And back. And back. For a coach like Italiano, this was catnip. Fiorentina sealed the Bianconeri in to the point that it became almost impossible for Juve to get out of their own end because the team was too deep to give Milik any support on outlet balls.
He played directly into the hands of one of the league’s youngest and most innovative coaches.
Predictably, that strategy backfired spectacularly.
Even worse, as the game wore on he simply accepted the draw. He dropped his team into a 4-4-2 with his first batch of substitutions, and he left his most game-changing player sitting on the bench. While the need to rest Vlahovic is a valid concern, leaving him on the bench in a direct clash with a team that could be a rival for European places by the end of the season is an unconscionable decision. Perhaps his other tactical decisions would’ve limited his effectiveness, but you need to have your best players on the field in these situations. Allegri clearly had no interest in trying to push for a victory, which makes his public calling out of McKennie for not taking the shot that might’ve made it 2-0 in the first half ring a little hollow. Yes, not taking that shot was a mistake, but by the end of the game Allegri was essentially playing the U.S. international as the right-back in a back five.
The Max Allegri who walked into the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in 2017 was a winning coach. He was perhaps a little too pragmatic at times, but he also came up with crazy ideas that worked and made the team better. In the five years since he walked out of that building, he has regressed. He coaches scared. He hardly ever lets his team loose unless it’s an absolute necessity, and sometimes, as we saw Saturday afternoon, not even then. He has not created an atmosphere conducive to success, as evidenced by the fact that it’s impossible to name even one player who has truly improved under him in his second tenure. McKennie has fallen off. Locatelli is a shell of the guy who was playing amazing football at the Euros last summer (and previously with Sassuolo). Vlahovic is service-starved and frustrated. Even Federico Chiesa had taken a step back before his injury. Ironically, the only player who was better than in seasons prior since Allegri returned is Paulo Dybala — and we all know how that turned out.
A coach has, at the end of the day, two jobs: win games, and make his players better. Allegri has failed to do that on both counts on a level that beggars belief. Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo were relieved of their duties for less. The game hasn’t just passed Allegri by. At this rate, it’s practically lapping him, and he refuses to see it. He is holding this team back. If this team is to have any chance to succeed this season, he needs to go, as soon as possible.
Max Allegri is no longer a winning football coach. It’s time to stop pretending he is.
Juve head to Paris on Tuesday to open their Champions League campaign against Paris Saint-Germain. Then they come back home for a date with Salernitana before welcoming Benfica to Turin, in a game that could decide who gets out of the group.
No pressure there, right?