Juventus had a major opportunity on their hands on Friday. If they could go into the Stadio Diego Armando Maradonna and win, they could trim Napoli’s lead over them from seven points to four, announcing themselves as a true scudetto threat and seriously shaking up the title race overall.
What Juventus did was ... not that.
Instead, what we had was perhaps the most lopsided one-versus-two match the league has seen in a decade. The Partenopei absolutely blasted the Bianconeri. They were superior to them in all the ways. They repeatedly split open the best defense in the league, making a mockery of all attempts to contain them. Juve was outplayed, outclassed, and out-coached in a 5-1 thrashing that matched their worst loss in any competition in 30 years.
Instead of being a marker to the rest of the league that Juventus was aiming for where they used to be, all this game did was raise questions.
How much of the eight-game winning streak that Juve was riding into this game was the team flattering to deceive? After seemingly coaching his way off the hot seat thanks to that streak, has Massimiliano Allegri plopped himself right back on it with such a dismal display? Is the team’s top-four status, which was being regarded as more and more secure as the winning streak went on, in doubt again?
These are questions Juve will have to answer quickly, because if the results around them go a certain way, they could find themselves level on points with their nearest pursuers by the end of next week if things don’t improve quickly.
Allegri still had some key absences to deal with as he came into this game, but was still able to field a strong squad. Paul Pogba and Dusan Vlahovic missed the game despite both returning to partial training this week, while Juan Cuadrado, Leonardo Bonucci, Mattia De Sciglio, and Kaio Jorge all joined them on the sidelines. Allegri stuck to the 3-5-1-1 formation that has become the staple during the winning streak. Wojciech Szczesny took up his usual spot in goal. Gleison Bremer returned after missing last week’s match with a minor injury, and was flanked in the defensive line by Danilo and Alex Sandro. Federico Chiesa got his much-anticipated first started of the season, albeit in an unfamiliar role as the right wing-back opposite Filip Kostic. Weston McKennie, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot made up the midfield, while Angel Di Maria slotted in behind former Napoli man Arkadiusz Milik in attack.
Napoli’s Luciano Spalletti countered that with a 4-3-3 setup. Alex Meret took the gloves, shielded by Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Kim Min-Jae, Amir Rrahmani, and Mario Rui. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Piotr Zielinski, and Stanislav Lobotka made up the midfield, while Matteo Politano joined the super duo of Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratshkelia.
Unsurprisingly, Juventus dropped into a low block early on. Apart from being Allegri’s preferred modus operandi, the tape from Napoli’s first league defeat a week before against Inter showed that such a tactic could thwart the machine that Napoli had become over the course of the season. Unfortunately, Juve’s execution of the plan left far more to be desired. The wing-backs, especially Chiesa, were near enough non-factors, extending the back line and leaving more space for Napoli’s attackers to operate in in the final third. Couple that with a complete inability to possess the ball for more than two or three touches, and the first phases of the game saw Napoli look like the team that was seven points ahead and leading the league.
Juve could only hold out for less than a quarter of an hour. In the 13th minute Osimhen made a fantastic move to get behind Bremer and onto the end of a long ball by Kim, but the bounce carried him to and impossibly tight angle and Szczesny caught his shot at the near post. Woj wasn’t so lucky a minute later, when Politano got into the left side of the box and crossed in. The ball took a minute touch off the head of Locatelli and popped up in the air, where Kvaratshkelia had taken advantage of impossibly bad marking from McKennie to ghost into the box. He volleyed a shot that was well saved by Szczesny, but Osimhen had been left alone and was in perfect position to head in the rebound.
Napoli continued to pour forward, with Juve completely unable to create a workable attack under the home team’s pressure. Their first opportunity of the night was a fortuitous one, when Rrahmani — who was playing only his third game since October after recovering from injury over the World Cup break — attempted an awful cross-field ball in his own third that went right into Di Maria’s bread basket. The newly minted world champion dribbled just to the left of the penalty arc and unleashed a looping shot that had Meret thoroughly beaten, only to bounce off the crossbar in the upper far corner.
That seemed to shake Juve into place a little bit, and they started to pose a bit more threat. Milik could only head a Di Maria cross right at Meret, and Bremer blazed a header over off a corner. But by the 35th minute Napoli had started to wing things back their way, and in the 39th minute doubled their advantage when Osimhen got around Bremer and squared the ball to Kvaratshkelia, who was so completely unmarked that the wing-back was halfway to the midfield line. The Georgian sensation duly stroked the ball home, lighting the capacity crowd on fire.
That fire was somewhat reduced within three minutes, when Di Maria played a deft interchange of passes with Locatelli, then, after Kim intervened but failed to clear the ball, continued his run and took an excellent layoff from Milik to snooker a shot past Meret to halve the deficit.
They nearly went into the half with no deficit at all when Rrahmani made his second major error of the half, accidentally redirecting a bullet cross from Chiesa in the wrong direction. Only an excellent one-handed save from Meret prevented an own goal.
The early stages of the second half were held up when Locatelli was knocked to the ground by the flailing arm of Osimhen, whose flailing arm had uppercutted him to the point where he was bleeding out of his mouth. The striker somehow escaped a card for the rough play, and a few minutes later got away from Sandro to latch on to a ball over the top and then tried to surprise Szczesny with a shot at the near post. It was probably going wide, but the big Poland international had to react and push it wide. On the ensuing corner, Kvaratshkelia’s delivery probably should have been cleared by McKennie at the near post, but he missed it and the ball bounced to Rrahmani, who was level with the penalty spot and slammed it back against the grain to restore Napoli’s advantage and make up for his missteps in the first half.
Allegri at this point tried to make some changes, throwing on Moise Kean and Leandro Paredes and altering the formation to a 4-2-3-1. But things didn’t help, and Juve looked to be mentally breaking down. In the 59th minute, Bremer kicked the ball straight to Osimhen under pressure, only to see the Nigerian blaze over. But things didn’t get all that much better, and on 65 minutes the Brazilian’s efforts to prevent a corner only hit the ball right at Rui. The ball bounced straight to to Kvaratshkelia and the winger fired a pinpoint cross that found Osimhen in between Sandro and Kostic, and he thundered home the header to fully put the game away.
But Napoli simply wouldn’t stop.
Despite their three-goal cushion they kept on playing like they needed a goal, pressing Juve hard and continuing to force mistakes. The exclamation point came in the 72nd minute, when substitute Eljif Elmas was left completely alone on the right side. He took Kostic’s lunch money, then fired for the far post, only for the ball to deflect of the knee of a desperate Sandro and wrong-foot Szczesny. It was the first time since 1993 that Juventus had allowed five goals in any competition—and ironically enough one of the goalscorers for Pescara that day was one Massimiliano Allegri.
Young players like Fabio Miretti, Samuel Iling-Junior, and Matias Soule were given a run with the game totally out of reach, but nothing was going to salvage anything from this dumpster fire of a match, and the final whistle was a mercy when it came. Juve had been thoroughly humiliated, with another big game that could, results pending, be just as big for staying in the top four as this one was for the title race.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 6. Did everything he could, but his defense let him down repeatedly. Some of his saves were great, but Napoli was simply too overwhelming.
DANILO - 6. Made two tackles, three interceptions, and three clearances in an overall solid performance. Had to go up against Kvaratshkelia repeatedly, but held his own well enough.
BREMER - 3. An absolute horror show. This was certainly his worst game for Juve and could possibly be a contender for his worst game as a professional. His mistakes were directly responsible for at least two goals, and they probably opened the door for at least one more. The team needs him at his best, so the hope is he manages to brush this aside.
ALEX SANDRO - 5. Got turned around a couple of times after Napoli won aerial balls, and didn’t even get up to try to challenge for the ball on the fourth goal. Just not good enough in a big game.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 4. This is a sympathetic four, because while it’s true Chiesa deeply struggled, he did so in a position he’s never played before and clearly isn’t suited for. He had no instinct for how to cover his side of the field from that position, leaving Kvaratshkelia open and forcing the back three to stretch and leave space in the back. He did make four tackles and tied for the team lead in dribbles, but simply didn’t have enough impact thanks to the position he was put in.
WESTON McKENNIE - 3. I am not one of the ones who typically joins in the pile-up on McKennie, but boy did he have a bad night. His marking on Kvaratshkelia on the first goal was farcical — he looked back to identify where he is at the beginning of the move then turns back to the ball and drifted closer to it while never again checking to see where the man was — and completely whiffed what looked like an easy clearance on the corner for the third. Top that off with a pass completion percentage of 67.7, and you’ve got a really awful performance that, frankly, made it puzzling that he wasn’t subbed off.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5. Couldn’t orchestrate any kind of sustained attacks, thanks in part to a badly set up midfield that put far too much onus on him. He did pick up a key pass and was part of the slick exchange on Di Maria’s goal, but he was generally overwhelmed by Napoli’s midfield.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. Picked up a key pass and a pair of tackles and interceptions, but was part of the generally ineffective midfield that simply couldn’t break out of the Napoli press and create any chances.
FILIP KOSTIC - 4. Led the team in tackles with five, but was completely anonymous going forward. He only attempted four of his trademark crosses, and completely failed to contain first Politano and then Elmas.
ANGEL DI MARIA - 6. The only starter that earned his paycheck for this game. His play up front was slick and tight, he was the only Juve player who really took on his man or made any sort of danger. This is the kind of performance the team needs from him the rest of the year—the rest of the team just needs to join him.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 5.5. Probably highly motivated going into his old home, Milik got bupkis in terms of service and only had one shot all night long. He did pick up the assist on Di Maria’s goal with a slick layoff, but he’s gonna need a lot more help up there.
MOISE KEAN - 5. Barely had anything to work with after coming on for Milik, but worked his butt off trying.
LEANDRO PAREDES - 5. The fact that he recored four tackles in 35 minutes of game time tells you everything you need to know about how badly Juventus was overrun in the second half. He completed 91.2 percent of his passes but didn’t create any kind of danger with it.
FABIO MIRETTI - 5. Worked hard but couldn’t quite get the right ball forward to work.
SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - 5. Ran hard but had little chance to do much of anything up front.
MATIAS SOULE - NR. Perhaps the liveliest of the subs who came on, he created some havoc on his side of the field in the seven minutes he had to play. Let’s see him more.
Max Allegri lost this game from the start. His 3-5-2/3-5-1-1 always had some major drawbacks in terms of where certain players could be put, and that was exposed big time on Friday night with Chiesa, who is a valuable player but simply wasted as a wing-back who was going to be defending more.
Worse, he had zero instinct for the defensive side of the position, which wasn’t great considering he was up against one of the league’s most dangerous players. Weston McKennie on the right isn’t exactly in his best spot either, but he’d have been better than Chiesa in a game where Allegri was almost certain to play defensively. If he wasn’t going to play with the proper aggression to score goals — at least not in the first half — he should have put a more defensive player into that slot and either started Chiesa elsewhere or left him as a supersub in the second half.
Speaking of McKennie, the midfield was once again set up poorly, contributing to the team’s inability to get out of the press build attacks. It’s become abundantly clear that the McKennie-Locatelli-Rabiot axis is a terrible combination, placing far too much creative pressure on Locatelli as the only ball-playing midfielder on the field. To replace someone like McKennie with Miretti or Nicolo Fagioli would have given Locatelli the support he needed and perhaps made the midfield battle at least a little difference.
At the end of the day, the manager’s job is to set his team up for success. Not only did Allegri not do that, he actively created conditions in which his players were set up to fail — and then they did. The players certainly hold some blame for this debacle, but Allegri holds the lion’s share.
Juve are in action twice this week. First, on Thursday, they look for revenge over Monza, who beat them in Monza in October, in the Coppa Italia Round of 16.
After that, Juve are back in Serie A facing off against an Atalanta side that has been a bogey side for several years now. If Juve aren’t careful, the team is going to find themselves tied for fourth as opposed to looking to get back into the title race.